Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am

In today's email we wonder what is behind the latest delay of the Commerce Commission's final decision on NZME and Fairfax, we learn why the Privacy Commissioner has not fear of Facebook, and we look at why people are worried about proposed open access to online schooling.

1. Yet another delay

The Commerce Commission seems to be having a lot of second thoughts about its initially strong rejection of the plan to merge NZME and Fairfax Media into a media company with more than 90 percent of the newspaper market.

The Commission yesterday delayed its final decision on the merger for a second time since its initial draft decision on November 8 said the merger would create a company with as much dominance of one media as the Chinese Government.

It had already delayed the decision from March 15 to April 11, and yesterday it pushed it out again to May 2, pointing to a fresh lengthy submission from Fairfax and NZME.

Is the Commission about to flip its decision after its extensive consultation and countless submissions? The 80 percent rise in NZME's share price since the Commission's December conference suggests a few investors think that's possible.

The Commission had appeared to be adopting a tougher stance against big mergers in the last year, having initially rejected the Vodafone-Sky and NZME-Fairfax mergers. There have been plenty of grumbles about the concentration allowed in several industries by the Commission in recent years.

That includes Lumley's takeover of IAG that created an insurer with 60 percent share in some markets and the Z Energy takeover of Caltex, which generated a dissenting ruling by the Commission's secondee from Australia's much tougher anti-monopoly regulator. Since that dissenting ruling, the Government has had to launch an inquiry into competition (or lack of it) in parts of the fuel market.

2. 'Don't fear Facebook'

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw began his series of interviews with watchdogs yesterday with a chat with John Edwards, the Privacy Commissioner. Here's his full article at Newsroom.

Edwards told Shane there’s absolutely no merit to the argument that in today’s digital age privacy is dead. He also defended Facebook, but said there were big risks in being ruled by automated decision-making and algorithms.

“What I am here for, I think, is to be a word of caution about overconfidence and to say 'well, you say you’re going to get that result, are you sure?' There’s a lot of snake-oil salespeople out there promising that data can have your baby or that the blockchain is going to save the world – it’s not true, there’s a lot of overselling of this stuff.

“There’s also enormous risks of selection bias of hard-wiring underlying prejudice, of misallocating resources, of causing people great harm without a solid evidence base - so I worry about a level of overconfidence about what the technology can deliver.”

There's a lot of focus on Edwards at the moment as he will soon release a report into data sharing by MSD as part of the Government's big social investment push. Here's Shane's preview of that from last week.

3. Food for thought

Further to the topic of big data and the power of algorithms to change lives, here's a piece from Sheelah Kolhatkar in the New Yorker about a new book called “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.”

A former quant, the author Cathy O'Neill "sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life — and threaten to rip apart our social fabric."

It's a provocative book and well worth reading.

4. 'A raft of tweaks are needed'

Edwards also tells Shane that he wants to see a raft of tweaks to the Privacy Act and is quietly waiting for Justice Minister Amy Adams to deliver up proposals.

It's been more than seven years since the need for an overhaul was identified.

Edwards would like to see mandatory reporting of privacy breaches.

“If there are these other non-compliant organisations just thumbing their nose at it because there’s not hard consequences, it diminishes trust,” Edwards told Shane, referring to the inability of the Privacy Commission to impose any real penalties for privacy breaches.

5. COOL schools not so cool?

Newsroom Pro Editor Lynn Grieveson has taken a good long look at the Government's plan for full-time online schools, known as Communities of Online Learning or COOLs.

Lynn finds the plan is facing intense criticism, in part because of bad experiences in the United States (as well as fears that the children most at risk of social and educational disengagement are the ones most likely to opt - or be pressured - into online schooling).

"Research from the US shows poor outcomes, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman is warning of harm to children's mental health and educational attainment, with resulting financial and societal costs," she writes.

Here's her piece at Newsroom.

6. As big as the RBNZ Act?

Victoria University's Dr Chris Eichbaum, who is Acting Vice-Provost (Academic and Equity) at Victoria University of Wellington and Reader in Government in its School of Government, has written an insightful piece on the Labour-Green Fiscal responsibility pact over at Newsroom.

He writes the Labour and the Greens' Budget Responsibility Rules could do for fiscal policy what the Reserve Bank Act did for monetary policy.

7. China's most advanced partner

Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy went to the gala lunch hosted by Bill English for Premier Li Keqiang this week in Auckland and found the Premier talking up the New Zealand FTA as China's most advanced.

"This upgrading of the FTA, if compared with FTAs with all other developed countries, will represent the most advanced level," Premier Li told the event.

Here's Tim's piece in full.

8. One fun thing...

I couldn't resist this little video of a new contraption that prints and burns Donald Trump's tweets. You will laugh.