back to article The algorithms! They're manipulating all of us! reckon human rights bods Council of Europe

Human rights org the Council of Europe has warned that, without member states taking action, people may not be able to make decisions independently of automated systems because of sophisticated micro-targeting techniques. The group, which oversees the European Court of Human Rights, yesterday adopted a declaration urging its …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    The private sector ? Act with fairness ? Have you heard of Facebook ?

    If the private sector was intent on acting with fairness we wouldn't need GDPR.

    As far as companies are concerned, if it isn't explicitely against the law, it's fair game to try whether it's moral or not. And that is not something that is exclusively reserved to US companies either.

    The self-regulating market is a pipe dream served by selfish people intent on preserving their situation - the rest can be damned.

    So regulate. Make laws and enforce them. That is the only thing that will protect the people and keep things fair.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The private sector ? Act with fairness ? Have you heard of Facebook ?

      And what of the political establishment? They for years have used all available data to finely segment their "market", and then use micro-targeting techniques through their party grass roots and friendly media barons to influence public opinion.

      Seems to me that what is at issue here is that the liberal elite are getting all huffed up that somebody other than their political organisations might be able to influence.

      1. DCFusor Silver badge

        Re: The private sector ? Act with fairness ? Have you heard of Facebook ?

        Yes, moving the problem from private exploitation to government exploitation really doesn't solve much, does it.

        All tools are double edged. And if they're powerful, and this one is potentially the most powerful ever, they'll be used. The user will be at least attempting to benefit themself, though it could be a case of elaborate suicide. Kinda doubt it in this case where after all, prediction IS the thing. But then again, users always do get sloppy. Too bad about all that collateral damage, eh?

      2. Simon B-52

        The liberal elite ?

        Yes, because it's only "liberals" who are any sort of problem.

        The republican, communist, fascist and oligarcharcic elite are no problem at all.

        In fact, they don't even exist, so they can't be a problem.

        F*ck off.

      3. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: The private sector ? Act with fairness ? Have you heard of Facebook ?

        Seems to me that what is at issue here is that the liberal elite are getting all huffed up that somebody other than their political organisations might be able to influence.

        Agreed, this is democratisation they're worrying about. Echoes of the Establishment reaction to Gutenberg, and many other historic events.

        But I'm not convinced by your describing the likes of Rupert Murdoch as a "Liberal" elite!

    2. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: The private sector ? Act with fairness ? Have you heard of Facebook ?

      Yes, we all need protection from the dreaded possibility of having the throw pillows not match the drapes or improperly dried hair.

      Seriously, legislation is only really necessary when the barriers to entry are high which limits competition and against unfair trade practices. The problem is that getting it right is difficult. It's similar to moving jello, it needs minor support to guide it along but gripping with an iron fist gets you nowhere.

    3. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: The private sector ? Act with fairness ? Have you heard of Facebook ?

      If the private sector was intent on acting with fairness we wouldn't need GDPR.

      Yes, because we all know the public sector never loses condifential data, or gets it wrong. FFS.

      if it isn't explicitely against the law, it's fair game to try whether it's moral or not

      According to whose morals? I place no higher regard for your moral judgements than you do for mine. I trust you see the problem here?

      So regulate. Make laws and enforce them

      Agreed. Just don't expect the law to deliver what you consider "fair" or "moral". It might be using the next guy in lines definition for those words instead.

      That is the only thing that will protect the people and keep things fair.

      Define fair. Fair, like moral, is one of those lovely words that makes everyone feel all warm and fuzzy, but ultimately don't actually mean anything.

  2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    It's been going on for a long time

    The Brexit vote was a classic example of very sophisticated micro-targeting techniques - sure, the bus with the Big Lie was driving around the country and there was quite a lot of financial shenanigans running money around under the table but voters opinions were being manipulated all over the place by Facebook and virtually every media platform. Being "neutral" and reporting lies as if they are just alternative views of facts in an attempt to make it look like the reporting is fair, means that virtually everyone is guilty.

    It's not going to be an easy thing to fix, 50% of the evil is the crime, 25% is the criminal, and 25% is the people standing around watching and doing nothing.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "The Brexit vote was a classic example of very sophisticated micro-targeting techniques "

      Correct.

      And you can bet it was just a dry run for much bigger operations of a similar kind.

      It's possible that it's (partial) exposure would prevent the same bunch from doing the same with a 2nd referendum.

      But it's not guaranteed.

