Censorship

How Millions of Iranians Are Evading Internet Censors (msn.com) 46

schwit1 quotes the Wall Street Journal: Authorities in Tehran have ratcheted up their policing of the internet in the past week and a half, part of an attempt to stamp out the most far-reaching protests in Iran since 2009. But the crackdown is driving millions of Iranians to tech tools that can help them evade censors, according to activists and developers of the tools. Some of the tools were attracting three or four times more unique users a day than they were before the internet crackdown, potentially weakening government efforts to control access to information online. "By the time they wake up, the government will have lost control of the internet," said Mehdi Yahyanejad, executive director of NetFreedom Pioneers, a California-based technology nonprofit that largely focuses on Iran and develops educational and freedom of information tools.
Wired calls it "the biggest protest movement in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement uprising," criticing tech companies which "continue to deny services to Iranians that could be crucial to free and open communications."
Censorship

France's President Macron Wants To Block Websites During Elections To Fight 'Fake News' (gizmodo.com) 299

French President Emmanuel Macron has a rather extreme approach to combat fake news: ban entire websites. In a speech to journalists on Wednesday, Macron said he planned to introduce new legislation to strictly regulate fake news during online political campaigns. Gizmodo reports: His proposal included a number of measures, most drastically "an emergency legal action" that could enable the government to either scrap "fake news" from a website or even block a website altogether. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," Macron said. "When fake news are spread, it will be possible to go to a judge... and if appropriate have content taken down, user accounts deleted and ultimately websites blocked."

Macron, himself a target of election interference, also outlined some less extreme measures in his speech yesterday. He proposed more rigid requirements around transparency, specifically in relation to online ads during elections. According to the Guardian, Macron said the legislation would force platforms to publicly identify who their advertisers are, as well as limit how much they can spend on ads over the course of an election campaign.

China

Toutiao, One of China's Most Popular News Apps, is Discovering the Risks Involved in Giving People Exactly What They Want Online (nytimes.com) 29

The New York Times reports: One of the world's most valuable start-ups got that way by using artificial intelligence to satisfy Chinese internet users' voracious appetite for news and entertainment. Every day, its smartphone app feeds 120 million people personalized streams of buzzy news stories, videos of dogs frolicking in snow, GIFs of traffic mishaps and listicles such as "The World's Ugliest Celebrities." Now the company is discovering the risks involved, under China's censorship regime, in giving the people exactly what they want. The makers of the popular news app Jinri Toutiao unveiled moves this week to allay rising concerns from the authorities (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source).

Last week, the Beijing bureau of China's top internet regulator accused Toutiao of "spreading pornographic and vulgar information" and "causing a negative impact on public opinion online," and ordered that updates to several popular sections of the app be halted for 24 hours. In response, the app's parent company, Beijing Bytedance Technology, took down or temporarily suspended the accounts of more than 1,100 bloggers that it said had been publishing "low-quality content" on the app. It also replaced Toutiao's "Society" section with a new section called "New Era," which is heavy on state media coverage of government decisions.

Censorship

Germany Starts Enforcing Hate Speech Law (bbc.com) 545

Germany is set to start enforcing a law that demands social media sites move quickly to remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material. From a report: Sites that do not remove "obviously illegal" posts could face fines of up to 50m euro ($60m). The law gives the networks 24 hours to act after they have been told about law-breaking material. Social networks and media sites with more than two million members will fall under the law's provisions. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will be the law's main focus but it is also likely to be applied to Reddit, Tumblr and Russian social network VK. Other sites such as Vimeo and Flickr could also be caught up in its provisions.
Government

