Robin Berjon

Digging into the Big Knob Theory

Competition & Privacy: It's Both Or Nothing

Abstract stylised lights and shadows.

If you've spent any amount of time discussing reforms to improve privacy online, you've likely encountered the Big Knob Theory. Like Covid it comes in variants, but its core tenet can be summarised thus: there exists (metaphorically) a Big Knob that can either be turned towards "privacy" or towards "competition" — but it's very much a zero-sum game and you can't have both. It's a popular position; but is it true?

Get Your Own Data, Not Your Own Facts

Privacy: A Quick Reality Check

Stylised image of a gathering storm over Manhattan.

There has been ample debate in some tech circles as to just how much of a privacy war is really being waged. My personal sense is that it's not so much of a war as it is a reality check. It has become very painfully obvious that the same old simple solutions don't work — and some people are up in arms that reality is being inconvenient to them.

Do not sell my European data

GPC under the GDPR

A grainy view of the Corsican waterfront.

The Global Privacy Control is making steady progress towards adoption. As a global signal supported by browsers, it's a natural question to ask what it means under regimes such as the GDPR. Here's my personal take.

Crisis Discipline

Stewardship of Ourselves

A weird diagram from Anthony Giddens

Working behind the scenes in the news media sector, it has become increasingly clear to me that tech and the internet as they operate today are causing structural damage to our collective institutions that runs deeper than seems to be understood. But these changes can be hard to characterise. If you take advertising revenue from high-quality contexts and use it to subsidise conspiracy theories, it's pretty obvious that nothing good will happen — but we barely have an understanding of the data economy sufficient to put a critique of this transfer on solid footing. If you move editorial decisions about what information people get to see first from tens of thousands of career editors working with methods that are highly diversified in biases, culture, skill, or politics the world around to a tiny number of algorithms that are everywhere uniform, what effect can you expect? Reputational and market-driven accountability will be removed, which is evidently bad, but the massive simplification of this ecosystem seems very likely to have deep-running consequences of its own — but how do you begin proving that? A new paper in PNAS leads the way forward.

You Missed A Spot

Notes on Google's Commitments to the CMA

Grainy mountain view with a gap in the cliff face

The British competition regulator (the CMA) just released a draft agreement with Google relating to the "Privacy Sandbox". I take a quick look at it through the lens of enabling better standards and stronger cooperation between the world of standards and policy.

Without Borders

We Can Open This

Big white 'WE CAN DO THIS' text from a Biden campaign.

It's time to lift the coronavirus travel ban — ideally entirely but failing that at least for vaccinated non-immigrant visas.