Verizon Launches News Site with Censorship Built In

December 1, 2014

Here is but one reason today’s domination of news coverage by huge corporations is a problem: they don’t even feel the need to feign objectivity anymore. The Daily Dot reveals, “Verizon is Launching a Tech News Site that Bans Stories on U.S. Spying.” Verizon is calling this site SugarString, and, presumably, the company would like us to focus on its ambition to compete with tech news sites like Wired and the Verge. However, reporter Patrick Howell O’Neill cannot ignore that little restriction. He writes:

“There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today. Unsurprisingly, Verizon is deeply tangled up in both controversies….

“Verizon has been snarled in U.S. government surveillance for years. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USA Today reported, Verizon gave the NSA landline phone records without customer consent or a warrant. Just this week, it was revealed that Verizon is tracking all of its wireless customers movement throughout the Web.

“Verizon has also led the charge to kill net neutrality—the principle that Internet service providers, like Verizon, should treat all Internet traffic equally—earning its place as the most vocal, aggressive, and well-funded opponent the so-called open Internet movement faces.”

O’Neill notes that SugarString allows articles on spying by non-U.S. agencies, presumably because Verizon does not (yet?) have info-sharing deals with foreign governments. Word of the limitations spread as the new site began soliciting tech reporters, including O’Neill, through email. The company might have expected at least one of these reporters to, ahem, report on the restrictions. The article notes that almost every story on SugarString’s front page (as of its writing) is one for which discussion of U.S. surveillance or net neutrality would be relevant. It is a shame that Verizon, and companies like it, are putting their interests ahead of fully informing readers. A shame, but is it any surprise?

Cynthia Murrell, December 01, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Decree 72 in Vietnam Broadens Censorship

February 18, 2014

Communist governments are not exactly considered advocates for free-flowing information within their borders. Quartz does nothing to dispel this image with its article, “Vietnam’s New Social Media Crackdown Takes Aim at News Aggregators (and Enemies of the State).” The pieces tells us about Vietnam’s new Decree 72, which declares that websites must not “quote, gather or summarize information from press organizations or government websites.” Writer Adam Pasick reports:

“If you think that sounds ominously vague, you’re not alone. Critics of the new law noted that it would essentially ban any links to a news article on Facebook, which has 12 million users in Vietnam. ‘We are deeply concerned by the decree’s provisions that appear to limit the types of information individuals can share via personal social media accounts and on websites,’ the US Embassy in Hanoi said. Reporters Without Borders called Decree 72 ‘both nonsensical and extremely dangerous,’ saying it would require ‘massive and constant government surveillance of the entire internet.'”

Ostensibly, the decree is meant to fight copyright violations. However, critics note that its vagueness grants plenty of wiggle room to a government known for a heavy hand in this area; Pasick reminds us that this country threw 35 bloggers in jail for writing about things it would have preferred to keep hidden. Not to be overlooked is this gem—Pasick writes:

“And there is also the chilling language of the second half of Decree 72, which bans ‘information that is against Vietnam, undermining national security, social order, and national unity … or information distorting, slandering, and defaming the prestige of organizations, honor and dignity of individuals.'”

Ugh. Vietnam was already near the bottom of the press freedom index maintained by Reporters Without Borders. It seems the country’s government will not relinquish censorship any time soon; after all, it is an effective tool for controlling one’s citizens.

Cynthia Murrell, February 18, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Yale on Free Expression: A Quote to Note

January 18, 2014

Years ago I gave a lecture at Yale. My subject was Google. I ran through the basic points in The Google Legacy and Google Version 2.0. The audience reacted as if I had dissected a dead frog. I received a smattering of polite applause and headed out for a talk in New York City. So much for Yale and the idea that Google was more than a Web search company.

I just read “Yale Students Made a Better Version of Their Course Catalogue. Then Yale Shut It Down.” A couple of students put up a Web page that allowed students to pinpoint classes and compare student ratings of professors. Sounds like an app to me.

Information? Who said it was supposed to be free? Image source: http://1.usa.gov/1dFIhW9

But Yale perceived the Web page differently. Here’s the quote:

‘Yale’s policy on free expression and free speech entitles no one to appropriate a Yale resource and use it as their [sic] own ,’ the statement read. It further stated its main priority at this time was supporting its own resources, ‘not others created independently and without the university’s cooperation or permission,’ and that ‘all the information on the website remains available to students on the Yale site.’

