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Monthly update on human rights & tech: February 2024

Internet freedom advocates, European media corporation takes on Big Tech ad kings, and the Dutch registry goes Canadian: a quick read through the most interesting developments at the intersection of human rights and technology from the Netherlands.

Big Brother Awards

During the Big Brother Awards 2023 prizes were awarded to the two biggest violators of our digital rights in 2023. Of the four nominees, the public chose outgoing Minister of Justice and Security Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius with a whopping 42 percent of the votes. The expert jury chose the joint nomination of Meta, X and Telegram for their role in moderating speech related to the violence in Gaza. The Felipe Rodriquez Award for Internet freedom advocates went to not one but five winners this year, emphasizing the diversity of voices needed to counter harmful digitization and the wide range of great work being done.

Robin Pocornie won for raising the issue of the Vrije Universiteit's racist proctoring software; Wido Potters for showing that you can advocate for business interests and human rights at the same time; Muslim Rights Watch Netherlands for their efforts on behalf of people who have been unjustly placed on a terror list; Niels Westerlaken for his efforts to get the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stop using a discriminatory algorithm to assess visa applications; and finally Expertise Center SPOON for their efforts to improve government openness and accountability.

DPG Media announces acquisition of RTL Nederland

An interesting development in the Dutch media landscape! DPG Media, which holds Dutch, Belgian and Danish brands, announced that it plans to acquire RTL later this year, subject to regulatory approval. DPG is counting on the move leading to a stronger position in the advertising market. The company says it will otherwise lose out to competition from Big Tech companies such as Google, Meta and Microsoft.

In order to serve visitors personalized ads, DPG has developed an environment it calls the "Trusted Web" in which it tracks and profiles visitors across its various websites. With RTL (and streaming service Videoland), that environment is being expanded.

A DPG spokesperson saysTrouw did a great write-up of the planned acquisition: "Google knows a lot more about people than DPG does. [...] But there is also something we do better than Google, and that is the quality of the media we provide; quality newspapers with reliable news. It's worth a lot to an advertiser to advertise on such a news site."

We agree. But it is not just the dominance of Google and Meta in the ad market that's a problem. It's also the way they advertise. Personalized advertising, as opposed to contextual advertising, opens the door to opaque nudging and manipulation. So points to DPG for trying to break the dominance of Google and Meta; pity the short-term thinking. Because in the long run, DPG's product is quality media and public debate, not the bartering of (our!) attention.

Dutch registry SIDN abandons own tech infrastructure in favor of Canadian system

The Dutch registry SIDN (responsible for maintaining .nl) announced it's parting with its own, homegrown domain registration system, and instead will be collaborating with the Canadian CIRA to further develop the system they've built and sell as a service. The announcement has left a large part of the internet community stunned, and members of parliament questioning how the move aligns with the Dutch (and European) ambitions to become less reliant on foreign tech.

And finally...

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee wanted to know who attended a climate demonstration at Schiphol Airport. In consultation with the public prosecutor, she decided to go a bit rogue and match social media accounts related to Extinction Rebellion's Facebook page to pictures taken at Schiphol and faces in the controversial police database CATCH. Not surprisingly, this led to a mad high number of mis-identifications.Check what we wrote about this back in September 2023. The "creative" work undertaken by the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee earned them a Big Brother Awards nomination. Fortunately, the public prosecutor seems to realize something didn't go quite as it should have; it has decided to drop all charges related to the demonstration.

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