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Safety and Privacy Concerns in Singaporean Live Streaming

In recent years, there has been an increased trend in the affordability of broadband internet and video cameras. This has led to the rise of youths mainly in the west live streaming their various activities over the internet. Live streaming Singapore can be considered as a live broadcast of audio and/or video over the internet. It is a phenomenon where it has been rapidly growing in the western countries. However, this paper focuses on a certain type of live streaming Singapore known as lifecasting, which involves an individual live broadcasting their entire life over the internet. Usually involving reality TV shows, lifecasting is almost similar in that it can be rather addictive with viewers being able to see the lifecaster in their unadulterated everyday life.

With the online evolution of the Web 2.0 platform, the internet has become more interactive in various ways. Singapore is known to be one of the highest internet-penetrated countries in the Asia Pacific region. The majority of Singaporean youths indulge in the internet where it has become an indispensable tool for the young. Desiring social interactions, they turned to online forums, gaming communities, chat messengers, and various other social media platforms. One rising popular trend for such social interaction is the emergence of live streaming webcams.

Overview of live streaming in Singapore

Live streaming is a recent trend brought about by technological improvements in video and audio capabilities, as well as the widespread use of smartphones and other mobile devices that allow users to broadcast live video to the internet. The video data is often hosted by third-party servers and can be retrieved by many viewers, and this is where the problem lies. In recent years, many live streaming platforms have surfaced and gained popularity, such as Instagram Live, Facebook Live, and most notably, Twitch, each with its unique features and target audience. Live streaming is mostly used by the younger crowd, and it can be a very useful platform for friends and family to stay connected when they are physically apart by broadcasting their current state to each other. It is also an alternative source of entertainment for viewers, as opposed to watching television. Gamers especially find live streaming to be a useful tool to speak to their viewers while showing them how to clear certain video games or to showcase a new game. Evidently, live streaming is geared towards creating a social environment, and it can be said that broadcasters feel a greater sense of attachment to the viewers due to the nature of real-time interaction.

Safety Concerns

Content moderation in most live streaming communities is largely ineffective due to various factors, such as a lack of broadcast delay or lack of policing and judiciary systems, and this is often exploited by trolls and troublemakers. A study published in 2014 on Problems of Internet Censorship in Singapore notes that censorship in Singapore can be categorized as purposeful and thorough but with an informal and private tone. In order to obtain desired results, the government may resort to enlisting the aid of local citizens and organizations in self-censorship and regulation of what is deemed undesirable by the government. While it is generally agreed that self-censorship is the best form of online control in Singapore due to active laws and regulation, the study notes that in today’s digital era, the lines between local and foreign information have become blurred and suggests that Singapore may need to reconsider its stance on internet regulation with increasing net globalization.

Online harassment has many forms and may be executed by people from all walks of life for numerous reasons. Recent events among notable political figures suggest that cyberbullying is a global societal issue. An ethnographic study on youth culture and net surfing conducted in late 2003 revealed that youths in Singapore have a strong sense of online identity and what is said about them in cyberspace has an effect on their real lives. The study found that cyberbullying is a result of the relatively consequence-free action of flaming and trolling in various forms of online discussion. Live streaming is not free from this, as seen by attacks against streamers and attempts to damage their reputation by disrupting their stream or misrepresenting them to their viewers.

Cybersecurity risk has always been a concern with any kind of internet activity; this should not be overlooked with live streaming. During the course of our research, we discovered a previously undocumented method to obtain a user’s IP address through the use of free web tools provided in the live streaming community. In instances where streamers, who are also hardcore gamers, have issues with rivals from online gaming and their gaming involves high stakes, it may lead to DoS attacks against the user, as it is a relatively simple task to utilize an obtained IP address to do so. Firewalls and routers can also be bypassed by the use of commercially available subscription-based stress testing tools. These issues may not only affect the streamer but also their family and other users of the same internet connection. With over 160,000 youths grappling with internet addiction issues, there may be cases where youths give up personal information, which can then be used to their detriment in similar ways.

Live streaming in Singapore has seen a growing trend in the last decade, whether for positive or negative reasons. A report on Singapore’s media habits in 2009, researched by MDA and Nielsen, found that live streaming was a primary component of the online activities of youths aged 15 to 24. One of the reasons was that youths found the wide variety of content, ranging from music and entertainment to social interaction, to be an essential factor. However, the same group also considered online games and live streaming to be somewhat addictive in nature because it was difficult to stop once started. The findings were consistent with IDA’s survey on internet addiction among youths in 2011, where free-to-play online games and social media were identified as more addictive activities. This suggests that the nature of online activities, such as live streaming, may have an impact on problematic behavior among youths.

