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SEO News of the Week: International Edition

“Trolling” Now Illegal in New Zealand

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An act went into effect last week in New Zealand that makes “harmful digital communications” illegal, with prison sentences of up to two years and fines worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Harmful communications are defined as statements that, among other things:

  • Are indecent
  • Are false
  • Are used to harass an individual
  • Are about disabilities
  • Are about sexual orientation
  • Are sexist
  • Are racist
  • Are religiously intolerant
  • Disclose sensitive personal facts about others
  • Make false allegations
  • Are made in breach of confidence

The harshest punishment, of up to three years in jail, is reserved for comments that encourage suicide, even if the victim does not attempt it. The law’s stated intent is to prevent bullying online.

In addition to criminal punishment, courts may order that the material be taken down, that a correction or apology be published and that defendants don’t encourage others to engage in similar communications. Also, the courts can require online platforms to hand over information about the identities of its users.

The new law raises freedom of speech concerns and has been widely criticized, but it passed the New Zealand parliament 116 to 5. Critics are asking why defamation law for online speech should be regulated different from laws regarding non-digital speech.


Chinese Law Would Ban Hacking, Restrict Internet Access


The National People’s Congress in China released the text of a bill that would criminalize hacking and increase cybersecurity. If passed, it would also increase censorship by allowing the government to restrict Internet access when there is a “threat to public security.”

The law is meant to “safeguard cyberspace sovereignty and national security” from the threat of cyberattack, cybercrime and the spread of “harmful” information online, according to a statement by the National People’s Congress and reported by the South China Morning Post.

The law would also allow the government to delete any information that it deems illegal and to obtain records about dissemination. If passed, Internet operators would have to make users’ register with only their given names. Violations could cost up to $632,000 in fines and the loss of a business license.

Critics say the law is overly vague, and scholars predict that it could put a chill on international trade because it could force foreign companies to turn over their source code and design specifications. Building back doors for the government could also make it easier for hackers to snoop, they say.


The Right to Be Forgotten


In the European Union (EU), individuals can claim the “right to be forgotten” online, meaning they can ask for private information to be removed from web pages and search engines. These requests are especially for anything that is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive,” and in certain instances online publishers must comply. Early this year, that right to obtain deletion was expanded to include search engine links to articles with unwanted content.

This week, the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group in the U.S. is asking that Americans be granted the same right, specifically the right to ask Internet companies to remove links that are no longer relevant. For the most part, except for things like personal financial information and revenge porn, users in the U.S. don’t even have a way to ask for this from companies such as Google.

On July 3, Russian legislators passed a bill that introduced the right to be forgotten for its citizens. If publishers refuse and the courts find that the request for removal was lawful, the publishers could be automatically be fined more than $50,000. When the bill is heard by Russia’s upper parliament, the automatic portion of the law could be changed so that fines would go into effect only after publishers refuse court orders.


Researchers: Google Doesn’t Show Women High-Paying Jobs


Google shows men ads for high-paying jobs much more often than it shows them to women, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon and the International Computer Science Institute.

The study went viral just after it was released last week, and it sparked controversy about discriminatory ads against women throughout the web.

In addition to studying job ads, the study also looked at how Google shows ads to users who visit sites dealing with mental disorders, infertility, disabilities, adult content and substance abuse. The ads did change to a statistically significant degree for disabilities and substance abuse, although Google’s “sensitive category policy” prohibits targeting based on health issues and substance abuse.

The study used software to create fake profiles and then used bots to track how ads were displayed. In one experiment, Google showed ads about coaching services for executive-level positions to men’s profiles more than five times as often as it showed them to women’s profiles, for the same searches. Instead, women’s profiles saw ads about jobs at an auto parts dealer and ads from a generic staffing service.

“We cannot claim that Google has violated its policies,” the team wrote in the paper. “In fact, we consider it more likely that Google has lost control over its massive, automated advertising system.”

Though the authors didn’t blame Google directly, they did call for change.

“The amoral status of an algorithm does not negate its effects on society,” they wrote.