Week in Review: April 13, 2016

by Muira McCammon

China & United States: American Trade Officials Cite Chinese Filters as Trade Concern

For the first time in U.S. history, American government officials have added China’s extensive network of Internet filters to an annual list of trade concerns. In its annual National Trade Estimate Report, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office remarked that “China’s filtering of cross-border Internet traffic has posed a significant burden to foreign suppliers.” Officials at China’s foreign affairs and commerce ministries have not responded to journalists’ requests for comment. Most China-U.S. experts do not think that there would be any immediate repercussions. Scott Kennedy, deputy director of the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reflected, “China is far less willing to separate commercial and national security concerns. This difference in approach is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, no matter how much the U.S. highlights the issue." The Council of Foreign Relations has a blog post that summarizes the response of the Chinese government to these recent developments; it’s cheekily titled “Banging Your Head Against A Wall: China Shrugs at U.S. Criticism of Censorship.”

The Guardian: Researchers Hired by the British Newspaper Read The 70 Million Comments, Find Clear Evidence of Sexist Trolling

Journalists at The Guardian commissioned a report on 70 million comments that had been left on its platform since 2006. The report stated, “New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about." Researchers found that commenting patterns were not the same across different sections of the newspaper. They also noted that between 2006 and 2016, Guardian moderators blocked over 1.4 million comments, because they violated the newspaper’s online community standards. Guardian journalists weighed in on the report. Jessica Valenti, a Guardian reporter, explained, "Imagine going to work every day and walking through a gauntlet of 100 people saying, 'You're stupid,' 'You're terrible,' 'You suck,' 'I can't believe you get paid for this. It's a terrible way to go to work." 

Israel: Government Changes Tax Policy Towards Digital Multinational Companies

The Israeli government is requiring digital multinational companies, like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to pay more taxes. In an emailed statement, the Israel Tax Authority stated that a foreign firm would now qualify as a “permanent establishment” even if the majority of its presence was virtual. The change will require companies to pay a value-added tax (VAT), which in Israel, is about 17 percent. Israel is not the first country to re-assess how much digital multinational companies must pay in taxes. The European Commission recently announced plans to make companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon disclose how much tax they pay collectively across the continent. A Facebook representative responded to Israel’s tax policy change: “Facebook pays taxes according to the law in every country it operates, including Israel." In Israel, the policy change did not come as a complete surprise; last week in Tel Aviv, a blimp with “Google must pay tax” written across it floated over the city skyline.

United Kingdom: Court Orders Lauri Love to Hand Over Encryption Keys

British intelligence officers are asking the courts to compel Lauri Love, an alleged hacker, to reveal the passwords to his encrypted files. Love is studying for his Master’s in Electrical Engineering at Cambridge University and could serve a term of 12 years in prison if extradited to the United States. He was originally indicted in July 2014 by a U.S. federal grand jury on “charges of conspiracy, causing damage to a protected computer, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft." U.S. attorneys have accused Love of accessing computers belonging to the Department of Education, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory, and a number of other federal agencies. He is said to have taken advantage of a vulnerability in Adobe ColdFusion, a software program that helps manage databases and websites.