Cybersecurity risks

Doxxing and swatting have occurred to victims in the Twitch and YouTube communities, most notably to Diablo M, Mia Rose, and Kootra. The detailed events would require drawing from the victims themselves and are of a sensitive nature; details can be found in news articles and independent research on the matter. In essence, it is this sort of criminal intrusion that too much of the global keystreaming community has become exposed to. It is the intention of the writer to help shed light on this and raise awareness to implement change for a safer future.

Unfortunately, this rapid global spread has brought with it forms of cyber attack that can be a severe intrusion to keystreamers and an erosion of their safety and privacy. Notable forms are website hacking, Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS), doxxing, and swatting. The latter two are the most serious, referring to the obtaining and publishing of private or identifying information (doxxing) and false reporting of an emergency at the victim’s residence in order to send a large police or SWAT team response unit (swatting).

Keystreaming in cyberspace is an activity of interacting live at a keyboard, discussing type-in input or controlling a graphical user interface, using data relayed via the Internet. With the advent of diverse means of global communication and an explosion of global social networking in the 21st century, keystreaming has grown considerably in significance and impact. Its seemingly infinite uses have generated a subculture of “online communities,” not to be confused with virtual communities where keystreaming is a principal mode of communication.

Online harassment and bullying

One of the safety concerns faced by children who live stream on mobile devices is the exposure to online bullying. This is due to the direct communication that mobile allows with viewers in a less moderated environment. Ito studied children aged 10 – 12 years old who were frequent users of the internet and mobile phones and found that one in five children had experienced being a target of bullying. For those children who live-streamed, viewers in the live chat can sometimes say unkind things to or about the child without realizing the impact it has, and in worse cases, viewers have created hate groups against the child after watching the live stream. This has led to some children feeling unsafe and victimized, and in one case, a child had suicidal thoughts. Such incidents can be hard to detect by the child’s parents or school teachers as they are unaware of this new form of cyberbullying, and it often takes place while the victim is alone. As the government continues to encourage technology adoption in young children with schemes such as the IDA’s Digital Readiness program, it is evident that there is a need for safety education about the use of live streaming and mobile devices.

Lui interviewed 21 female Twitch users and found that 14 had experienced gender-based harassment in some form. The results showed that the most common form of harassment was sexist or sexual comments and online stalking. The experience of harassment led some of the participants to feel anxious about seeking further success on Twitch and therefore decided to quit streaming, while others reduced the risk of harassment by changing their in-game character to avoid revealing their real-life gender. A similar research by Peter and Valkenburg showed that targets of internet harassment usually experience strong emotional responses such as anger, fear, and frustration, and these emotions were tied to psychological stress. Therefore, online harassment is a safety concern that can have long-lasting effects on the victim.

Both live streamers and their audience have been known to face online harassment and bullying on various social media platforms after the live stream is over. This can be in the form of hate comments on their social media profiles, making a fake account based on the person in the live stream with the intention to damage their reputation, or making compilation videos of the person to make fun of them. Such harassment has a psychological impact on the person.

Inadequate content moderation

The lack of guidance on what is acceptable and what is not in terms of the Singaporean context in live streaming can be a problem, as live streams can have very diverse viewers and an innocent topic to some might be sensitive to others. An example would be my personal experience during a live stream of a popular game, Dota 2. Viewers were discussing the in-game items and skills of the hero Invoker. Having a fond interest in personality theory and the Myers Briggs personality test, I speculatively linked the hero’s two different play styles to two different psychologists, calling them Dr. J for the first build and Dr. E for the second build. This caused a discussion on the wrong idea that I was referring to real-life psychiatrists and what type of job a psychiatrist would do if he was Invoker. This led to one viewer mentioning that my topic could be quite controversial and my statement could be offensive, and advised me to be careful about what I mention before abruptly leaving the stream. At that moment, I was not sure what I did wrong, but after a small talk with other viewers, we thought that the topic was fine and it was just that viewer’s personal sensitivity towards that issue. This may pose confusion for live streamers, as they should be wary of what they talk about but have no real guidelines on what topics are off-limits.

Returning back to Amos Yee, his actions through his live stream led to a police investigation as a police report was made a day after his live stream on April 5th. The police report was made by a member of the public who was concerned with Yee’s challenging of social and religious norms, which was considered malicious and defined under section 298 and 298A of the penal code. Yee wanted to make those remarks to prove his point on why he felt that his asylum and the acceptance of his controversial videos. But he probably crossed the line, as the penal code includes the prevention of enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion and race, doing acts prejudicial to maintaining harmony, and waging acts deliberately to insult any religion.