      1. Simon B-52

        Re: "The Brexit vote was a classic example of very sophisticated micro-targeting techniques "

        We've certainly seen the first of those bigger operations working perfectly, and bringing a horrific new meaning to "Orange Man".

        Come back Ian Paisley, all is forgiven.

      2. Shocked Jock

        Re: "The Brexit vote was a classic example of very sophisticated micro-targeting techniques "

        The "dry run" was the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum. In a representative democracy, the mandate should have been the touchstone: the SNP was hoodwinked into committing to referendums which can always be counted by those already in charge. Add the Dark Money and targeted mass media, and the result, although a foregone conclusion, showed a remarkable swing to Independence.

    2. M.V. Lipvig

      Re: It's been going on for a long time

      No, Brexit was a classic example of people not being bothered to vote considering it was passed by around 30 percent of the British electorate. About 1/3 of the Brits did not vote at all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's been going on for a long time

        > About 1/3 of the Brits did not vote at all.

        They specifically advertised it as non-binding. But have then gone ahead and used it as an excuse for this crap anyway.

        1. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

          Re: It's been going on for a long time

          Actually, it was a higher turnout than nearly all British elections. Which are binding.

          1. Tom -1

            Re: It's been going on for a long time

            Perhaps it's worth remembering that until recently Britsh referenda required 40% of those eligible to vote to deliver a "yes" result. 37% "yes" versus 35% "no" would have been a win for NO, not for YES, but for Brexit it's being rammed down our throats despite the tradition, and Scots who voted massively against Brexit are being forced to accept it. Scotland got denied any devolution of govenment powers for decades because their majority in the devolution referendum towards the end of the 70s consisted of fewer than 40% or eligible voters - a bigger proportion (51.6%) of actual YES voters than the proportion (51.3%) of actual voters for Brexit. To me, as a Scot, that seems disgraceful - a bigger majority was treated as lost in 1979 that the small majority that won the Brexit referendum. I guess the majority or English in the house of commons may have something to do with this blatant prejudice.ANd claiing that British elections to parliament are binding is just so much crap; if they were binding, we would need elections we would have an even worse electoral dictatorship than we have today: after all, we elected a conservative govenment last time round? If that's binding, why should we ever hold another election that might deliver a different result? That's more sensible than what's being claimed to preclude a referendum that determines whether we will accept whatever mess the government produces as a Brexit agreement is, but the English newspapers and most or the English dominated Conservative parties are advocating that "it was binding". And presumably you have forgotten that what parliament authorised a couple of years ago was specifically a NON-BINDING referendum.

  3. codejunky Silver badge

    Ha

    Manipulative gits crying about others possibly manipulating. What makes them any better than those? Its the untrustworthy crying others might not be.

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Ha

      Politicians can be outvoted. The EU is either full of them or by civil servants who can be fired if they do not do the jobs that politicians give them. Despite the best effort of xenophobes and other idiots to say differently, this is no different from how the UK is supposed to work.

      When business lays down the rules and looks after things, the only people that can put them out of work are people who are unhappy that they have not made enough profit.

      Politicians are supposed to work for us. Corporations are supposed to make money off us. This should make for different priorities...

      1. DCFusor Silver badge

        Re: Ha

        Yeah, that patent guy Benoit Battistelli, worked out real well trying to fire him, didn't it.

        Sure generated plenty of ink here.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Ha

        "...the only people that can put them out of work are people who are unhappy that they have not made enough profit...."

        Given the voting structure that many of the new Tech companies have set up (eg Google) where only a minority of shares have voting rights attached, even the above could soon no longer be the case

      3. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Ha

        @Spanners

        Politicians exist to get themselves elected. Civil servants exist to generate more bureaucracy and expand their fiefdoms. They are paid for by a tax system which is the taking of money by force.

        At least business has to provide something people want. They generally cannot force money to be taken from people.

        You might note I have no need to specify UK or EU or any of that. Government in general is an untrustworthy group of people who have the power of force. At least business is on the same side as the rest of us as private entities

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Re: Ha

          And what do our government ministers think about business? "Fuck business" is the current view isn't it?

      4. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Ha

        "Politicians can be outvoted" - but so what, it doen't make any difference these days does it? They just keep steaming along and planning vacations. Once upon a time, if the ruling party lost a vote in Parliament then we had a general election but not any longer, they just say "ops" and try again, and again, and again. You really don't need to bother about making an effort any longer.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Ha

          "Once upon a time, if the ruling party lost a vote in Parliament then we had a general election but not any longer, they just say "ops" and try again, and again, and again."

