Links and Thinks 25 July 2018

This week, James talks about bridging divides. We have a new cable crossing the Pacific, and a news story about New Zealanders who can't connect at the other end. Working under time pressure, will California lawmakers bridge their privacy divide? Finally, our crypto corner covers a nasty game which invites players to divide each other from their assets.

Hawaiki cable goes live

Last week, the undersea Hawaiki cable switched on for commercial operations. The benefits are more competition, capacity, and resilience in New Zealand's international data links. Home Internet users will benefit over time, but probably won't see an immediate speed boost.

We could compare this upgrade with adding more trains to a rail network. The upgrade makes the system better at moving things around, but individual commuters might not get where they are going any faster. Like a better train network, Hawaiki might have particular benefits for heavy users, in this case our big data researchers, and those in industries like movie special effects that demand lots of data be shipped around the world.

Can we get good Internet access to all New Zealanders?

Better international links are a good thing, but there are still important digital divides in New Zealand, which mean people miss out on the Internet's benefits. As a story in Stuff last week showed, one of those divides is getting a good enough connection to the Internet. That's most obvious for people living in more remote areas. Te Wharau, where Stanley and Marie Nield live, is 2 hours drive from Wellington, but as our Broadband Map shows, it's far away from a good Internet connection.

The article by Katie Kenny draws on InternetNZ's recent paper Solving Digital Divides Together, written by my colleague Nicola. That paper identifies digital divides in ability, accessibility, and affordability, and calls for a target of universal access, so all New Zealanders can choose to benefit from the Internet.

Is California catching up on privacy protections?

In New Zealand and elsewhere, 2018 is a big year for thinking about privacy and personal data online. We have seen the European GDPR come into effect, with dramatic results for "new privacy policy" emails in our inboxes. Now California lawmakers have moved to establish a new privacy law, a first for a United States jurisdiction.

The political backstory here is a bit interesting. California is where the biggest parts of the biggest online tech companies are based. You might think that creates political tensions around privacy laws which control the use of personal data. You might well be right. California has a system of direct democracy, where people can put up ballot initiatives to a general vote, a bit like New Zealand's Citizens' Initiated referendums. One of those ballot initiatives was a set of privacy protections.

The ballot initiative process isn't that flexible, and cuts off some avenues for lawmakers to refine legal rules. By passing the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, lawmakers are aiming to head off the ballot initiative, keep control of the privacy protections, and allow for further negotiation and refinement of the legal rules. The law doesn't take effect until 2020, so there's still time for negotiating amendments, where tech companies based in California will have lots to say. It's also interesting for law nerds, who can debate what privacy protections are even allowed under the United States Constitution, and whether one state can set its own standards in this way.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, our Privacy Bill is being considered by the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, with a whopping 164 written submissions. What's really interesting is that virtually all submitters support stronger privacy protections, updated to account for the Internet era. We'll have more to share when we get a chance to talk to the Committee ourselves.

Here's a good summary on California's law:

Crypto corner: pyramid schemes aren't fun

Innovation is good, in general. Unfortunately, the rise of cryptocurrencies has opened up lots of innovation which is questionable at best. One common example: any Internet-connected device can be used to mine cryptocurrency. That creates an incentive to take over people's smartphones and browsers.

But today's main innovation is much more special than that. FOMO3D is a pyramid scheme where players build up a pot of cryptocurrency, and then bid to be the last person holding it. Like a TradeMe auction, a bid at the last minute extends the closing time, and tempts other players to bid even higher. It's a bit like a pass-the-parcel game, with players throwing money into the parcel, in the hopes they'll take everyone else's contributions. Though intended as a satire on greed, it's grown to be 40% of the transaction volume on the Ethereum blockchain. That's not all, though. For some reason, this game has attracted scammers who want to steal players' credentials.

Our view: in this case, the only way to win is not to play