The Race to the Bottom

French national data protection authority, the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), has rejected Google’s appeal against the global enforcement of “right to be forgotten” removals.  

Under the Court of Justice’s ruling of last year, governmental bodies within the European Union are presumed to have legal authority over how search engine providers control content online, which in theory means Google will be forced to honour individual requests for the removal of certain links from its results, based on searches using a person’s name.

In May, the CNIL ordered Google to delist links from the company’s global domain in addition to its European domains. In July, Google made an informal appeal against the order to the president of CNIL, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, voicing its concerns via blog post:

This is a troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the web.

While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally. Moreover, there are innumerable examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country, would be deemed legal in others: Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be “gay propaganda.”

If the CNIL’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place. 

Falque-Pierrotin this week officially rejected the appeal, in a statement addressing concerns that the order will trigger, in the words of Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, Peter Fleischer, “a race to the bottom:”

Contrary to what Google has stated, this decision does not show any willingness on the part of the CNIL to apply French law extraterritorially. It simply requests full observance of European legislation by non European players offering their services in Europe.

Google must now delist tens of thousands of links from its global search engines, or face fines of around €300,000. France, enjoy using Bing. Hope it was worth it.


People for the Copyright on Photographs by Animals

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the animal rights organization determined to recast animals as humans, furthers the cause this week with a lawsuit claiming copyright of a photograph taken by a crested black macaque.

A press release via the PETA website gives details of the suit:

A few years ago in Indonesia, a photographer left his camera unattended. That was tempting for a curious male crested black macaque, who took the camera and began taking photographs—some of the forest floor, some of other macaques, and several of himself, one of which resulted in the now-famous “monkey selfie.”

The macaque, named Naruto, is known to field researchers in Sulawesi, who have observed and studied him for years as they work in the region. Acting as Naruto’s “next friend” (or representative), PETA has filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in San Francisco against the owner of the camera, photographer David J. Slater and his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., which both claim copyright ownership of the photos that Naruto indisputably took. Also named as a defendant is the San Francisco–based publishing company Blurb, Inc., which published a collection of Slater’s photographs, including two selfies taken by Naruto. The lawsuit seeks to have Naruto declared the “author” and owner of his photograph. Our argument is simple: U.S. copyright law doesn’t prohibit an animal from owning a copyright, and since Naruto took the photo, he owns the copyright, as any human would.

For too long we have exploited nature’s obliviousness to copyright law to our own selfish ends. Thankfully, PETA is on the case.

Why is this so important, and what does it all mean? If this lawsuit succeeds, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property (the copyright of the “monkey selfie”), rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself. It will also be the first time that a right is extended to a nonhuman animal beyond just the mere basic necessities of food, shelter, water, and veterinary care. In our view, it is high time.

If nothing else, this suit will challenge some of our preconceptions, such as:

• Monkeys aren’t humans.
• Monkeys lack the intelligence to operate a camera.
• Monkeys lack the intelligence to know what a camera is.
• Monkeys lack the intelligence to understand the concept of copyright ownership.
• PETA is serious about the welfare of animals.

We are also asking the court to allow PETA to administer the proceeds of “monkey selfie” sales for the benefit of Naruto and his community, without compensation to PETA.

This case exemplifies what PETA has championed for 35 years: Animals deserve recognition of appropriate rights for their own sake, and not in relation to their exploitation by humans.

Having smashed the glass ceiling on this issue, PETA will divest its hard-earned money into improving the living conditions of one artful monkey and his pals. No need to call attention to the abnormally high euthanasia rate of PETA’s Virginia shelter. Or to the kidnapping and killing of family pets by PETA employees. Or to the felonious dumping of animal corpses. That might be considered unethical.

Je Suis (Encore) Charlie

On the morning of January 7, 2015 Islamic terrorists forced their way into the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Armed with assault rifles, they shot and killed 12 people, effectively wiping out the magazine’s editorial team.

Four days later, an estimated 1.6 million people marched through Paris in solidarity with the victims. Placards bearing the slogan “Je suis Charlie” (French for “I am Charlie”), which would become synonymous with freedom of speech, featured prominently in the media.