I assume the Washington Post is semi-accurate, just like an Amazon recommendation.

What did the future bonesmen learn? A nuance of academic freedom in Yale Land has been broadcast in an analogue transmission.

Will these two free thinkers demonstrate digital initiative in the future? Is Yale turning out well-trained online researchers for the next-generation information highway?

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2014

Online News Censorship in Jordan

October 16, 2013

Well, this is disappointing. New Europe draws our attention to another case of government censorship in, “Jordan Blocks 304 News Websites.” Searching for news can be tough when countries filter streams.

Jordan’s Department of Press and Publication (which used to be blatantly titled the Censorship Department) insists it respects the media as “one of the most important pillars of modern democracy,” but maintains that the blocks are necessary to prevent verbal attacks on groups and individuals. As of last year, new Jordanian websites are required to register with the Department. They must also appoint an editor who will take the fall if anything deemed slanderous makes it onto the site, comments sections included. The article tells us these regulations were implemented after several incidents in which:

“… online media were blamed for inciting religious or social prejudice and inaccurate reporting involving public figures. Targets of some of the articles claimed that some online editors sought bribes in return for halting publication of false rumors.”

That may be, but to our way of thinking the response seems unreasonable. Consider the locale, though; Jordan may actually be moving forward overall. We also learn:

“Since the Arab Spring uprisings that unseated four Arab leaders two years ago, Jordan has taken steps to ease restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and assembly. The government also introduced special courts to deal with media cases, presided over by specialized civil judges. However, other constraints remain. That includes a ban on criticizing the king in public, punishable by up to three years in jail. King Abdullah II holds final authority in most matters.”

Well, that’s kinda what one would expect in a (traditional) kingdom. Big changes most often take place slowly, and journalists and bloggers in Jordan must still be very careful what they write. However, we can hope that this one step back is part of a generally forward progress.

Cynthia Murrell, October 16, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Murdock Says Wall Street Journal Still Under Hacker Attack

February 15, 2013

Now, isn’t this ironic? TNW reports, “Rupert Murdoch Claims Chinese Hackers Are Still Attacking the Wall Street Journal.” Didn’t Murdoch’s own News Corp. use improper methods to obtain information? I didn’t think Karma usually worked that quickly.

Following revelations that the New York Times had been hacked, the world learned that the WSJ had also been targeted. Now, the paper’s (in)famous owner claims the attacks have not been stopped. Writer John Russell tells us:

“The Australia-born media mogul took to Twitter to reveal that the newspaper was still being targeted by Chinese hackers over the weekend. That’s just days after the WSJ bolstered its network security last week after its computer systems ‘had been infiltrated by Chinese hackers for the apparent purpose of monitoring the newspaper’s China coverage’.

“Murdoch has not provided any further substantiation of his claims.”

These two news outlets, as well as Bloomberg, seem to have been targeted as a result of their coverage of Chinese politics. Though there is yet no evidence to support the theory, security experts suspect that the Chinese government is behind the intrusions. Such charges are nothing new to China, who is also known for its embrace of Internet censorship.

Cynthia Murrell, February 15, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

New Tech Allows China to Tighten Internet Control

January 10, 2013

If you hoped China might see the light and ease up on its Internet censorship, I’m afraid they’re going the other direction. The Guardian informs us, “China Tightens ‘Great Firewall’ Internet Control with New Technology.” Reportedly, the government is using new tools to interfere with VPN services that some in China have been using to skirt its constraints. This should make search interesting.

The article states:

China Unicom, one of the biggest telecoms providers in the country, is now killing connections where a VPN is detected, according to one company with a number of users in China.

“VPNs encrypt internet communications between two points so that even if the data being passed is tapped, it cannot be read. A VPN connection from inside China to outside it also mean that the user’s internet connection effectively starts outside the ‘Great Firewall’ – in theory giving access to the vast range of information and sites that the Chinese government blocks. That includes many western newspaper sites as well as resources such as Twitter, Facebook and Google.”

Though VPN providers are just noticing the effects of government interference, Chinese users got an inkling in May of 2011 that the government would attempt to disrupt VPN use. Now, according to VPN provider Astrill, at least four of the common protocols are being blocked by China’s “Great Firewall.” Though Astrill is working on a system it hopes will outstride censors, the company compared the effort to a cat-and-mouse game. Yes, that sounds about right.

Will China ever respect its citizens enough to trust them unfettered online?

Cynthia Murrell, January 10, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Will Twitter Lead to US Spring?

