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China blocks What's App

China partially blocked the popular messaging service called What's App, owned by Facebook.  China reportedly blocked photos and videos from being shared on the service, and, in some cases, even messages. 

The New York Times stated: "According to the analysis that we ran today on WhatsApp’s infrastructure, it seems that the Great Firewall is imposing censorship that selectively targets WhatsApp functionalities,' said Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a cryptography research start-up."  The conjecture was that the censorship was part of the government's leadup to the upcoming selections in Congress: "To complicate matters, the 19th Party Congress — where top leadership positions are determined — is just months away. The government puts an increased emphasis on stability in the run up to the event, which happens every five years, often leading to a tightening of internet controls."

Canada's Supreme Court Backs Order for Google to Remove Link from Access in All Countries, Not Just Canada

This week, in Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions, Inc., Canada's Supreme Court upheld (in a 7-2 decision) the grant of a preliminary injunction against Google to remove a link to a website that allegedly infringed the intellectual property of a small tech company.  The IP controversy was not against Google as a party, but the lower court ordered Google to remove the link to the defendant's website from access worldwide.  Google had delisted the website from searches in Canada (at google.ca).  But the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the grant of a worldwide preliminary injunction that affects people around the world.  [Download the decision.]

The Supreme Court reasoned: 

  •  Google’s argument that a global injunction violates international comity because it is possible that the order could not have been obtained in a foreign jurisdiction, or that to comply with it would result in Google violating the laws of that jurisdiction, is theoretical. If Google has evidence that complying with such an injunction would require it to violate the laws of another jurisdiction, including interfering with freedom of expression, it is always free to apply to the British Columbia courts to vary the interlocutory order accordingly. To date, Google has made no such application. In the absence of an evidentiary foundation, and given Google’s right to seek a rectifying order, it is not equitable to deny E the extraterritorial scope it needs to make the remedy effective, or even to put the onus on it to demonstrate, country by country, where such an order is legally permissible.
  • D and its representatives have ignored all previous court orders made against them, have left British Columbia, and continue to operate their business from unknown locations outside Canada. E has made efforts to locate D with limited success. D is only able to survive — at the expense of E’s survival — on Google’s search engine which directs potential customers to D’s websites. This makes Google the determinative player in allowing the harm to occur. On balance, since the world‑wide injunction is the only effective way to mitigate the harm to E pending the trial, the only way, in fact, to preserve E itself pending the resolution of the underlying litigation, and since any countervailing harm to Google is minimal to non‑existent, the interlocutory injunction should be upheld.

Commentators, such as Michael Geist, pointed out the danger in the Canadian approach: if each country (isuch as China or Iran) used the same power to issue worldwide injunctions against Google, there would be a race to the bottom and massive censorship online. 

Day of Protest on July 12 to Fight Repeal of Net Neutrality in US

From Fight for the Future: Thousands of websites plan massive online protest for July 12th. Twitter, Soundcloud, Medium, Twilio, Plays.tv, and Adblock are among latest major web platforms to join the Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality scheduled for July 12th to oppose the FCC’s plan to slash Title II, the legal framework for net neutrality rules that protect online free speech and innovation. Companies participating will display prominent messages on their homepages on July 12 or encourage users to take action in other ways, like through push notifications and emails. The momentum comes against the backdrop of a recent Morning Consult / POLITICO poll that shows broad bipartisan support for net neutrality rules. “This protest is gaining so much momentum because no one wants their cable company to charge them extra fees or have the power to control what they can see and do on the Internet,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, “Congress and the FCC need to listen to the public, not just lobbyists. The goal of this day of action is to make them listen.”

More than 40,000 people, sites, and organizations have signed up to participate in the effort overall, and more announcements from major companies are expected in the coming days. Many popular online personalities including YouTuber Philip DeFranco, and dozens of major online forums and subreddits have also announced their participation. The effort is led by many of the grassroots groups behind the largest online protests in history including the SOPA blackout and the Internet Slowdown. The day of action will focus on grassroots mobilization, with public interest groups activating their members and major web platforms providing their visitors with tools to contact Congress and the FCC.

Companies participating include Amazon, Netflix, OK Cupid, Kickstarter, Etsy, Reddit, Mozilla, Vimeo, Y Combinator, GitHub, Private Internet Access, Pantheon, Bittorrent Inc., Shapeways, Nextdoor, Patreon, Dreamhost, and CREDO Mobile, Goldenfrog, Fark, Chess.com, Imgur, Namecheap, DuckDuckGo, Checkout.com, Sonic, Brave, Ting, ProtonMail, O’Reilly Media, Discourse, and Union Square Ventures. Organizations participating include Fight for the Future, Free Press Action Fund, Demand Progress, Center for Media Justice, EFF,  Internet Association,  Internet Archive, World Wide Web Foundation, Creative Commons, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Greenpeace, Common Cause, ACLU, Rock the Vote, American Library Association, Daily Kos, OpenMedia, The Nation, PCCC, MoveOn, OFA, Public Knowledge, OTI, Color of Change, MoveOn, Internet Creators Guild, and many others. See the full list here.

Freedom House "Freedom on the Net" Report 2016: 67% of world live in countries with censorship

In a survey of 65 countries, Freedom House has reported that internet freedom across the world has been in a decline for the past six years, with two-thirds of internet users living under a government that has censored internet. Freedom House has ranked China, Syria, and Iran as countries with the most restrictive internet laws. 