Congo Shuts Down Internet Services 'Indefinitely' (nytimes.com) 88

On Saturday Engadget wrote: Authoritarian leaders are fond of severing communications in a bid to hold on to power, and that tradition sadly isn't going away. The Democratic Republic of Congo's government has ordered telecoms to cut internet and SMS access ahead of planned mass protests against President Joseph Kabila, whose administration has continuously delayed elections to replace him. Telecom minister Emery Okundji told Reuters that it was a response to "violence that is being prepared," but people aren't buying that argument. Officials had already banned demonstrations, and the country has history of cutting communications and blocking social network access in a bid to quash dissent.
And today in the wake of deadly protests, Congo announced that the internet shutdown will continue "indefinitely." The New York Times reports: At least eight people were killed and a dozen altar boys arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday after security forces cracked down on planned church protests against President Joseph Kabila's refusal to leave office before coming elections... Congolese security forces set up checkpoints across Kinshasa, and the government issued an order to shut down text messaging and internet services indefinitely across the country for what it called "reasons of state security."
Censorship

Iran Cuts Internet Access and Threatens Telegram Following Mass Protests (bbc.com) 156

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: As seething discontent has boiled over in Iran leading to mass protests, protesters have taken to the streets and social media to register their discontent... The government has been closing schools and shutting down transportation.

Now, as mass protests in Iran go into their third day there are reports that internet access is being cut in cities with protests occurring. Social media has been a tool for documenting the protests and brutal crackdowns against them. Iran previously cut off internet access during the Green Movement protests following the 2009 elections. At the same time the Iranian government is cutting internet access they have called on Telegram, reportedly used by more than 40 million Iranians, to close the channels used by protesters. Telegram is now closing channels used by the protesters while Telegram itself may be shut down in Iran.

Facebook

Facebook's Uneven Enforcement of Hate Speech Rules Allows Vile Posts To Stay Up (propublica.org) 171

ProPublica has found inconsistent rulings on hate speech after analyzing more than 900 Facebook posts submitted to them as part of a crowd-sourced investigation into how the world's largest social network implements its hate-speech rules. "Based on this small fraction of Facebook posts, its content reviewers often make different calls on items with similar content, and don't always abide by the company's complex guidelines," reports ProPublica. "Even when they do follow the rules, racist or sexist language may survive scrutiny because it is not sufficiently derogatory or violent to meet Facebook's definition of hate speech." From the report: We asked Facebook to explain its decisions on a sample of 49 items, sent in by people who maintained that content reviewers had erred, mostly by leaving hate speech up, or in a few instances by deleting legitimate expression. In 22 cases, Facebook said its reviewers had made a mistake. In 19, it defended the rulings. In six cases, Facebook said the content did violate its rules but its reviewers had not actually judged it one way or the other because users had not flagged it correctly, or the author had deleted it. In the other two cases, it said it didn't have enough information to respond.

"We're sorry for the mistakes we have made -- they do not reflect the community we want to help build," Facebook Vice President Justin Osofsky said in a statement. "We must do better." He said Facebook will double the size of its safety and security team, which includes content reviewers and other employees, to 20,000 people in 2018, in an effort to enforce its rules better. He added that Facebook deletes about 66,000 posts reported as hate speech each week, but that not everything offensive qualifies as hate speech. "Our policies allow content that may be controversial and at times even distasteful, but it does not cross the line into hate speech," he said. "This may include criticism of public figures, religions, professions, and political ideologies."

Censorship

Vietnam Deploys 10,000 Cyber Warriors to Fight 'Wrongful Views' (bloomberg.com) 92

Vietnam is deploying a 10,000-member military cyber warfare unit to combat what the government sees as a growing threat of "wrongful views" proliferating on the internet, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing local media reports. From the report: Force 47 has worked pro-actively against distorted information, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, citing Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the general politics department under the Vietnam People's Military. The disclosure of the unit comes as the Communist government pressures YouTube and Facebook to remove videos and accounts seen damaging the reputations of leaders or promoting anti-party views. Facebook this year removed 159 accounts at Vietnam's behest, while YouTube took down 4,500 videos, or 90 percent of what the government requested, according to VietnamNet news, which cited Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan last week. The National Assembly is debating a cybersecurity bill that would require technology companies to store certain data on servers in the country.
China