Singaporean content moderation laws are quite lenient from the government’s side but strict for those who cross the lines. This ambiguity creates a scare in live streamers because they never know what the limit is that they should not be crossing, as different cultures and the sensitivity of people towards certain topics and issues are different.

Privacy Concerns

While live streaming platforms have privacy policies in place that should theoretically provide protection for personal data, many of the key issues lie within the potential uses and misuses of personal data. In a study performed by Chng, Toh, and Ng (2013), it was highlighted that many instant messaging and social media platforms have privacy policies that are designed to protect their providers, often at the expense of the privacy of their users. It is argued that this is due to the fact that service providers tend to be the ones that are in control of the data and thus have the power to change the nature of the contract between them and the user. Whether the changes made would be without the approval of the user is a separate issue. Such changes could potentially mean that users’ personal data could be used in ways that they originally did not agree to, and without being notified of these changes, users would not know that their data is being used in a way that is no longer relevant to them. An example would be the case of Xiaonei (now known as Renren), a social networking site in China which was once a strict college-only social platform but removed such limitations in an attempt to enhance advertising revenue. This case shows the dangers of data control by service providers and how it can affect the privacy of the users in the long run. Given that many streamers and content creators will often make use of the chat functions in interacting with their viewers, live stream platforms will essentially be another form of social media platform and thus may be subject to similar situations with regards to data privacy.

Data collection and sharing

Live streaming companies have found various ways to collect data in order to enhance customers’ experience. Collection of personal data such as name, age, location, and credit information can be gathered by disguised participation in interactive communication or providing feedback. In some cases, an automated data collection tool known as a Web Bug can be used to collect a dynamic IP address from the streaming viewer inquiring information. This method can sometimes be used without viewers’ consent. Information collected can then be sold to a third party without consent from the user. An example could be an organization seeking out the number of males between the ages of 15-24 who have an interest in sport and purchase goods online. This may cause targeted advertisement of sport-related companies to appear when the user is viewing a random web page. The selling of data to third parties without customer consent has violated the trust between the organization and the customer. This may lead to future avoidance by potential customers and migration to competitor companies.

Unauthorized access to personal information

But if the new purpose is in fact consistent with the subjective intent of the data subject, the position becomes more complex. This is because the data subject may alter his subjective intent over the course of time due to changed circumstances. Although the first limb of the PP2 Test concerns the original intent of the data subject at the time of data collection, the operation of the Second Schedule places too much emphasis on the later intent of the data subject. That is evident from the wording of paragraph 2(1)(b), which effectively allows use of personal data for a new purpose if it is not unfair to the data subject and if the data subject would likely have consented to the new use. This is a significant relaxation of the DPPs and a considerable derogation of the interests of data subjects. An example would suffice to illustrate this point.

The best evidence of the state of mind of the data subject is the usage that he himself would have intended at the time of the data collection. If the new purpose is inconsistent with this subjective intent of the data subject, use of the personal data for the new purpose would be very unfair to the data subject. By reason of paragraph 2(1)(a), it would contravene the First Principle. Then by reason of paragraph 2(1)(b), such use would be unlawful under section 4(1) of the Act.

The Second Schedule imposes conditions on a data user before he can use personal data in a way that differs from the original purpose of its collection. This is a common situation, which often arises when a data user is considering whether to use personal information for direct marketing. Under the Second Schedule restriction, the data user cannot make use of the personal data for a new purpose unless one of the conditions set out in paragraph 1 is met.

The examples suggest that the provisions of the Second Schedule relate only to individuals and entities that already possess personal data. This effectively means that the Second Schedule is not intended to prevent the collection of personal data where the provisions of the DPPs or the Act do not apply. The correct interpretation is that the Second Schedule is only concerned with the collection of personal data that is already subject to the DPPs and the requirements of the Act. Though this might suggest that the Second Schedule is of limited application, that is certainly not the case.

Lack of control over content distribution

Imagine a student who is a part-time employee to support his living expenses. Due to his hectic work and studying schedule, he could only participate in online discussion activities concerning his course during late nights. Visual web data like this could be mistaken as acts of web activities that do not reflect his student identity. The student would then be at a greater risk of losing potential job opportunities because screen captures do not come with context, and viewers may wrongly assume that the student is wasting time in online activities. Such a student will find it difficult to prove his identity and rectify the image that has been imposed on him.

If the visual web materials are gathered using a screen capture function, stream administrators have no effective way of knowing who is taking pictures of their web activities and what exactly they are taking pictures of. Usually, this is done in public chat rooms or forum activities.

In live streaming websites, administrators and viewers are given the power to record, edit, and share visual web materials, which could come in the forms of screen captures or the basic act of recording the live stream using a camera. There are privacy issues arising in the act of recording and distributing personal information, depending on how the visual web materials are obtained.

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