Week in Review: April 22, 2015

by Rebekah Heacock Jones

Council of Europe asks for feedback on draft Internet freedom recommendations

The Council of Europe has published a set of draft recommendations [PDF] to member states on Internet freedom and is asking for public comments by April 30. The draft includes recommendations on applying the European Convention on Human Rights to the online space. It also contains a set of draft indicators that member countries are encouraged to use to assess the state of Internet freedom domestically; the indicators cover issues ranging from freedom of expression to privacy and surveillance.

Google institutes new search algorithms that favor mobile-friendly sites

On April 21, Google made changes to its search algorithms that will include "mobile friendliness" in the factors that affect how highly a site is ranked in search results. The change has the potential to affect nearly 40% of existing websites, according to one study. Google's own blog post announcing the change stated that the new ranking system "will have a significant impact in our search results."

Internet.org draws renewed criticism

Facebook's Internet.org, a coalition of tech industry leaders that is working to bring the Internet to everyone, launched in July 2013 amidst a fair amount of scrutiny. Critics argued that while attempting to bridge the global digital divide is a noble goal, Internet.org's approach forces users to connect through Facebook and strips away their ability to choose among services. It also violates the fundamental principles of net neutrality, by charging different rates for different services. As the service continues to expand, these same criticisms are being raised again: in India, where Internet.org is offered as one of several "Zero Rating" services that are funded not by individual subscriptions but by web services paying ISPs to carry their traffic, and in Latin America, where non-profit organizations in Colombia, Brazil, and Panama are voicing their critiques of the service after founder Mark Zuckerberg met with presidents from these countries during the VII Summit of the Americas earlier this month.

Tanzanian cybercrime bill causes concern

Tanzania's parliament passed a new cybercrime bill [PDF] on April 1 that human rights activists, journalists, social media users, and opposition politicians are arguing severely threatens free speech. The bill makes publishing information that may "disturb the peace" or that is "misleading or inaccurate" illegal. It also criminalizes the receipt via mobile phone of certain categories of prohibited information, regardless of whether the recipient requested the information. A coalition of human rights groups issued a statement calling on the president not to sign the bill and threatening to challenge the bill in court if it does become law.

The Internet Monitor Week in Review is a weekly round-up of news about Internet content controls and online activity around the world. You may also be interested in weekly editions of our previous round-up, IMWeekly.