          When was that? Only certain votes were considered confidence votes, like Suez and adjourning of Parliament. Something like Brexit, where there isn't even a consensus from Government, never mind Parliament, would never have been treated as a confidence vote.

      5. The Cowboy Online

        Re: Ha

        "When business lays down the rules and looks after things, the only people that can put them out of work are people who are unhappy that they have not made enough profit." - not really true though, is it? Admittedly it depends on their being competition for the goods or services being offered, and there's no collusion, but we - the customers - can 'put them out of work' by choosing a competitor.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Manipulative gits crying about others possibly manipulating."

      Except they are not, are they?

      The "Council of Europe" oversees the "European Court of Human Rights"

      Which is a body that tries to ensure fair treatment of all people in Europe.

      Needles to has generations of Home Secretaries have hated this body because it stops them doing WTF they want to do, when they want to do it. Despite how stupid or poorly targeted the policy is.

      You seem to have quite a flair for mis representing situations. You're looking less like a developer and more like a paid sock puppet.

  4. ThatOne Silver badge
    Devil

    Listen to me, said the mute to the deaf

    The whole goal of manipulation is to make the herd believe it wants the option you've decided for them, even if it's heading for the slaughterhouse (or "war", for herds of humans). For this very reason good manipulation is always fiercely defended by the manipulated, and this obviously gives about any opinion a reason to disregard any other opinion ("they're clearly manipulated to think so"). There is nothing more satisfying than to watch sheep fight to the death for the privilege of giving their wool to you.

    So, it's a lost battle, just give in? No, there is one (1!) remedy, and that is education. Which is why the dangerous parts of education are carefully avoided by any educational system out there (and when they don't feel sure they just dumb everything down). What's the profit if the sheep suddenly realize they have a use for that wool? Or start disliking the very idea of lamb chops?

  5. M.V. Lipvig
    Megaphone

    I'd like it

    if they just forced these companies to get prior authorization before gathering information on people it would make me happy. By prior authorization I mean a separate, standalone form that had to be filled out and signed by each person they want to track, with a requirement that the form be renewed each year. A form buried in a site access agreement that you must approve allowing unlimited, internet-wide tracking before being allowed access to that one site would be banned. I'd only be willing to sign one of these forms upon the deposit of 50,000 dollars a year to my bank account. I mean, obviously my data is valuable or they wouldn't want it so badly, right?

    I could see allowing a site to make you sign a form before accessing that site ONLY if it spelled out that you would only be tracked around that one site, all tracking stops when you leave that site, and that the form spell out all conditions covered on that specific page, with the form required to be in black and white, minimum 12 point type. None of that 2 point dark grey on a slightly lighter grey legally binding text crap some sites pull.

    Any company found tracking people around the internet without a signed, up to date authorization form, 5,000 dollars per instance. Any company fined more than 100,000 dollars per year, someone on the board is going to spend some time with Colonel Clink. And to make sure they are doing it right, the company must submit to regular, no-notice record audits.

  6. Jim Birch

    I'm more worried about the visible evil stuff.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      @Jim Birch: interesting point (I didn't down vote you), but there is a difference between visible evil and what is being talked about here. Visible evil can be fought against *because* it is visible. Manipulation is difficult to fight against, even if you recognise it. Education helps, but it is easy to manipulate people - as a species, we are both skilled and vulnerable to it.

      I'm not convinced that regulation will make any difference - the manipulation being claimed here is only a small change from what newspapers and pamphleteers have been doing for centuries. Unfortunately, short of proper education (and, as I said above, it is not a panacea), I don't have a better solution.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "is only a small change from what newspapers and pamphleteers have been doing for centuries."

    Wrong.

    It's using the response to each lie to determine what new lie you're going to feed them, ensuring they give you exactly the result you want. Because they are likely to be in their own little social media bubble of like minded types they will never realize you are feeding another group (possible with views exactly opposite to yours) exactly what they want to hear as well, in order to get the same result.

    Once people start sharing information (with each other, but especially with people they don't like) they can (but probably won't) realize "These people are, y'know, not really our friends. They're fibbing to all of us."

  8. John Stirling

    The reason this stuff works....

    ...is because despite THIS forum being a hotbed of high IQ analytical individuals, the main thrust of debate has been to attack the points made by others.

    Instead of

    Gov says private companies bad...

    ...no but private companies worse.

    The stream SHOULD be

    Gov says private companies bad...

    ...yes, and Gov not great either - how do we legislate to ensure we are not all manipulated into meaningless factionalism by a few well placed sock puppets.

    Hmmm.....

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