Within a mere seven days of the shooting, the surviving members of Charlie Hebdo regrouped and, with a little help from their friends, scraped together what was dubbed the “survivors’ issue.” On the cover, a drawing of Muhammad holding a sign reading “Je suis Charlie,” under the headline “Tout est pardonné” (French for “All is Forgiven”).

In an article for the Guardian, art critic Jonathan Jones called the cover “a life-affirming work of art,” further writing: “Funny people were killed for being funny. This new cover is the only possible response – a response that makes you laugh.”

In an article for the Independent, John Lichfield correctly predicted that the magazine’s new fans “may find the proper Charlie tougher to swallow than the martyred Charlie” while conceding that the survivors had “pulled off something strange and courageous…a millefueille of mockery and defiance.”

Despite some of the best reviews in its 45-year history, a small number of critics were unswayed by Charlie Hebdo and the “Je suis Charlie” movement. Some went so far as to argue that newspapers covering the story shouldn’t republish the offending cartoons, lest they create further offence. For the way to combat terrorism is to abide sensitivities.

Concerned citizenry soon turned to righteous indignation. In April, a letter protesting PEN’s decision to bestow its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo claimed over 200 signatures, including those of several prominent writers.

In August, media pundits were quick to complain when a cartoon depicting severed arms clutching a pair of breasts made light of the search for Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 (the caption reads: “We’ve found a bit of the pilot and the air hostess”).

Two new cartoons, aimed at the twin pillars of western civilization – capitalism and Christianity – have reopened the floor to charges of insensitivity and “hate speech.” 

The source of offence is Hebdo cartoonist Laurent Sourisseau’s reimagining of Nilufer Demir’s widely-shared photo of Aylan al-Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler who became a symbol for the refugee and migration crisis.

The cartoon, as in the photo, depicts a child face down on a beach. In the background, a promotional billboard for McDonald’s advertising “2 children’s meals for the price of one” (the caption reads: “So close to making it…”).

A second cartoon depicts Jesus walking on water beside the drowning child (the caption reads: “Christians walk on water. Muslim children sink” – proof, the headline tells us, that Europe is Christian).

In an article for the Morocco World News, Aziz Allilou accused Charlie Hebdo of “hiding behind freedom of speech,” suggesting that the magazine has invoked the right to freedom of speech in its defence. It hasn’t.

In an article for Scoop Whoop, Manimanjari Sengupta retracted her support for the magazine: “This isn’t the Charlie Hebdo we identified and stood in solidarity with earlier this year. Je ne suis pas Charlie (I’m not Charlie).”

On Twitter, D. Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers* barely managed to keep within 140 characters: Charlie Hebdo is a purely racist, xenophobic and ideologically bankrupt publication that represents the moral decay of France.”

A second tweet announced his intention to complain to authorities: The Society of Black Lawyers will consider reporting this incitement to hate crime and persecution before the International Criminal Court.”

Oh the horrors of free speech!

As the sting of January 7 fades from our collective memory, the media backlash against Charlie Hebdo draws near to a disavowal. Once defenders of free speech, we now act as arbiters of moral decency. Somehow we’ve lost all sense of proportion, unable to distinguish a pencil scratch from a bullet wound.

Blame our tendency to idealise the dead. In death, Charlie Hebdo sat on a pedestal beyond reproach, martyrs shrouded in myth. Now the veil has dropped from our eyes, it’s clear that the magazine’s continued publication has become an inconvenience to those who prefer the ideal. Who could have predicted that the survivors would bravely rise from the dust, then so spectacularly fail to meet our expectations?

Under threat of violence and facing censure, the magazine won’t stay dead, nor is it willing to suppress its appetite for the profane. Instead, it continues to do what it has always done: slay sacred cows, puncture pieties, highlight hypocrisy left and right, picking wounds most would rather go unpicked. 

Critics who accuse the magazine of being culturally insensitive, as if satire ought to pander to sensitivities, want it both ways. They want satire, but to be spared the twist of the knife. They seek truth, but can’t bear to look when someone holds a mirror to the world. They support freedom of speech, but within limits. 