Many countries have blocked secure messaging apps. WhatsApp was blocked most of all messaging apps, being restricted in 12 countries this year. The number of governments that restricted access to social media and communication services increased from 15 to 24. Governments have also blocked materials related to LGBT rights and photos that made fun of countries' leaders. [Download the Report]

Russia orders ban of LinkedIn due to local server privacy reqirement

Linkedin will be banned in Russia possibly within this week. In August, a Moscow court upheld a decision to block Linkedin. Critics are worried that this decision will further expand the state’s control over Russian’s citizens to the internet. Roskomnadzor, the executive body responsible for regulating media, claims that Linkedin violated Russian privacy law by not storing users' personal information in Russia. Alexander Zharov, Roskomnadzor's chief, state that many larger internet companies are in the process of complying with this law. However, larger social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have not complied with this law. [More from The Independent]

China's new cybersecurity law criticized for censorship and privacy concerns

On Monday, China passed controversial cybersecurity legislation allegedly in response to hacking and terrorism threats. The law includes provisions that require the storage personal information and important business data, making companies concerned that they will be required to hand over their intellectual property. Yang Heqing, an official on the National People’s Congress standing committee, stated that the legislation has been enacted to address China’s national security and development issues. Zhao Zeliang, a director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, stated that the law is in accordance with international trade rules.

The legislation is drawing criticism from various rights advocates. In August, Global business groups had urged Beijing to amend the legislation. James Zimmerman, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce of China, stated that the vague provisions of the legislation could result in broad interpretations by regulation authorities.  [More from The Guardian]

Turkey blocks social media sites Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook

On Friday, the Turkish government began using throttling, a method that renders websites unusable by slowing them down, to block major social media apps including Twitter, WhatsApp, Youtube, and Facebook. The Turkish government has a history of suppressing internet freedoms and the circulation of information. Earlier this week, the government blocked internet for users in the southeast part of Turkey. In April 2015, the government lifted a ban on Twitter, originally due to a photo of a Turkish prosecutor held at gunpoint by far-left militants being circulated on the site, only when Twitter agreed to remove all offending images and shut down accounts. These actions are not unheard of, as various countries around the world have banned social media apps. For example, Brazil once suspended WhatsApp when the company did not turn in a user’s encrypted data.  [More from Social Barrel]

Alt-R group subverts trademarks and other terms to avoid Google's censorship of hate speech and offensive terms

‘Free Speech’ trolls have created a new internet language to avoid censorship. The movement, called the alt-right, is standing up against major tech firms such as Google after they announced the launch of a system called Conversation Al. Conversation Al detects and censors words which Google has determined to be offensive. Google has defended their program as a way of taking on trolling and making the internet a safer space. However, critics of Conversation Al fear this project will kill free internet speech.

As a response to Conversation Al, the alt-right movement, led by various online communities, has created a scheme called Operation Google. Operation Google replaces offensive words with more acceptable-sounding terms in an effort to force the tech giant to self-censor.

Glossary of Hate Speech

  • Black person – Google
  • Muslim – Skittle
  • Jew- Skype
  • Transgender – Durden
  • Mexican – Yahoo
  • Liberals – Car Salesman
  • Chinese – Bing
  • Conservatives – Reagans
  • Lesbian – Fishbucket
  • Libertarian – A Leppo
  • Gay man – Butterfly

The campaign is urged to target black people on Twitter or Facebook with slurs and other offensive content. A flurry of offensive memes has followed. Among them is an image of a lynching with the caption ‘Google Hangout.’

Despite Google’s efforts to create a safe space it seems the alt-righters are determined to make censorship difficult for the tech giant. [More from The Sun (UK)]

China to use Damnu to censor live comments on video streaming sites

On Tuesday, internet security authorities in Shanghai, China declared they would be overseeing Damnu. Damnu, which means “barrage” or “bullet screen,” refers to real-time comments on online videos. All websites will be required to filter out words that violate laws, and must assign staff to review all online comments in real time. 

This is one part of the country’s aim to regulate Internet. Along with the Shanghai police shutting down and checking more than a million live broadcasting hosts, China has made spreading online rumors a criminal offense. China has also allowed online chatroom conversations to be accepted as legal evidence in courts.

David Bandurski, researcher for the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project, has referred to the declaration as a “cat and mouse game.” He believes authorities want complete control of online information, but also seek to have increased internet activity to boost the economy.  Despite China’s effort to regulate internet activity and enhance cybersecurity, censoring live streaming content may prove to be difficult. [More from South China Morning Post]

US turns over DNS control to ICANN amid controversy

The US Department of Commerce has given control of the Internet’s domain name server (DNS) to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a nonprofit organization composed of stakeholders who are technical experts, government representatives, and business representatives. The attorney generals of several states have filed a lawsuit to block the transfer. However, a federal judge has denied the request for injunctive relief.

Critics of the transfer fear that it will lead to authoritarian-level censorship. Senator Ted Cruz compared the transfer to Middle Eastern countries, as well as China and Russia, “that punish and incarcerate those who engage in political dissent.” ICANN has responded to such allegations by ensuring an open internet. The Internet Governance Coalition, a group composed of companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Verizon, has announced their efforts to ensure ICANN remain accountable and transparent. 

More discussion on CNET

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