Tuesday, 25 April 2023

Silence and consent

Terrance Eden has written a blog post entitled “Silence Isn't Consent” it is a tale of someone hammering one of his sites with a bot and the writer of that bot being quite a bit of an arse.

The post left me with two strong things I wanted to say. The first is easy to express, that the use of the term “enthusiastic consent” and the specific linking to a PSHE post on the subject made me feel quite icky. To quote the post explicitly “I know what they meant and, it some contexts, it's an understandable shortcut.” but having your content scraped should not even as a metaphor be equated to sexual activity without consent. 

The second was that this the issue of what people can and can't do with your content is important, and we have a framework for this, licences. Now Terrance doesn't say which of his sites the tool went after. If it was the blog he wrote the post on, he actively claims as much control over the copyright as he can, but if it was openbenches.org that is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license. So it isn't (I don't think) possible to spot breach of that just by the content being scraped. 

Thousands of tools are released every day. Am I expected to play whack-a-mole and shut down every new one that appears?

Terrance Eden - 'Silence Isn't Consent'

This 100% shouldn't need whack-a-mole, this activity should be covered by licences, this may need extra work, especially if we want to include rate limits in those agreements. And licencing needs to become as much covered by standard machine readable ways of highlighting as search engine inclusion (something in theory you specify once with headers, or meta-tags, or a text file, and everyone obeys.

However this is as much a “Nice to have” at this precise point as Terrance's ask to have an “opt in” to bots, and as for consent, even if you don't make icky equivalences about the web and the really real world, there is a ton of evidence that the vast majority of people on the internet don't understand it, even if reams of guidance are issued. just look at how badly most people implement it for cookies.


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