August 28, 2012

Any doubts about Internet censorship as the next big thing? Check out TechNewsWorld’s “How Twitter Could Trigger a US Revolution” for an example of tech-related alarmism. The piece starts by explaining why our country is not immune to the sort of turmoil many other countries have been experiencing. Writer Rob Enderle supplies several reasons, which he summarizes with:

“In short, there is a growing number of increasingly heavily armed people [in the US] becoming convinced that their government is catastrophically flawed, and that the system itself — not just the people in it — is the cause. That would appear to be a formula for revolution, and key indicators appear to be drifting in that direction at the moment.”

Okay. . . . Enderle goes on to tie in the Twitter factor. He writes:

“What Twitter does that is unique is that it puts no time between the concept of a news item and what is published. . . .

“This suggests that a revolutionary group, hostile country, or terrorist group could relatively easily manufacture an event that could cause several large-scale riots — and if they controlled enough of the tweets, propagate them into revolution.”

The potential scene he describes involves disgruntled and understaffed law enforcement; rioters who will ignore all accurate but non-Twitter-hosted news stories; and revolutionaries egging each other on with hyperbole-filled tweets. He thinks the scenario unlikely—what a relief!—but says the thought exercise shows that we are vulnerable to Twitter-based upheaval.

Sigh. Enderle has a good point here and there, but the whole write up makes me think back over my history. Prophecies of doom have accompanied every step of our society’s advancement, and most (though not all) have proven to be off the mark. Let us hope that is the case with Enderle’s observations.

Let us also hope that such speculation does not give our lawmakers any restrictive ideas.

Cynthia Murrell, August 28, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Russia Passes Internet Censorship Legislation Impacting LiveJournal Blog

August 26, 2012

Internet censorship is a hot topic these days due to the fact that some countries do not value freedom of speech and choose to restrict it. ZeroPaid recently reported on this issue in the article “Russia Censors LiveJournal.”

According to the article, Russia has passed internet censorship legislation in the name of protecting its citizens from suicide, drug use, and other criminal activity. The impetus for censoring LiveJournal,  a social network owned by SUP Media where Internet users can keep a blog, occurred on July 18 when:

“Local law enforcement informed a Yaroslavl court about pat-index, a neo-Nazi blog it had found on LiveJournal during a sweep. The blog’s hateful message violates Russian federal laws against extremism. Because of Bill 89417-6, the court now has the power to stamp it out completely and immediately. The court ordered Internet provider Netis Telekom to block, among other illegal sites, this blog’s IP. The court order shows the IP to be blocked as 208.93.0.128.

However, LiveJournal blogs don’t have unique IP addresses. That IP belongs to all of LiveJournal Russia, effectively blacking out LiveJournal for everyone in Yaroslavl (a city of nearly 600,000) and all the surrounding areas to which Netis Telekom provides service.”

Despite the fact that the censorship only occurred for a short period of time, the fact that legislation restricting Internet rights, which have been deemed part of freedom of speech by the United Nations, exists is very problematic.

Jasmine Ashton, August 26, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Russian Government Embraces Internet Censorship

August 9, 2012

Is this the future of the Internet? MIT’s Technology Review announces, “Russia Tightens Its Grip on the Net.” Framed as an attempt to protect children (who could argue against protecting children?), a new bill passed by Russia’s lower parliamentary house calls for the creation of an official roster of sites with “forbidden” information. The bill is expected to make it through the upper house and across Putin’s desk into law.

Images of drug use and child porn are listed as ban-able, of course, but so is anything that “may cause children to undertake actions threatening their life or health” and “any other information banned by court decisions.” That’s quite a lot of wiggle room. Research editor Mike Orcutt writes:

“Russia’s online scene is vibrant and diverse, and, at least until now, has been relatively open to many kinds of expression. Services like blogging network LiveJournal, which is immensely popular in Russia, have become platforms for outspoken dissent. LiveJournal expressed doubt that the new law would be enforced fairly, since a banned website’s only outlet for appeal would be the Russian court system, known to be loyal to the Kremlin. ‘Unfortunately the practice of law in Russia indicates a high probability of the worst case scenario.'”

What a surprise. First China, now Russia. Elsewhere the calls for suppression are not (yet)as evident, but many governments are “nervous” about uncontrolled and free information. For these folks, control is desirable. Informed citizens, not so much. After all, that can get very messy.

Cynthia Murrell, August 9, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext