Would You Describe Your Relationship With Google, Amazon, or Apple as “Intimate” and/or Their Relationship With You as “Controlling” or “Coercive”?

I’ve been thinking about all those terms and conditions that the big web corps use to justify doing what they want with the data they collect about our actions. And also the way that Facebook, particularly, does abusive stuff and then just apologises, says sorry, it won’t happen again…

From the UK Serious Crime Act 2015, c. 9, Part 5, s. 76:

76 Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

   (a) A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (B) that is controlling or coercive,

   (b) at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected,

   (c) the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and

   (d) A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.

(2) A and B are “personally connected” if—

   (a) A is in an intimate personal relationship with B, or

   (b) A and B live together and—

   (i) they are members of the same family, or

      (ii) they have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

(3) But A does not commit an offence under this section if at the time of the behaviour in question—

   (a) A has responsibility for B, for the purposes of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (see section 17 of that Act), and

   (b) B is under 16.

(4) A’s behaviour has a “serious effect” on B if—

   (a) it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against B, or

   (b) it causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on B’s usual day-to-day activities.

(5) For the purposes of subsection (1)(d) A “ought to know” that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.

(6) For the purposes of subsection (2)(b)(i) A and B are members of the same family if—

   (a) they are, or have been, married to each other;

   (b) they are, or have been, civil partners of each other;

   (c) they are relatives;

   (d) they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);

   (e) they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);

   (f) they are both parents of the same child;

   (g) they have, or have had, parental responsibility for the same child.

(7) In subsection (6)

  • “civil partnership agreement” has the meaning given by section 73 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004;

  • “child” means a person under the age of 18 years;

  • “parental responsibility” has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989;

  • “relative” has the meaning given by section 63(1) of the Family Law Act 1996.

(8) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for A to show that—

    (a) in engaging in the behaviour in question, A believed that he or she was acting in B’s best interests, and

    (b) the behaviour was in all the circumstances reasonable.

(9) A is to be taken to have shown the facts mentioned in subsection (8) if—

    (a) sufficient evidence of the facts is adduced to raise an issue with respect to them, and

    (b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

(10) The defence in subsection (8) is not available to A in relation to behaviour that causes B to fear that violence will be used against B.

(11) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

   (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;

   (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or a fine, or both.

To what extent could the sorts of thing that recommendation services do, (recommendation services that model a great deal about us), start to appear coercive? Can the asymmetric (power) relationship we are in with this services be defined as “intimate”?

PS by the by, I’ve started looking at laws again that might be used as the basis of “robot laws” (laws relating to slavery, animal rights, accessibility, limits on behaviour as a result of mental (in)capacity etc) and also started trying to note the laws that companies use to weasel their way out of various corporate responsibilities. Things like the Innocent publication defence in The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008, for example; how easy is it to look up whether Google or Facebook have availed themselves of this sort of defence, I wonder?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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