Week in Review: July 20, 2017

by Jeanette Si

UK Takes Measures to Crack Down on Internet Pornography

The United Kingdom will announce plans on July 24 to tighten restrictions on sites containing sexually explicit content. These plans will require all sites designated as pornographic to devise methods to block under-18 visitors from accessing the site.

The government has defined “pornographic” as any content that has previously warranted an R18 certificate, any content that can be judged to warrant an R18 certificate, or content that is “produced solely or principally for the purposes of sexual arousal.” Though there has been no official designated regulator for this crackdown at time of writing, the most likely candidate is the British Board of Film and Classification (BBFC), which is currently responsible for the age ratings on films and video games.

Any site that does not comply with these regulations is liable to be blocked, but the regulations do not define a specific method of age-verification that the sites have to implement, leaving this as a problem for industry to solve. Finer points of the regulations are still being resolved, but Matt Hancock, the minister of state for digital and culture, expects them to be in effect by April 2018.

Critics of the policy say that the loose nature of the pornography ban allows the government excessive latitude in what they can block, and gives them “the power to block websites, en-masse, without court orders.” They argue that this is a measure that has the potential to “fundamentally change the Internet” worldwide.

The United Kingdom has 115 mobile connections for every 100 people. Find out more with our dashboard here

Somalia Recovers Internet After Three Weeks of Blackout

On July 17, Somalia regained Internet connectivity after a ship had accidentally cut a major undersea fiber optic cable three weeks ago.

This blackout affected a majority of the 6.5 million residents in south-central Somalia, crippling communication and business in the region and country. With overseas Internet payments making up $1.4 billion per year of its GDP, the outage was especially destructive for Somalia, losing the country an estimated $10 million for each day of the blackout in business transactions.

For some conservatives in the country, the blackout was a reason to rejoice as the blackout denied people access to major social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where people could potentially access controversial content.

“My wife used to be (on) YouTube or Facebook every minute," Mohamud Osman, told Reuters during the outage. “Now I am happy ... [the] internet is without doubt a necessary tool of evil."

More progressive citizens are happier about the recovery. Farhiyo Adan, a university student, likened the three weeks without social media to “being in a dark room alone.”

“You cannot imagine how happy I am today. The internet is back and I can browse to read and publish all my delayed posts on Facebook,” he told the Independent.

Somalia's Internet penetration rate is only 1%. Get the full picture with our Somalia dashboard

China Blocks WhatsApp Features in Latest Addition to Internet Regulations

Chinese users of Facebook’s messaging app, WhatsApp, experienced limited functionality starting July 18. Users were “unable to send videos and photos,” and some accounts were also banned from sending text-based messages.

This is a part of Beijing’s current campaign to establish China’s sovereignty on the Internet, along with a crackdown on virtual private networks and tighter content censorship. The Chinese censors have recently taken down overseas television shows hosted on video platforms, and have set up stricter standards for original content uploads to multimedia sites.

With many sensitive news events transpiring and the 19th Communist Party Congress around the corner, the New York Times says this crackdown may be the effects of the various ministries “jockeying among [themselves] ahead of this autumn’s congress to show that they are doing their job.”

This news does not bode well for Facebook, which has been eyeing the Chinese market as one of its prime targets. WhatsApp had been the only Facebook property allowed within the Chinese mainland, and it is unclear whether this disruption “was intentional, or if it was just a prelude to a more complete block.”

As China's Internet censorship gets stricter, monitor Chinese Interest stats with our China dashboard