Week in Review: April 17, 2017

by Priscilla Guo

Try Mastodon, Community-Governed Twitter Alternative Have you ever wanted to make your own rules and ban the trolls on Twitter? Mastodon, a free and open-source Twitter alternative, is endeavoring to help you do just that. The platform is composed of “instances”, which are user-created networks that are governed by their own respective laws. Users can choose which instances to join and toggle between different privacy and anti-harassment settings. Each tweet has a character limit of 500, not 140. “I hope people will have more interesting conversations, more nuanced conversations, with less misunderstanding,” says Mastodon developer Eugen Rochko. Currently, over 140,000 users are on Mastodon, grouped in nearly 400 instances.

Russia’s LiveJournal Bans “Political Solicitation” Last week, LiveJournal officially banned “political solicitation” in its user agreement. LiveJournal is a Russian social networking service, where users keep blogs and journals; it’s been popular amongst science fiction authors and fans, including George RR Martin. The rules specify that “post[ing] advertising and/or political solicitation materials unless otherwise directly specified in a separate agreement between User and the Administration…or perform[ing] any other actions contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation” is prohibited. Due to data localization laws, LiveJournal servers were relocated from the United States to Russia in December 2016. The government has also declared that any blogs with over 3,000 visitors per day can be categorized as a media outlet and cannot publish anonymously, use obscene language, or disseminate extremist materials. According to the Washington Times, the Russian government has censored five websites, including a LiveJournal post, that called for political protest.

China’s WeChat Censors Photos The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found that WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging app, is filtering keywords and “sensitive” images without informing users. This is the first systematic study of image censorship on WeChat. Controlled by Tencent Holdings, WeChat has more than 800 million users in China. In the study, 58 image search results for the Chinese term for “709 Crackdown”, an event in 2016 when 248 lawyers and activists were detained, questioned, or charged by the police, yielded censored images on WeChat. These images included infographics, profile sketches of the lawyers and activists involved, or photographs of protesters. The research team also identified 44 keywords that were banned in group chat on the app. The Chinese government maintains that it has a “right to manage online content deemed harmful.”

States Introduce New Internet Privacy Legislation In response to the rollback of FCC privacy regulations on ISPs, ten states have introduced or are planning to introduce state Internet privacy bills. States include Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin. For instance, on March 30, the House Cybersecurity, Data Analytics & IT Committee endorsed measures that would enable customers to request information from technology companies like Google and Facebook on what data is collected and would require apps to get consent from users before tracking users. And on April 4, Senator Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) introduced legislation that would prevent ISPs from selling customer browsing history and other personal data to third parties.