Month: February 2019

After A Chaotic Week In Brexit Politics, Here’s What You Need To Know

Brexit has convulsed the United Kingdom like no other political event in decades, but it can be hard to follow the day-to-day machinations. At the end of a chaotic week, here’s what to know.

How different are things now for the U.K. than they were on Monday?

Considerably. It is now clear that after two years of negotiating a Brexit withdrawal arrangement with the European Union, the United Kingdom is highly unlikely to leave on the planned exit date, March 29. Next week, Prime Minister Theresa May is almost certain to ask for an extension. How much time she requests will depend on whether she can get her deal through Parliament early next week.

How likely is it that the EU will approve an extension?

Likely. All 27 remaining EU countries must agree, and there are genuine divisions, but the EU is expected to say yes. That’s because it’s not seen in anyone’s interest — except some hard-core “Brexiteers” in Britain’s Parliament — for the United Kingdom to crash out of what is effectively the world’s second-largest economy.

If the EU approves an extension now, will the U.K. call on it later to approve more extensions?

That’s a major EU concern. It is already exasperated with the chaos in Britain’s Parliament. Officials in Brussels have made it clear they want either a short delay — or a very long one. They don’t want rolling cliff-edges.

May has outlined a plan. She wants to bring back her zombie-like Brexit deal — which Parliament has already twice voted down by staggering margins — for another vote before a meeting of EU leaders on Thursday, March 21. If it passes, she will ask for an extension until June 30, which is just before a new European Parliament will be seated. If her deal fails, she will ask for a longer extension — which she has hinted could kill Brexit.

If the longer extension is granted, what will happen during that extension period?

The U.K. government and Parliament will have to figure out a way to break the deadlock that has paralyzed politics in this country for months. It’s hard to say what a solution might look like. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, is talking of a much softer Brexit in which Britain would remain in a customs union with the EU. Some in Parliament want a second referendum.

There does not seem to be majority support for either of these options now, which is the problem. The EU might only grant a long extension on the condition the U.K. seeks a softer Brexit, holds a general election or a second Brexit vote.

Where do things stand for Prime Minister Theresa May after the past three days of votes?

She still has her job, which is remarkable: In normal times, which seemed to end in the U.K. after the 2016 Brexit referendum, a prime minister who had suffered such stunning defeats would’ve resigned long ago. But Brexit has turned U.K. politics upside-down and created a new normal. There is always the threat of another Parliament-wide no-confidence vote — she’s already survived one — and the possibility of a general election. But May looks to stay in power for at least a while longer.

How meaningful is the official Brexit date of March 29 at this point?

Brexit is unpredictable, but the expectation is May will negotiate some kind of extension before the 29th. At that point, the date will cease to be relevant.

How much longer will all this drag out?

Probably for years. Right now, Brussels and London are only arguing over the Brexit “divorce” arrangement, unwinding more than 40 years of economic integration. After they sort out the terms of withdrawal, they will have to negotiate a new free-trade agreement, which typically takes years — and which analysts say will be even more difficult than what we’ve been witnessing.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of political maneuvering and parliamentary arcana, but what are the overarching issues here?

The most compelling issues driving Brexit are national identity, immigration, economic globalization and anger toward the political class. These are also central issues in the new politics of the United States and many countries in Western Europe.

After the most recent vote in the House of Commons, Stephen Crabb, a member of Parliament in Theresa May’s Conservative Party who supported remaining inside the European Union, described his country’s identity crisis this way to NPR:

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Makes Big New Promises About Privacy

Facebook, which grew into a colossus by vacuuming up your information in every possible way and using it to target ads back at you, now says its future lies in privacy-oriented messaging that Facebook itself can’t read.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO, announced the shift in a Wednesday blog post apparently intended to blunt both criticism of the company’s data handling and potential antitrust action. Going forward, he said, Facebook will emphasize giving people ways to communicate in truly private fashion, with their intimate thoughts and pictures shielded by encryption in ways that Facebook itself can’t read.

But Zuckerberg didn’t suggest any changes to Facebook’s core newsfeed-and-groups-based service, or to Instagram’s social network, currently the fastest growing part of the company. Facebook pulls in gargantuan profits by selling ads targeted using the information it amasses on its users and others they know.

“All indications that Facebook and Instagram will continue growing and be increasingly important,” Zuckerberg said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

Critics aren’t convinced Zuckerberg is committed to meaningful change.

“This does nothing to address the ad targeting and information collection about individuals,” said Jen King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. “It’s great for your relationship with other people. It doesn’t do anything for your relationship with Facebook itself.”

Facebook’s new orientation follows a rocky two-year battering over revelations about its leaky privacy controls. That included the sharing of personal information from as many as 87 million users with a political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Trump campaign.

Since the 2016 election, Facebook has also taken flak for the way Russian agents used its service to target U.S. voters with divisive messages and being a conduit for political misinformation. Zuckerberg faced two days of congressional interrogation over these and other subjects last April; he acknowledged and apologized for Facebook’s privacy breakdowns in the past.

Since then, Facebook has suffered other privacy lapses that have amplified the calls for regulations that would hold companies more accountable when they improperly expose their users’ information.

As part of his effort to make amends, Zuckerberg plans to stitch together its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messaging services so users will be able to contact each other across all of the apps.

The multiyear plan calls for all of these apps to be encrypted so no one but senders and recipients can see the contents of messages. WhatsApp already has that security feature, but Facebook’s other messaging apps don’t.

Zuckerberg likened it to being able to be in a living room behind a closed front door, and not having to worry about anyone eavesdropping. Meanwhile, Facebook and the Instagram photo app would still operate more like a town square where people can openly share whatever they want.

While Zuckerberg positions the messaging integration as a privacy move, Facebook also sees commercial opportunity in the shift. “If you think about your life, you probably spend more time communicating privately than publicly,” he told the AP. “The overall opportunity here is a lot larger than what we have built in terms of Facebook and Instagram.”

Critics have raised another possible motive — the threat of antitrust crackdowns. Integration could make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to later separate out and spin off Instagram and WhatsApp as separate companies.

“I see that as the goal of this entire thing,” said Blake Reid, a University of Colorado law professor who specializes in technology and policy. He said Facebook could tell antitrust authorities that WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger are tied so tightly together that it couldn’t unwind them.

Combining the three services also lets Facebook build more complete data profiles on all of its users. Already, businesses can already target Facebook and Instagram users with the same ad campaign, and ads are likely coming to WhatsApp eventually.

And users are more likely to stay within Facebook’s properties if they can easily message their friends across different services, rather than having to switch between Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. That could help Facebook compete with messaging services from Apple, Google and others.

As part of the process, Zuckerberg said Facebook will meet with privacy experts, law enforcement officials concerned about the new encryption making it impossible to uncover illegal activity being discussed on the messaging service and government officials.

Creating more ways for Facebook’s more than 2 billion users to keep things private could undermine the company’s business model, which depends on the ability to learn about the things people like and then sell ads tied to those interests.

In his interview with the AP, Zuckerberg said he isn’t currently worried about denting Facebook’s profits with the increased emphasis on privacy.

“How this affects the business down the line, we’ll see,” Zuckerberg said. “But if we do a good job in serving the need that people have, then there will certainly be an opportunity” to make even money.

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