Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Finland and Estonia pioneering cross-border health services

On January 21, digital exchange of prescriptions and patient summaries became a reality between Finland and Estonia, the first two countries pioneering the use of e-prescriptions across borders.  As such, the first EU patients will be able to use digital prescriptions issued by their home doctor when visiting a pharmacy in another EU country: Finnish patients are now able to go to a pharmacy in Estonia and retrieve medicine prescribed electronically by their doctor in Finland.

Movement of people across the EU is increasing more and more, reason why in 2011 the European institutions adopted the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive (2011/24/EU), ensuring the continuity of care for European citizens across borders. This gives Member States the possibility to exchange health data in a secure, efficient and interoperable way.

The following two electronic cross-border health services are currently progressively introduced in all European countries:
  • ePrescription (and eDispensation) allows citizens in Europe to retrieve their medication in a pharmacy located in another European country, thanks to the online transfer of their electronic prescription from their country of affiliation (hereafter referred to as the country of residence) to their country of travel. Your country of residence is informed about the medicine you retrieve in the country of travel (eDispensation).

  • Patient Summary provides information on important health related aspects such as your allergies, current medication, previous illness, surgeries, etc. It will form part of a larger collection of health data called European Health Record, whose implementation across Europe is planned at a later stage. The digital Patient Summary is meant to provide doctors with essential information in their own language concerning the patient, when the patient comes from another EU country and there may be a linguistic barrier. On a longer term, not only the basic medical information of the Patient Summary, but the full Health Record should become available across the EU.

The ePrescriptions and Patient Summaries can be exchanged between EU countries thanks to the new eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure, which connects the eHealth national services among them to exchange health data.

According to the European Commission, 22 Member States are part of the eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure and are expected to exchange ePrescriptions and Patient Summaries by the end of 2021. Additionally, 10 Member States (Finland, Estonia, Czechia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Croatia, Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Belgium) may start these exchanges by the end of 2019.

Monday, 21 January 2019

The Copyright Directive's Article 13: An Orwellian Nightmare #SaveYourInternet

On January 2018, the European Council didn't convene to discuss what was supposed to be the last round on the discussions around reforming the Copyright Directive. This outcome indicates that the final adoption of this law will likely be delayed. Good news considering the  disastrous consequences of the adoption of Articles 11 and 13. Policy-makers are starting to doubt that the adoption of the Directive will happen before the upcoming European elections, in May 2019.

After the Council's results and public opinion pressure, Greens/European Free Alliance German MEP Julia Reda announced the outcomes of the Council's reunion saying that it is "less likely" that the controversial Articles 11 and 13 will be adopted. However, Reda let the alarm on, stating that these two articles are not dead either. The S&D British MEP Catherine Stihler told the EUobserver that the "meme ban" is still on the table in the EU copyright bill. "My kids look at that and think: how can you possibly even thinking about banning memes," said Stihler.

Do you enjoy scrolling around 9GAG? Forget it as it is under Article 13. Below is one of the countless memes all over the web. They are fruit of the work of independent creators who just want to banter around. Banning memes on the web it's almost like banning stand-up comedy shows George Carlin-style. It's outlawing and suppressing the magnificent art of using word play, opinions, exaggeration, irony, sarcasm and another comic themes to playfully humiliate. And according to Julia Reda, it's incompatible with existing EU law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The adoption of these two catastrophic articles would drastically change the internet as we know it while imposing a gloomy cut on our freedoms of expression. Simple acts like linking a source in an article would not be allowed under Article 11. As for Article 13, it would basically censor indiscriminate content using bots and algorithms. How scary is this?

Julia Reda's announcement on Twitter, January 2018:

Hopefully, the meaning of the recent non-adoption of this bill implies that internal disagreement is shaking things around, and Articles 11 and 13 are at the core of this contention. As Green MEP Julia Reda put on her blog: "national governments failed to agree on a common position on the two most controversial articles, Article 11, also known as the Link Tax, and Article 13, which would require online platforms to use upload filters in an attempt to prevent copyright infringement before it happens." 

A total of 11 countries voted against the compromise text proposed by the Romanian PresidencyGermanyBelgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovenia, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Croatia, Luxembourg and Portugal.

How did the parties in the European Parliament vote under the Copyright Directive in July and September 2018?

September 2018

July 2018

Both in July and September 2018, the European Parliament voted different set of rules that, according to digital activists, will entirely change the internet as we know it. As we see it, the majority of the Conservatives were in favour of ban content as well as a slight majority of the Socialists. The most controversial articles under the Copyright Directive include the already mentioned Article 11, also known as the Link Tax and Article 13, or Upload Filters.

After the Romanian presidency cancelled on January 18 the supposedly final negotiation of the Copyright Directive between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament, it will be up to the Romanian presidency - chairing the presidency of the Council of the EU since January 2019 - to draft a new text in order to gain a qualified majority. The adoption is not foreseen to happen before the European elections in May.

Expert Opinion regarding Article 13 (via Julia Reda)

  • Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet, from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users. – 70 internet luminaries including World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales 
  • This [law] will lead to excessive filtering and deletion of content and limit the freedom to impart information on the one hand, and the freedom to receive information on the other. – 57 signatories representing fundamental rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders 
  • States and intergovernmental organizations should refrain from establishing laws or arrangements that would require the “proactive” monitoring or filtering of content, which is both inconsistent with the right to privacy and likely to amount to pre-publication censorship. – United Nations Human Rights Council report

Expert Opinion regarding Article 11 (via Julia Reda)

Independent academics unanimously criticise the proposal:
  • “Unnecessary, undesirable, would introduce an unacceptable level of uncertainty and be unlikely to achieve anything” –37 IP professors and scholars 
  • “An interference with freedom of speech”, “may well set back the function of the press as public watchdog” –Prof van Eechoud 
  • “Contrary to the objective of creating a Single Digital Market”, “detrimental for authors’ interests”, “a negative impact on small publishers”, “risks having undesired repercussions for the acceptability and legitimacy of the copyright system as a whole” –Uni Strasbourg 
  • ”Will not foster quality journalism”, ”adversely affects authors economically”, ”directly affects the online communication of the European population”, ”will not create additional revenues for press publishers” –Prof Peukert 
  • “will ultimately privilege large incumbent (US-based) online news providers, such as Google”, “Small (European) entities and startups will be prevented from entering this emerging market” –European Copyright Society 
  • “The final result … may … be further market concentration and less information diversity.” –Prof Senftleben 
Several stakeholders who are supposed to benefit from the proposal have rejected it:
  • “An attack on innovation” … “unhelpful, counterproductive and not in the interest of all publishers” … “bad for competition, media pluralism and for internet users” … “Serious negative effects on the quality of the press, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression” –European Innovative Media Publishers (also here
  • “Such proposals make it harder for us to be heard, to reach new readers and new audiences. They create new barriers between us and our readers […] It will be harder for us to be present, discovered and accessed by our readers online. It will be harder for our readers to engage with our stories online, to share links or our headlines with their friends. It will be harder for us to grow, develop new sources of information and innovate in our business.” –Alliance of independent publishers, including the publishers of 900 periodicals in Spain and 155 local newspapers in Italy 
  • “[The plan] will stifle and drown the process of digital transformation” –Major Spanish daily El País 
  • “[The plan] risks […] putting all EU-based publications at a competitive disadvantage.” –71 independent publishers 

Don't feel powerless. If you want to raise your voice against this unconstitutional law, join the struggle and tell your MEP to STOP COPYRIGHT CENSORSHIP here.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Film Documentary: The Reality of #Vanlife - Make me Instagram Famous!

Have I been living under a rock?

Do incognito people "lecture" and share their feelings to a multitude of random strangers hoping to get virtually famous? How far have social media twisted people's minds?

When I accidentally watched the film documentary "The Reality of #VanLife", it made me think of what actually drives today's youth: is it to live new experiences, meet new cultures and places or there is a wider necessity of sharing those experiences virtually with unknown people? When a new experience is so fulfilling and life-changing, it is because people are showing to others what they're doing and therefore seeking recognition and validation, or because people are in fact experiencing new and revitalizing evolution cycles?

This documentary, produced by an ex van dweller explores all the setbacks and mishaps lived for those who have chosen to live in vans while traveling across countries. The particularity of this film is the focus that the producer gives to the use of  Instagram while jamming out in the van-life. In other words, the role played by Instagram in the lives of these wandering crowd.

As a personal disclaimer, I must acknowledge that I truly love road trips and have had wonderful wild camping experiences where I surely lacked some hygiene conditions, comfort and warm meals - some of the major issues faced by van dwellers, according to the documentary. However, all of these trips were carefully chosen during summertime and during a period of no longer than a week or so. There was no social media updates of these experiences, though. Yet, it is undeniable that there is nothing more liberating than roaming around with no clear destination.

Where is this urge to disclose privacy so instantaneously coming from? 

Sure, there is, naturally, a number of family, friends and acquaintances on social media (with whom one can obviously talk and exchange messages in total privacy), but Instagram in particular seems to be a virtual branding factory. Apparently, this is why today's youth are so eager and committed to expose their lives online. They believe if they post as much of their lives (or fabricated lives) they can eventually be sponsored or they will reach an astronomic number of followers and become famous. What is the cost of these actions? First and foremost, Instagramers are putting out personal content for everyone to see and potentially misuse it. All-in-one, it represents a tacit renounce to privacy. In today's world with massive big data investments and rising cyber-security threats, renouncing to privacy can be a dangerous idea.

In my life, I have met a number of genuinely spiritual people who have led wandering lives - always with a goal in sight - but who have always refrained from sharing any aspect of their lives across the digital realm. They didn't have to show off they were following a plant-based diet, that they were recycling or renouncing to plastic, that they were travelling the world and had reached the peak of the Southern Alps, that they were gradually experiencing the effects of Ayahuasca or that they were practicing meditation on a daily basis. These were personal and liberating accomplishments.

Watch the full documentary here.

Here's some of the most poignant comments from Youtube users, directly on the full documentary The Reality of #Vanlife:

  • "If you just like camping and living in a vehicle but don't have an Instagram, do you still exist?"

  • "Glad to see the final product. I think most people understand that social media isn't an accurate representation of reality. There were some funny bits taking the piss out of van life. Van life is still in my opinion, one of the best ways to travel by land." 

  • "Van life is NOT a young persons thing, that is a misconception, because of social media. Vanlife has been around since the 60s. I am 53, I live and travel in my van, fulltime. The #, is what has made it more acceptable to live this lifestyle. Great video."

  • "Social media created a very shallow generation of young people who only care about themselves and likes..."

  • "If you allow yourself to be influenced by influencers on social media, you get what you deserve."

What is their strategy?

First, Instagramers need to create a virtual identity and progressively shape it. Identities can be revealed in the form of the traveler, the runner or sports addicted, the animal lover, the family pack, the zen, the food lover, etc, etc,. Afterwards, they have to continuously "entertain" people to ensure they will remain followers and engage with their media. Social media platforms like Instagram do make sense when you're marketing a product, it is, in fact, the best social media network for that purpose. I tend to see wannabes (Instagramers) as marketing themselves as the "product", in the pursuit of glory and fame. Is this correct?

Youtubers are another breed. These people actually have to show themselves in front of the camera and present content to their audience. It's more real, more genuine and it takes charisma for them to be cherished by random people who ought to identify somewhat with them. In fact, to produce a decent vlog on Youtube it does require a certain level of skills whereas a single picture can be a master at contriving reality, genuineness and charisma.

Personal insights

I do have Instagram but I'm far from being a frequent user. If I go there twice per month it's already too much. There are months when I literally forget I have an Instagram account. I created an account in 2012 but I never saw the point of using it as at the time I was a frequent Facebook user. It did not seem logical to me to use both platforms, repeating the shared media.

Over time, and as I got to learn more and more about how intrusive Facebook (which also owns Instagram) is, I decided to progressively stop using it. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, oh boy, I realised that I would not voluntarily be part of a virtual mass experiment and a guinea-pig. I drastically cut my presence on Facebook with the exception of posting a song every two months or so. I realised that I truly don't need Facebook to keep in contact with my family and friends. Since I moved abroad for the past 5 years, one could think that it would be handy. It's not.

The truth is, I use a lot of Whatsapp, yet my notifications are all turned off. Since Whatsapp is equally owned by Facebook, I do have my doubts about the real privacy policy of Whatsapp and its encrypted messages, but at least, I'm sharing what I want to share with whom I want to share.

It is understandable, though, that people become somehow addicted to the use of social media. These online networks are made to create dependency and addiction and they are ruling the web. Side effects like isolation and mental health problems have been linked to the use of social media and its instant gratification feeling coming from "likes", "followers", "comments" or any other type of engagement. Moreover, the so-called FOMO (fear of missing out) seems to be another of the several reasons for folks to continuing posting, scrolling down and liking media as in a way of saying: "Hey, I'm here, don't you forget that I exist."

I wonder if social media networks will end up disappearing or whether they'll develop into something else. For the good sake of today's children, I *secretly* wish that these online platforms become obsolete not to ruin a kid's childhood. Yet, I realise that technology always as a way of coming back in different forms and shapes. It's up to us to be mentally strong and decide how and when to use social media as productively and genuinely as possible.

Soundtrack from the movie Into the Wild. Music by Eddie Vedder. 

Thursday, 3 January 2019

MUST WATCH: Julian Assange's mother exposes secret services plan to topple "Wikileaks threat"

The tide is changing for Mr Assange. Please do take the time to go through the hacked and leaked documents developed  by Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies, after a request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm that currently counts Bank of America as a client. 

A threat so big for the US government can only be a hurdle for its national and foreign policy agenda. Recently, one of Donald Trump's legal counselors, Rudy Giuliani, expressed his opinion on how Julian Assange should not be prosecuted since the man hasn't done "anything wrong". Guliani went on saying: Every bit of that was true,” he went on.  “Just like the Pentagon Papers put a different view on Vietnam, this put a different view on Hillary Clinton.”