China Closes More Than 13,000 Websites in Past Three Years (reuters.com) 73

China has closed more than 13,000 websites since the beginning of 2015 for breaking the law or other rules and the vast majority of people support government efforts to clean up cyberspace, state news agency Xinhua reports. From the report: The government has stepped up already tight controls over the internet since President Xi Jinping took power five years ago, in what critics say is an effort to restrict freedom of speech and prevent criticism of the ruling Communist Party. The government says all countries regulate the internet, and its rules are aimed at ensuring national security and social stability and preventing the spread of pornography and violent content. A report to the on-going session of the standing committee of China's largely rubber stamp parliament said the authorities had targeted pornography and violence in their sweeps of websites, blogs and social media accounts, Xinhua said.
China

Man in China Sentenced To Five Years' Jail For Running VPN (theguardian.com) 42

A Chinese entrepreneur has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison for selling VPN service, a government newspaper said, as Beijing tries to stamp out use of technology that evades its internet filters. From a report: Wu Xiangyang was also fined 500,000 yuan ($75,900), an amount equal to his profits since starting the service in 2013, according to a report in the newspaper of China's national prosecutor's office. The Great Firewall, as the censorship apparatus is commonly known, means people in China are banned from visiting thousands of websites, including Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Wu ran his VPN service from 2013 until June this year and claimed to serve 8,000 foreign clients and 5,000 businesses.
Censorship

CDC Director Says No Words Are Actually Banned At the CDC (pbs.org) 177

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PBS: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald on Sunday addressed a report that President Donald Trump's administration had banned the CDC from using seven words or phrases in next year's budget documents. The terms are "fetus," "transgender," "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "evidence-based" and "science-based," according to a story first reported on Friday in The Washington Post. But Fitzgerald said in a series of tweets on Sunday said there are "no banned words," while emphasizing the agency's commitment to data-driven science. "CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people -- and we will continue to do so," she said.

A group of the agency's policy analysts said senior officials at the CDC informed them about the banned words on Thursday, according to the Post's report. In some cases, the analysts were reportedly given replacement phrases to use instead. But in follow-up reporting, The New York Times cited "a few" CDC officials who suggested the move was not meant as an outright ban, but rather, a technique to help secure Republican approval of the 2019 budget by eliminating certain words and phrases. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, said the reported decree on banned words was a misrepresentation.

United States

Trump Administration Prohibits CDC Policy Analysts From Using the Words 'Science-Based' (washingtonpost.com) 458

Long-time Slashdot reader hey! writes: On Friday the Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration has forbidden the Centers for Disease Control from using seven terms in certain documents: "science-based", "evidence-based", "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," and "fetus".

It's important to note that the precise scope and intent of the ban is unknown at present. Scientific and medical personnel as of now have not been affected, only policy analysts preparing budgetary proposals and supporting data that is being sent to Congress. So it is unclear the degree to which the language mandates represent a change in agency priorities vs. a change in how it presents itself to Congress. However banning the scientifically precise term "fetus" will certainly complicate budgeting for things like Zika research and monitoring.

According to the Post's article, "Instead of 'science-based' or 'evidence-based,' the suggested phrase is 'CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."

The New York Times confirmed the story with several officials, although "a few suggested that the proposal was not so much a ban on words but recommendations to avoid some language to ease the path toward budget approval by Republicans."
Google

Google News Will Purge Sites Masking Their Country of Origin (bloomberg.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Google moved to strip from its news search results publications that mask their country of origin or intentionally mislead readers, a further step to curb the spread of fake news that has plagued internet companies this year. To appear in Google News results, websites must meet broad criteria set out by the company, including accurately representing their owners or primary purposes. In an update to its guidelines released Friday, the search giant added language stipulating that publications not "engage in coordinated activity to mislead users."

