Tech and policy: Thailand embraces Twitter censorship; Netflix and video-rental privacy

Follow-ups at the intersection of tech and policy:

• It was inevitable after Twitter‘s announcement last week that it would censor tweets on a case-by-case, country-by-country basis: Thailand is reportedly promising to get with Twitter soon to work something out. What this looks like is that Thailand — known for, for example, sentencing an American man to two-and-a-half years in prison over his online “insults” to the king — is seeing Twitter’s move as an outright invitation to censorship.

It’s probably safe to assume San Francisco-based Twitter, an unofficial tool of the Arab Spring and other protests and movements that rely on the free flow of information, did not intend to invite oppressive regimes to a censorship extravaganza. Twitter had presented its move as more of an acknowledgment of the realities of doing business in a world where laws and rules aren’t uniform, and emphasized that it will be transparent about instances when it’s forced to censor tweets.

But once you embark on a slippery slope — some questions being asked on Twitter today (hashtags include #TwitterCensored and #TwitterBlackout) include whether it would’ve censored tweets if it had been asked by Qadafi’s Libya, or whether it will block anti-Semitic tweets at Israel’s request — it’s hard to slow down. However, some are optimistic that Twitter’s open nature will prove hard to censor, or that the company’s transparency actually will help people get around censorship restrictions in some places. It will be interesting to see what happens after the first high-profile instance of censorship.

Netflix‘s general counsel, David Hyman, is scheduled to testify Tuesday on Capitol Hill as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommitee on Technology, Privacy and the Law takes up an amendment to the 1980s-era Video Privacy Protection Act. Netflix is pushing to remove the roadblock that has mostly kept Americans’ movie-watching a bit more private than our other habits. Among other things, the VPPA prohibits sharing of video-rental information without the renter’s written consent or a warrant, according to the Hillicon Valley blog.

The law might seem positively quaint considering many Facebook users can see what their friends are listening to on Spotify at any given moment, or see that their friends just perused the latest must-read article about the Kardashians. But the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which will also testify at the hearing, says on its website that “by allowing the automatic association of users with movies, the Amendment increases the ability of companies to exploit the behavior of Facebook users.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke about the VPPA last year when he announced the integration of Netflix streaming with Facebook in all other countries Netflix is available except the United States. (See Tech’s quotable week: HP, Google, Netflix.)



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  • Bryan

    “… acknowledgment of the realities of doing business in a world where laws and rules aren’t uniform…”

    This is nothing more than corporatese for “having no principles, we will do whatever is most profitable for that tiny percentage of the population that own our stock, without conscience or any regard for the larger consequences.”

    Having created legal abstractions with more rights than individuals and no duty other than to produce profit, we simply accept that the dominant institution of our time is amoral in principle and psychotic in practice.

  • Nicola Weaver

    Well there’s a surprise. Who’s next, Iran, China and Syria?

    What about Australia? They have been censoring this website, and the new film, since they began publishing cables showing how their government sold an innocent woman to slow death in prison, to hide its own corruption:

    Censorship is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Twitter should be ashamed.