🤷‍♀️ Online Harms

Update on the online harms bill | Is Nadine Dories okay? | Windows 11 and ads

🤷‍♀️ Online Harms
Well as we learned from The Thick Of It, you download porn and you upload... also porn (but you have to make it first)

Hello readers and good morning. I don’t know what part of the world you might be in, but where I am spring is finally doing what I want it to do (telling winter to go fuck itself).

This week was sort of okay I guess 🤷‍♀️. But why pray tell?

  • The UK online harms bill which has taken about three years to go anywhere is finally receiving an update
  • Nadine Dories, the minister for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport wants Microsoft to cancel all algorithms. Yes, all of them. (She’s an idiot).
  • I don’t use Windows 11 but it’s still managing to piss me off

🤪 Did you know the internet was only ten years old?

That of course is not true, it’s just something that Nadine Dories, the UK’s digital minister, said earlier this year. This week she’s been out promoting her Online Harms Bill, and has said some fucking weird things in the process — things that suggest that all of her tech knowledge comes from the 2006 edition of ‘Excel for Dummies’.

Starting with the basics, Nadine says that social media platforms have too much power over who gets to speak and who gets cancelled, and that her bill is essentially designed to put a stop to that. 💆‍♀️ Okay but Nadine, for the love of god please pay attention: this bill will allow the government to decide what counts as ‘harmful’ and then force platforms to remove content based on that — if anything, this is a threat to free speech.

Going further into meme territory: in a recent meeting with Microsoft, she asked when they were going to ‘get rid of algorithms’. I wonder when she thought of this question. Perhaps during the quiet part of her morning, while she waits for her assistant to print out all her emails.

Anyway, Nadine’s Very Good question about algorithms has left me wondering: what does she think an algorithm is? What does she think they do? Does she think that, uh, Microsoft are in charge of all of them? Without shitting on her too much, it’s safe to say that hardly anyone knows what an algorithm is — and that’s fine. But to shit on her the appropriate amount, she should probably know that not all algorithms are used for machine recommendations, and we need them for boring stuff like traffic lights and GPS systems. Ffs Nadine.

The thing that’s most annoying is, I do believe that Nadine truly wants to protect children online (good thing to aim for) but, she’s completely encumbered by the fact that she’s a tory minister: unqualified, chaotic, and shaped like an idiot.

👩‍⚖️ Enough about Nadine, let’s look at the online harms bill itself

Cool thing: this bill could actually send tech executives (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg) to PRISON. Uncool thing: this bill will be enforced by Ofcom, the worst of the regulators.

Anyway, back to the part about prison: the latest version of this bill has reduced the grace period for prosecution from two years to two months. An exec at a big tech firm can be ‘uploaded’ to a ‘jail server’ (that means ‘sent to prison’ for those who don’t speak tech) if they fail to respond to Ofcom’s requests quick enough, tamper with requested information, or obstruct/delay audits.

☝️ Other stuff this bill will apparently do (even though no one in parliament seems to be particular impressed by it):

  • Criminalise cyber flashing (strangers exposing themselves to others online)
  • Require platforms to put a stop to scam ads
  • Allow the government to decide what content counts as legal but harmful. So that would be stuff like content that promotes eating disorders.

I feel like that last one sounds good on paper, but actually it’s pretty alarming. I wouldn’t trust this government to drop me off at the airport properly, let alone decide on what kind of content I should or shouldn’t see. As mentioned above, this is a threat to free speech (the racists won’t like it!) and, more seriously, a nice bit of ground-work for a society where the government gets to censor whatever they like on social media. Thank god the minister in charge of this knows what they’re doing! Oh wait...

🧟 Windows 11: the advertening

So far, all the ‘news’ I’ve read about Windows 11 has equated to ‘it’s out now’ and ‘people don’t like it’. I feel like this is pretty typical of operating systems in general: product teams will make tweaks which they think will ‘improve experience’ but in actuality are just very annoying, so users who care enough do something hacky to make these systems just about bearable again.

This dynamic is exactly what I was complaining about last summer when Windows 11 was first announced: the general trend has been to load operating systems with as much pointless information as possible: widgets, pinned items, and yes — actual ads.

Call me a miserable old coot but all those years ago, when I saw that the Windows 10 start menu contained ‘news’ and ‘suggestions’, I told myself I’d cling to Windows 7 for as long as humanly possible. Hopefully, when I finally do get Windows 10, I will use it until 2046.

This has all been a lot of preamble for the fact that this week, Microsoft accidentally released a version of Windows 11 that contained ads in the File Explorer. They say this never should have been tested externally, but the fact that they’re fiddling with it at all is concerning.

When did we decide that this was okay? Why can’t operating systems be the only Quiet Place, safe from adverts and other pointless noise? Operating systems are literally just a functional under-layer to trivial everyday activities; not once have I benefitted from a widget, or a recommended native program — no one decides what programs I use but ME.

Congratulations for enduring my ranty complaints for the week, you deserve a donut 🍩


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