Additionally the new rules read: "This includes, but isn't limited to, sites that misrepresent or conceal their country of origin or are directed at users in another country under false premises." A popular tactic for misinformation campaigns is to pose as a credible U.S. news outlet. Russian Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organization, used that technique to reach an audience of nearly 500,000 people, spread primarily through Twitter accounts, Bloomberg reported earlier.

AI

Google To Open AI Center In China Despite Search Ban (bbc.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research center in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country. Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent. In a blog post on the company's website, Google said the new research center was an important part of its mission as an "AI first company." "Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone's life better for the entire world," said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. The research center, which joins similar facilities in London, New York, Toronto and Zurich, will be run by a small team from its existing office in Beijing. The tech giant operates two offices in China, with roughly half of its 600 employees working on global products, company spokesperson Taj Meadows told the AFP news agency. But Google's search engine and a number of other services are banned in China. The country has imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies over the past year, including new censorship restrictions.
Social Networks

Twitter Says It Accidentally Banned A Bunch Of Accounts (buzzfeed.com) 25

An anonymous reader shares a report: Over the past 24 hours, some Twitter users had their profiles replaced with a notice saying their accounts were now being "withheld in: Worldwide." The "country withheld" program run by Twitter typically prevents users based in a specific country from from seeing tweets sent by a withheld account. This was the first time people could recall the company withholding accounts globally, which was in effect a total ban for the user. At the time of writing, BuzzFeed News had identified 21 accounts that were being withheld worldwide, and users on Twitter were beginning to wonder if this was a new method being used by the company to suspend accounts. But a Twitter spokesperson tells BuzzFeed News that the worldwide withholdings were in fact the result of a bug. "We have identified a bug that incorrectly impacted certain accounts. We have identified a fix, are working to resolve the issue, and anticipate it will be fully resolved shortly," the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Youtube

YouTube To Hire More Than 10,000 Content Moderators on Staff Next Year To Stop Its Child Exploitation Problem (buzzfeed.com) 92

YouTube is adding more human moderators and increasing its machine learning in an attempt to curb its child exploitation problem, the company's CEO Susan Wojcicki said. From a report: The company plans to increase its content moderation workforce to more than 10,000 employees in 2018 in order to help screen videos and train the platform's machine learning algorithms to spot and remove problematic children's content. Sources familiar with YouTube's workforce numbers say this represents a 25% increase from where the company is today. In the last two weeks, YouTube has removed hundreds of thousands of videos featuring children in disturbing and possibly exploitative situations, including being duct-taped to walls, mock-abducted, and even forced into washing machines. The company said it will employ the same approach it used this summer as it worked to eradicate violent extremist content from the platform.
Censorship

Cloudflare's CEO Has a Plan To Never Censor Hate Speech Again (arstechnica.com) 395

"Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince hated cutting off service to the infamous neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer in August," reports Ars Technica. "And he's determined not to do it again. 'I'm almost a free-speech absolutist.' Prince said at an event at the New America Foundation last Wednesday. But in a subsequent interview with Ars, Prince argued that in the case of the Daily Stormer, the company didn't have much choice." From the report: Prince's response was to cut Daily Stormer off while laying the groundwork to make sure he'd never have to make a decision like that again. In a remarkable company-wide email sent shortly after the decision, Prince described his own actions as "arbitrary" and "dangerous." "I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet," Prince wrote in August. "It was a decision I could make because I'm the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company." He argued that "it's important that what we did today not set a precedent." Prior to August, Cloudflare had consistently refused to police content published by its customers. Last week, Prince made a swing through DC to help ensure that the Daily Stormer decision does not, in fact, set a precedent. He met with officials from the Federal Communications Commission and with researchers at the libertarian Cato Institute and the left-of-center New America Foundation -- all in an effort to ensure that he'd have the political cover he needed to say no next time he came under pressure to take down controversial content.

