"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The Largest-Ever News Blackout in the Western World Still Going Strong as Many U.S. Newspapers Boycott Europe's Data Protection Law

Way back when, we delivered newspapers door to door by bicycle, folding the papers within their own page sections or wrapping them in a roll bound by a strong rubber band and then throwing them like baseballs to the front doors and porches of subscribers -- with even an unintentional occasional wild-winged toss to the roof of a veranda.

It was an era where newspaper delivery boys were the most important people (and worst paid, viz. most exploited of  all) -- the last mile, as it were -- in the process of getting the current news to the citizenry. That was the past.

Perhaps a kind of door to door news delivery may even mark the future ;-)

But for now we want to discuss the "news business" at the present, where the journalistic industry has in many respects lost sight of its true news purposes, dabbling instead in what many jurisdictions have declared to be illegal privacy-invading "data mining", an activity far removed from delivering "all the news that is fit to print", which once was claimed as the job of a top newspaper.

Well, what has happened to journalism in our digital age?

Today we were confronted with several "journalistic" events online, showing that "the news" now operates in a different era, under vastly changed conditions.

We wanted to read about the just headlined joining of America's two largest newspaper chains, GateHouse and Gannett. So, off to the chosen link ....

We found ourselves faced with the commercial "darkness" of the Washington Post, which instead of producing the news that our link was seeking, rerouted us to the Washington Post subscription page to tell us inter alia that "Democracy Dies in Darkness".

Was this like the "darkness" of the blocked news page we sought to read?

Rather, at the rerouted page, we were further urged to "Support great journalism" and told that "We rely on readers like you to uphold a free press." The sole message was for the newspaper's benefit, not ours ... subscribe!
 
Undaunted, we searched further online for another item of our interest, the Amway USA Today Coaches' Poll with the FBS Preseason College Football Rankings for 2019, which had just been published.

We were there presented with the following text at the rerouted page, which urged us to "learn more".... a usurpation of the job of educational institutions?
"USA TODAY NETWORK EUROPEAN UNION EXPERIENCE
A MESSAGE FROM USA TODAY NETWORK
It appears that you’re visiting us from a location in the European Union. We are directing you to our EU Experience.
"
... which turns out to be a page of junk links to more or less junk pages, rather than the football link originally clicked.

Is the NCAA and are the 62 college football coaches whose vote makes up this Ranking Poll aware that publishers such as Gannett block all users in Europe from seeing their vote and that the user is redirected to junk pages of the newspaper publishers?

Wayne Staats writes in College football rankings: Every poll explained and how they work Guide to the college football Coaches Poll:
"Like the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll starts with a preseason Top 25 and continues weekly on Sundays during the season and after the bowl games. There are 62 coaches voting in the poll, which gives teams points on a scale from 1 to 25 (25 for ranking a team No. 1, 24 for No. 2, etc.)."
Should Amway and/or USA Today be forbidden from publishing these polls under their names if they are discriminating against overseas viewers for political reasons, i.e.discriminating against users simply for the fact that they do not like European privacy law lawmaking....

The deeper problem here is a totally unnecessary confrontation of publishers such as Gannett and its owned USA Today with Europe's Data Protection Law, the GDPR. It is a confrontation newspaper publishers have no chance of winning, and it constitutes gross stupidity. As written at EU GDPR.Org:.
"[A]d networks and the publishers who collect revenue from them are among those most put off by the EU law. As GDPR went into effect a year ago—on May 25, 2018—hundreds of American news outlets, including the Chicago Tribune and others owned by Tribune Publishing, decided that rather than go GDPR-compliant, they would simply block anyone coming to their sites from Europe. It stands as one of the largest-ever news blackouts in the Western world, and it’s still going on a year later. For Cubs and Bears fans marooned in Europe, the data-privacy rule has made it far more difficult to get decent back-home coverage of their beloved teams. When news outlets as large and as storied as the Tribune and its corporate siblings, such as The Baltimore Sun and the New York Daily News, feel obliged to bar European visitors from their websites, it’s evidence of how ambitious data-privacy rules could reshape the news industry if they spread." ["and they will spread", emphasis added by LawPundit]
 The EU GDPR.Org website regards the GDPR to be landmark legislation:
"The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years.
The GDPR is a sign of the times. Unregulated data mining is being battled everywhere. Companies had ample time to prepare their websites for these EU regulations, so that the news blackout is an intentional user-damaging non-abiding challenge to EU law. It tries to bypass Europe's legislation -- i.e. laws and regulations which aim to protect online users from increasingly encroaching privacy-invading data mining.

Recall that Europe is a market of ca. 500 million inhabitants, so that this is not just some trivial legal matter. It has to do with the rule of law. Adam Satariano at the The New York Times wrote about this entire matter in 2018 at its inception in U.S. News Outlets Block European Readers Over New Privacy Rules:
"American news outlets including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Arizona Daily Star abruptly blocked access to their websites from Europe on Friday, choosing to black out readers rather than comply with a strict new data privacy law in the European Union that limits what information can be collected about people online. 
The new rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, strike at a core element of businesses that offer free content online but that make money by collecting and sharing user data to sell targeted advertising. The shutdowns came as a surprise to readers of the publications, because companies had two years to prepare for the new regulations." [emphasis added by LawPundit]
As a matter of necessary perspective, at the same time as this is going on, college athletes are being exploited to the hilt, including the very same coaches making the rankings, coaches who command princely salaries so high that the highest paid government employee in most every state is a head college sports coach. So writes Matthew Michaels in Business Insider, "The highest-paid public employee in most states is a college football or basketball coach, according to a new report from ESPN.")

Nevertheless, the interests of online users and sports fans are being quashed by the newspaper publishing industry to boycott sensible data protection legislation and privacy laws that limit the amount of private information that companies can collect about users. Not user rights or advantages are the focus of activities, but only the profits of the firms.

Lastly, as a University of Nebraska (and Stanford Law School) graduate, when we try to access the major newspapers of the state of Nebraska to inform ourselves about e.g. Nebraska Cornhusker Big Red Husker athletic fortunes, both the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World Herald continue to greet us with virtually the same rule-of-law-denying notices:

Lincoln Journal Star
"451: Unavailable due to legal reasons
We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time. For any issues, contact webmaster@journalstar.com or call 877-760-6006."
Omaha World Herald
"451: Unavailable due to legal reasons
We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time. For any issues, contact webmaster@omaha.com or call 402-444-1000."
"Unavailable due to legal reasons?" That statement is nonsense per se.
To metaphor Roman Hruska, that statement is a mediocrity of legal thinking.
Nothing in law prohibits U.S. newspapers to abide by the GDPR. Many do.

However, after 20+ years of downward-spiraling mediocrity in Husker football fortunes, the Cornhusker football team has a new head coach and staff which make an escape from mediocrity likely, at least in football. 

Frost hails from Wood River, Nebraska, a stone's throw from Hastings, Nebraska, the home town of former Cornhusker football head coach Tom Osborne. Both towns are a stone's throw from Funk near Holdrege, our own first residence in the USA, and we have talented fraternity brothers who reside in Lexington and Kearney. This is a corner of Nebraska in which quality and performance prevail.

People must rise above the stagnation of inert mediocrity that marks backward newspapers, also in Nebraska, and also in the attitudes toward the GDPR -- which is an eminently sensible piece of modern legislation in our runaway privacy-invading digital era.

Boycotting the GDPR is just mediocrity in action.