Week in Review: April 6, 2017

by Priscilla Guo

Netizen Report Investigates Internet Shutdowns in 2016 On March 30, Global Voices Advocacy released the Netizen Report, which seeks to provide “an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world”. In 2016, there were 31 regional-level Internet shutdowns in India during times of election, ethnic and religious tension, and violence. Software Freedom Law Centre of New Delhi Director Mishi Chaudhary argued, “If we are to have the promise of digital empowerment through Digital India, shutdowns cannot become the new ‘normal.’” Internet shutdowns have become the standard response in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, among other regions. In other nations, surveillance and attempts to subvert this surveillance have been co-occuring. Some notable stories include: Japan may use predictive policing methods to punish conspiracy to commit a crime; ‘information smugglers’ are translating blocked international content and making it available in China; and the UK government may be trying to establish backdoors to encryption.

Pew Research Center Says Internet Trolls are Winning According to the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, trolls may be pushing us towards a “Potemkin Internet”. Susan Etlinger, a technology industry analyst at the Altimeter Group defines this type of Internet as “pretty facades that hide the true lack of civility across the web”. Researchers questioned 1,537 technology experts, scholars, corporate practitioners, and government leaders between July 1 and August 12, 2016 and asked: “In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust?” 81% said that they expected online discourse to stay the same or get worse in the next decade. Four major themes arose from the survey respondents’ answers – (1) online discourse will worsen because trolls are human and anonymity encourages bad behavior, (2) there are economic and political incentives to troll, (3) trolling may be stopped with the help of artificial intelligence that can detect inappropriate behavior, and (4) pervasive surveillance accompanies this need for community moderation and may lead to limited access to information and free speech.

UK Wants to Block Terrorist Content Online On March 30, United Kingdom Home Secretary Amber Rudd met with representatives from several major Internet companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook, to outline a counterterrorism strategy that prioritizes the prevention of online radicalization. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in London, it was discovered that the terrorist communicated with his conspirators via WhatsApp. UK Secretary Rudd said, “Each attack confirms again the role that the internet is playing in serving as a conduit, inciting and inspiring violence, and spreading extremist ideology of all kinds.” A government source told TechCrunch that Rudd will be requesting tech firms to construct a tool that will identify terrorist content before it has the chance to be widely disseminated on the platforms. Telegram Co-Founder Pavel Durov refused to attend the meeting on the principle that the right to privacy is more important than “our fear of bad things happening”. Additionally, in the aftermath of Brexit, the UK government is debating whether it will be sharing data with the EU’s central law enforcement agency.

After FCC Privacy Repeal, Invest in a VPN or Use TorOn March 28, Congress voted to repeal privacy regulations that had not yet been enforced by the FCC that would prevent broadband providers from selling your data to third parties without your consent. And on April 4, President Donald J. Trump signed the legislation into law. So, what can you do to protect your personal data?

You can switch to another broadband provider, assuming that they won’t try to sell your data as well. Some security experts recommend using a virtual private network (VPN), which are services that re-route all your web traffic through their network. According to Wired, VPNs may also be vulnerable because you need to trust your VPN not to track you and sell your data. Alternatively, you could use Tor Browser, a software that routes your web traffic through multiple servers around the world. Although Tor is free, it is complex to set up, has slower connection speeds, and you may run into the danger of malicious servers.