The law is strongly on Cloudflare's side here. Internet infrastructure providers like Cloudflare have broad legal immunity for content created by their customers. But legal rights may not matter if Cloudflare comes under pressure from customers to take down content. And that's why Prince is working to cultivate a social consensus that infrastructure providers like Cloudflare should not be in the censorship business -- no matter how offensive its customers' content might be.

Censorship

Apple, Google CEOs Bring Star Power as China Promotes Censorship (bloomberg.com) 38

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai made their first appearances at China's World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. Apple's chief executive officer gave a surprise keynote at the opening ceremony on Sunday, calling for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity. The same day, one of China's most-senior officials called for more aggressive government involvement online to combat terrorism and criminals. Wang Huning, one of seven men on China's top decision-making body, even called for a global response team to go well beyond its borders. It was Cook's second appearance in China in two months, following a meeting with President Xi Jinping in October. The iPhone maker has most of its products manufactured in the country and is trying to regain market share in smartphones against local competitors such as Huawei. "The theme of this conference -- developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits -- is a vision we at Apple share," Cook said. "We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace."
Businesses

Tim Wu: Why the Courts Will Have to Save Net Neutrality (nytimes.com) 251

Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia who first coined the term "net neutrality," writes for the New York Times: Allowing such censorship is anathema to the internet's (and America's) founding spirit. And by going this far, the F.C.C. may also have overplayed its legal hand. So drastic is the reversal of policy (if, as expected, the commission approves Mr. Pai's proposal next month), and so weak is the evidence to support the change, that it seems destined to be struck down in court. The problem for Mr. Pai is that government agencies are not free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules on which many have relied without a good reason (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled), such as a change in factual circumstances. A mere change in F.C.C. ideology isn't enough. As the Supreme Court has said, a federal agency must "examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action." Given that net neutrality rules have been a huge success by most measures, the justification for killing them would have to be very strong. It isn't. In fact, it's very weak. From what we know so far, Mr. Pai's rationale for eliminating the rules is that cable and phone companies, despite years of healthy profit, need to earn even more money than they already do -- that is, that the current rates of return do not yield adequate investment incentives. More specifically, Mr. Pai claims that industry investments have gone down since 2015, the year the Obama administration last strengthened the net neutrality rules.
United Kingdom

Pornhub Owner May Become the UK's Gatekeeper of Online Porn (yahoo.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Yahoo News: Mindgeek may be the most powerful company that you've never heard of, or at least, a company you'll claim never to have heard about in polite company. It's the conglomerate that owns some of the world's most visited porn sites, including Pornhub, RedTube and YouPorn. Far from simply being a popular and free way for people to consume adult content, it may soon have a powerful political role in the UK that will ensure its dominance for decades to come. That's because, within the next year, Mindgeek may become the principal gatekeeper between the country's internet users and their porn. In April, the UK passed the Digital Economy Act 2017, legislation that mandated that any website showing adult content must verify the ages of its visitors. It was pushed through in response to concerns that children were being corrupted by easy access to and exposure to adult content at an early age. Section 15(1) of the bill requires that "pornographic material" not be published online, on a "commercial basis," unless it is "not normally accessible by those under 18." The bill has several flaws, not least the number of vague proposals it contains, and the ad hoc definition of what pornography actually is. Section 17 of the same act outlined the creation of an "age-verification regulator," the digital equivalent of a bouncer standing between you and your porn. This gatekeeper will have the right, and duty, to demand you show proof of age, or else refuse you access. In addition, the body will be able to impose fines and enforcement notices on those who either neglect or circumvent the policy. [...] The Open Rights Group believes that the BBFC will then hand over the actual mechanisms of the age verification platform to a third party in the private sector. Mindgeek has had several conversations with officials and is currently pushing its own age verification platform, AgeID. If selected, this platform could become the principal wall between Britons and their pornography -- giving Mindgeek enormous power in the market.

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