The best satire serves to focus our moral judgment. It directs our indignation inwards, forcing us to confront our worst prejudices. Sometimes it cuts too close for comfort, eliciting not a laugh but a groan. Very rarely, a satirist’s aim is so good, people won’t be aware of the arrow hitting the bullseye.

When Jonathan Swift’s essay, A Modest Proposal, was published in 1729, there was outrage at Swift’s suggestion that impoverished Irish families might alleviate their financial burdens by selling their children as food to “persons of quality and fortune.” People were less concerned about the reality of poverty than they were about Swift’s modest proposal.

Charlie Hebdo might not be Jonathan Swift, but our reaction is telling. We are less concerned about our failure to protect a three-year-old child than we are about Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon critique.

*Last seen badgering British police over some very offensive article he could just as easily chosen to ignore.


While western feminists fret on social media over an errant brushstroke, an Iranian woman faces jail time over an alleged handshake.

Atena Farghadani, a 29-year-old painter and activist, is charged with having an “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery” following allegations that she and her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, shook hands during a prison visit.

Handshakes between men and women are illegal in Iran.

Farghadani previously served three months in Evin Prison in Tehran for satirical cartoons she drew lampooning several prominent Iranian government officials.

She was rearrested in January this year after publishing a video to Youtube that gave details of abuses she suffered during her brief stay in prison.

She is currently serving the first of a 12-year sentence, awaiting trial. Moghimi, who was arrested in June, is currently out on bail, also awaiting trial.

Amnesty International has started a petition for Farghadani’s immediate release. From the website:

Beaten in detention, punished for speaking out

Last August, 12 members of the Revolutionary Guards came to Atena’s house. They confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

Atena was released in November last year, but rearrested just six weeks later. In the time that she was released, she gave media interviews and posted a video on youtube describing how the prison guards had interrogated her for 9 hours every day for six weeks. She said that female prison guards had beaten her and subjected her to degrading body searches.

Just weeks after posting her youtube video, Atena was once again arrested – possibly as reprisal for speaking out.

Hunger strike in protest at prison conditions

Atena was kept in solitary confinement for over two weeks when she was detained last year in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. During that time she was denied access to her lawyer or family. After her release from detention, she said that she’d been beaten by prison guards.

Three weeks after she was rearrested in January this year, Atena went on hunger strike to protest that she was being held in extremely poor prison conditions, in a jail that does not have a section for political prisoners. Atena’s health suffered considerably as a result; her lawyer told us that Atena had suffered a heart attack and briefly lost consciousness in late February as a result of her hunger strike.

Call on Iran to release Atena and reunite her with her family immediately: she has committed no crime.

Sign the petition to free Atena Farghadani here


Nice to see Apple receive a bit of free publicity, courtesy of CNN Money:

Tim Cook has unveiled the new iPad Pro and Apple Watches at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for another one of Apple’s patented press events…

The company is also making its own stylus, but with the usual over-the-top design and marketing. Yes, it’s the Apple Pencil, a low latency stylus that feels like a real pencil. It even got its own Jony Ive narrated videos. it “feels like a true writing or drawing instrument,” said Ive.

As the name implies, the iPad Pro’s real target audience is business users. To show that it’s serious, Apple brought out a very unexpected partner to demo the iPad Pro: Microsoft’s Kirk Konenigsbauer. He demonstrated Microsoft Office for iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil.

Adobe also demoed its IPad Pro apps including a new product called Photoshop Fix, a retouching tool. Using the iPad Pro and new stylus, Adobe’s Eric Snowden did some realtime edits including the odd choice of changing a photo of a model to make her smile more. (It was the first woman on stage during the presentation.)

For the final demo, Irene Walsh from 3D4Medical showed off her startups 3D medical app that shows 3D interactive anatomy images for medical students and patients.

The company also announced a new iPad Mini 4.

Exciting stuff. These new gadgets are sure to work wonders.* Wait, didn’t Steve Jobs reportedly leave, quote, “a legacy” of blueprints for the continued development of new, consumable shiny things? Apple execs wouldn’t be stringing us along, would they? But I’ve taken my eye off the ball. Forgive me. On to the pressing issue of sexism in Tech.

