I had an exam for the course Fundamental Information Rights, and that subject right there is pretty much my baby. I love everything having to do with privacy, freedom of speech rights and all sorts of things in between. Human rights in general, really. What interests me in particular is how this all relates to the Internet. The webz has changed a lot about everyday life, which I feel should be reflected in law. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Almost never, actually. So to me it is really interesting to research what direction we should go with our human rights now that the Internet has entered the picture and China is able to censor American websites. What’s more, there’s also the giant privacy implications arising from the conduct of websites such as Google, Facebook and many others, not to mention governmental storage of personal data.
Which is why I followed this course. Unfortunately, the course itself focused way too much on what the law is currently like which is neither particularly difficult nor particularly interesting. I was hoping to see more on how these people who know this stuff think the law should be fixed and what we need in the age of the Internet with regards to all these highly important rights.
The thing is, the law is severely behind the times. Freedom of speech laws are often overshadowed by copyright laws to an unhealthy degree, and that’s not even taking into account how the big entertainment companies are lobbying for even more restrictions. Moreover, privacy law doesn’t take into account the massive impact that storage of personal data can have on our lives, and in the age of AOL leaks and forum hacks that’s a huge miscalculation in my view. I have Adblock on except for a certain selection of sites I whitelisted, Dtoid among them. And yet every single time I see an ad that specifically mentions my home town, I flinch. I’m not kidding, I literally flinch. Because somewhere out there is a company whose only job is to share ads, and it has figured out where I live. That scares me. For another example, there’s this paper on how Facebook may be able to track the Internet use of everyone, regardless of whether or not that person is actually a Facebook user.
This is the least self-righteous picture I could find.
European Union law itself seems very concerned with making sure that personal data can be freely shared, to the point that privacy protection almost seems like an afterthought. What’s more, the EU has rules in place for when European companies can share personal data with a non-Member State. Basically, the EU can give so-called “adequacy findings” when it feels like a certain country has sufficient privacy protection in place, after which the sharing may continue. And guess what? The European Union has not given an adequacy finding with regard to the US. This implies that the EU believes that the United States does not properly protect your personal data. Just something to think about, especially considering that from a privacy point of view EU legislation itself still leaves more than a thing or two to be desired. I do have good news for our Canadian friends, though.
Anyway, you can see that I’m very critical about Internet human rights as it stands. Free speech provisions are hampered by copyright law (see SOPA), nobody seems to have any clue how jurisdiction on the Internet works, and privacy is not observed especially well either on- or offline, with both governments and private companies keeping track of a lot of your personal stuff for various reasons (none of them very strong).
And you know how that makes me feel?
You can say what you will about the guy, and you’d be right. The surveillance bit was stupid and out of place. But still, the man’s got a point.
Either way, despite the fact that the course was not at all what I hoped it would be, it has gotten me to think about this sort of thing myself. Over the past week, there have been a multitude of questions going through my mind. One thing in particular I’ve been thinking about is digital property, which the course did not address at all. The thing is, when you say digital human rights you immediately think of privacy and free speech, but there’s a big property dimension online too. And for reference, article 17 of the Universal Declaration says that property is a human right as well. During this time, I came across a bunch of questions I may be able to look into more closely somewhere down the line. I'll share some of them, so you can think about this sort of thing yourself too.
So here’s a couple of questions I got:
Should we have a property right to our personal data? Should we "own" our names, addresses, et cetera? If yes, what are the consequences? Could it be some sort of intellectual property? Can we sell our data to whoever we want? How much is our data worth; how much should a company pay us to know our names? Is there a market for personal data; should companies compete over the use of our data? Can we demand our names removed if they have been used without permission and can we demand damages?
Does my username fall under “private data”? If I google “ShadeOfLight” I come across a couple of people other than me who have named themselves that at some point. Oh, and a Harry Potter + Wheel of Time fanfic. Could’ve been worse. (holy shit what are the odds of a Wheel of Time fanfic and me sharing the same name?!). Still, a lot of it does refer to me on Dtoid and Steam. Besides, I think that we can all agree that there is only one true ShadeOfLight. So, question: Am I (identifiable as) Shade? Are you as whatever you named yourself? Should your username be treated with the same respect as your actual name? Does it matter if you always use the same one or change it for every individual website?
But that’s just about the possible relation between a property right and privacy. There are also more direct questions on digital property. I framed the below in video game terms, but they work just as well for other software.
Do I own my World of Warcraft Sword of +1 Hypotheticalness even though it’s technically just a string of 1s and 0s made by Blizzard? Does it depend on if I paid for it, like in a F2P model? Can someone “steal” it? How much is it worth? What about Diablo III and its Auction House? What about Second Life? And what about purely singleplayer games: Do I own my save games? Do they have a worth? If someone destroys my PC, do they owe me damages for those files? Does their worth, if they have one, depend on how much time I put into the game? On how difficult it is? On how much the game itself costs? Could the loss of time put into a game fall under immaterial damages? What about achievements, gamer score?
Let’s take another couple of steps back though; how does “buying a license” (which is what you do with all games) hold up to your human right to property? Can publishers or distributers simply revoke that license? Can you be banned from accessing your game as punishment for cheating? What if it happens for an F2P game where you paid a lot of money for optional items? Is accepting the EULA, without ever having read it off course, enough to base this on? How does my property right to the game relate to the developer’s and publisher’s right to intellectual property, copyright? Was SimCity’s DRM an infringement of property rights? Are dysfunctional games in general? What happens when the servers go out permanently? Where’s our property then, especially in F2P games?
I can take it, but will it be mine?
Right now these are probably all silly questions with either obvious or irrelevant answers. That’s okay though. Still, the more I brainstorm about this the more I start to think that there may be something to this, deep down somewhere. I want to do a PhD somewhere down the line if my university will let me. This is definitely stuff I’m going to be keeping in mind. It may not sound like much yet, but given some thought I might be able to get something from this. Here’s hoping! Hopefully I provided some food for thought for you guys as well. This could be important in the long run, as the Internet and the digital world is becoming ever more crucial to our daily lives. It may seem silly now, but these are things we should be thinking about before they give us problems.
So yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve been thinking about this week. Thinking a lot and answering very little. Pretty much just lawyering it up.
Oh, right. Somethingsomething video games. Monster Hunter, mostly.