Four paragraphs into the above excerpt, reporter Heather Kelly takes a dig at Adobe’s Eric Snowden, brought on stage to demonstrate the everlasting brilliance of the iPad Pro. This involved the use of Photoshop Fix to retouch a stock photo of a model’s face (unheard of!) to give her the appearance of a smile, effectively turning her frown upside down.  

The problem, in the event that it sailed right over your head, is that a man (a man!) used Photoshop to manipulate a woman’s appearance. In the mainstream media and on Twitter, this has been equated to catcalling and/or harassment.

Apple Turns World’s Oldest Catcall Into Product Demo – Emily Peck (via Huffington Post)

A woman refusing to smile is never an error that needs to be “fixed.” – Jenny Hollander (via Bustle)

Even though he may have made the change innocuously, it points to a recurring problem of women being harassed for not smiling… – Andrea Romano (via Mashable)

For many women, being told to smile is a form of harassment… – Ann-Marie Alcantara (via POPSUGAR)

The following tweets were republished in several mainstream newspapers, including the Independent, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

After all the stick Apple get about women & they choose to PHOTOSHOP A WOMAN’S FACE. I cannot. – Guardian Tech (@guardiantech)

Did they really just use Photoshop in a demo to force a woman to smile? How is this really happening? – Rachel King (@rachelking)

A man just used software to force a woman to smile. What an age we live in. – Adam Wilson (@bright_flight)

Stop telling women to smile Apple – Femsplain (@femsplain)

*You should smile sometimes* street harassment, now built right into the iPad! – Taurean Bryant (@_Taurean)

Hey @Adobe — you kind of just took all the street harassment I get when told women should smile more and put it on stage. In tech. – Caryn Vainio (@Hellchick)

So there you have it. Sexism has officially infiltrated every corner of popular culture. A caveat. Having redefined what constitutes harassment, women need exercise extreme caution. All it takes is one errant brushstroke.

*Until next year’s product line renders them completely obsolete.

An Ethical Kill

Last Friday, Gilbert Flores was shot and killed by Bexar County deputies Greg Vasquez and Robert Sanchez outside of his home in San Antonio, Texas.

Speaking at a press conference Friday evening, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau addressed the shooting:

Earlier today, deputies were called to a home for a domestic disturbance. And when they arrived they found a woman, who had suffered a cut on her head, and a baby, an 18-month-old child who appeared to have possibly been injured.

Two deputies attempted to arrest the individual and he resisted. They also tried to use non-lethal weapons to try to detain him and after a lengthy confrontation both deputies fired shots causing the man’s death.”

Pamerleau also alluded to the existence of a video of the shooting, which was subsequently published, unedited, to the website of KSAT 12 News.

The video, seemingly at odds with Pamerleau’s version of events, shows a shirtless Flores motioning to surrender moments before Vasquez and Sanchez opened fire.

Understandably, its publication is something of an inconvenience for local authorities. In a Facebook post on Monday, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office did not hold back:

Today, members of our local media chose to broadcast online unedited video of a man’s death. KSAT 12 paid a neighbor who filmed the tragedy $100 for the exclusive rights to the video. As a result, people from outside our community have bombarded us with inappropriate comments, and today, physical threats toward our deputies. These deputies have not been charged with a crime and a family lost their loved one. This is unethical and sad. Call KSAT and let them know what you think – (210) 351-1277. If you agree, let the local media know this sort of sensational behavior doesn’t fly in Bexar County.

Bexar County authorities wish to make clear that any deviation from the official narrative will not be tolerated.

Shame on KSAT 12 News for its ruthless exploitation of this tragic yet completely unavoidable series of events (for no less than one hundred bucks!).

Journalists need to be told that this sort of “sensational behavior” leaves law enforcement officials vulnerable to “inappropriate comments.”

Help end this sad and unethical practice now by calling 1800-GOOD-COP. Let the local media know that this shit just won’t fly in Bexar County.