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The Internet

Thousands Of Cubans Now Have Internet Access (ap.org) 63

There's been a dramatic change in one of the world's least-connected countries. An anonymous reader quotes the AP: Since the summer of 2015, the Cuban government has opened 240 public Wi-Fi spots in parks and on street corners across the country... The government estimates that 100,000 Cubans connect to the internet daily. A new feature of urban life in Cuba is the sight of people sitting at all hours on street corners or park benches, their faces illuminated by the screen of smartphones connected by applications such as Facebook Messenger to relatives in Miami, Ecuador or other outposts of the Cuban diaspora...

Cuban ingenuity has spread internet far beyond those public places: thousands of people grab the public signals through commercially available repeaters, imported illegally into Cuba and often sold for about $100 -- double the original price. Mounted on rooftops, the repeaters grab the public signals and create a form of home internet increasingly available in private rentals for tourists and cafes and restaurants for Cubans and visitors alike.

The article also points out that last month, for the first time ever, 2,000 Cubans began receiving home internet access.
Censorship

Russia Demands LinkedIn App Takedown, Apple and Google Comply (fortune.com) 110

Russia has forced Apple and Google to remove the LinkedIn mobile app from their Russian application markets, the latest chapter in a months-long campaign against the professional networking site. From a report on Fortune: A recently-passed Russian law requires that any company holding data on Russians house that data within Russia. Russia began blocking LinkedIn's website last November under that law, which some critics argue is an indirect form of censorship. The removal of the LinkedIn app from Apples App Store and Google's Play shows the willingness of major internet gatekeepers to comply with individual nations' data-control laws, on both the web and mobile devices.
China

Apple Removes NYTimes App in China, Shows How Far It Is Willing To Go To Please Local Authority (theguardian.com) 174

Apple has removed the New York Times app from its store in China after a government request, in an example of how far the company will go to please the authorities in its third-largest market. From a report: China operates what is thought to be the largest internet censorship regime in the world, blocking thousands of foreign websites viewed as a threat by the ruling Communist party. Google, Twitter, Facebook Youtube and Instagram are all inaccessible. Apple removed the English and Chinese-language versions of the New York Times app on 23 December, although it was not immediately clear why. "We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," said Carolyn Wu, an Apple spokeswoman. "As a result the app must be taken down off the China app store. When this situation changes the app store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China."
Facebook

Facebook Is Sorry for Taking Down a Photo of a Nude Neptune Statue (fortune.com) 159

Facebook has apologized for mistakenly blocking a photo of a famous statue for being "sexually explicit." From a report on Fortune: The social media giant flagged a photograph of a 16th-century statue of the sea god Neptune in the Italian city of Bologna. The picture of the sculpture -- which was created in the 1560s -- was featured on the Facebook page of local writer and art historian Elisa Barbari called "Stories, curiosities and view of Bologna." Facebook told Barbari that the picture violated the company's privacy policies. "It shows an image with content that is explicitly sexual and which excessively shows the body or unnecessarily concentrates on body parts," the company said in a statement. The company added: "The usage of images or video of nude bodies or plunging necklines is not allowed, even if the use is for artistic or educational reasons." Facebook later said that blocking the photo was a mistake.
Facebook

Germany Considers Fining Facebook $522,000 Per Fake News Item (heatst.com) 333

"The government of Germany is considering imposing a legal regime that would allow fining social networks such as Facebook up to 500,000 euros ($522,000) for each day the platform leaves a 'fake news' story up without deleting it," according to a story shared by schwit1. PC Magazine has more details: The law would reportedly apply to other social networks as well. "If after the relevant checks Facebook does not immediately, within 24 hours, delete the offending post then [it] must reckon with severe penalties of up to 500,000 euros," Germany's parliamentary chief of the Social Democrat party Thomas Oppermann said in an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, according to a report from Heat Street. Under the law, "official and private complainants" would be able to flag news on Facebook as fake, Heat Street reported. Facebook and other affected social networks would have to create "in-country offices focused on responding to takedown demands," the report says. The bill, slated for consideration next year, is said to have bipartisan support. According to the article, "Lawmakers in the country are reportedly hoping it will prevent Russia from interfering in Germany's elections next year."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

2016 Saw A Massive Increase In Encrypted Web Traffic (eff.org) 91

EFF's "Deeplinks" blog has published nearly two dozen "2016 in Review" posts over the last nine days, one of which applauds 2016 as "a great year for adoption of HTTPS encryption for secure connections to websites." An anonymous reader writes: In 2016 most pages viewed on the web were encrypted. And over 21 million web sites obtained security certificates -- often for the first time -- through Let's Encrypt. But "a sizeable part of the growth in HTTPS came from very large hosting providers that decided to make HTTPS a default for sites that they host, including OVH, Wordpress.com, Shopify, Tumblr, Squarespace, and many others," EFF writes. Other factors included the support of Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3 by Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.
Other "2016 in Review" posts from EFF include Protecting Net Neutrality and the Open Internet and DRM vs. Civil Liberties. Click through for a complete list of all EFF "2016 in Review" posts.
Government

Governments Shut Down the Internet More Than 50 Times in 2016 (thewire.in) 34

An anonymous reader writes: Governments around the world shut down the internet more than 50 times in 2016 -- suppressing elections, slowing economies and limiting free speech. In the worst cases internet shutdowns have been associated with human rights violations, Deji Olukotun, senior global advocacy manager at digital rights organisation Access Now told IPS. "What we have found is that internet shutdowns go hand in hand with atrocities," said Olukotun. "In Ethiopia there's been consistent blocking this year of social media and internet." Dozens of people have died in protests in Ethiopia in 2016, "many of them during the kind of blackout where it's difficult to report on what's happening," he said. Several leaders used internet shutdowns to affect democratic processes, including elections. "In Uganda in February 2016 there was a shutdown of social media networks by President Museveni and that again happened in Gambia (in December) surrounding the election," Olukotun added. In other cases, three governments chose to shut down the internet because they thought that it would stop students from cheating on their exams, he said. "On the whole most governments want to expand internet access," said Olukotun. However governments do not seem to have taken into account the potential repercussions of the shutdowns, beyond the limits of free speech. According to an estimate, internet shutdowns resulted in a loss of $2.4 billion in 2015.
Encryption

Encrypted Messaging App Signal Uses Google To Bypass Censorship (pcworld.com) 87

Developers of the popular Signal secure messaging app have started to use Google's domain as a front to hide traffic to their service and to sidestep blocking attempts. Bypassing online censorship in countries where internet access is controlled by the government can be very hard for users. It typically requires the use of virtual private networking (VPN) services or complex solutions like Tor, which can be banned too. From a report on PCWorld: Open Whisper Systems, the company that develops Signal -- a free, open-source app -- faced this problem recently when access to its service started being censored in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Some users reported that VPNs, Apple's FaceTime and other voice-over-IP apps were also being blocked. The solution from Signal's developers was to implement a censorship circumvention technique known as domain fronting that was described in a 2015 paper by researchers from University of California, Berkeley, the Brave New Software project and Psiphon. The technique involves sending requests to a "front domain" and using the HTTP Host header to trigger a redirect to a different domain. If done over HTTPS, such redirection would be invisible to someone monitoring the traffic, because the HTTP Host header is sent after the HTTPS connection is negotiated and is therefore part of the encrypted traffic.
Social Networks

Turkey Blocks Tor's Anonymity Network (engadget.com) 74

An anonymous reader writes: Turkey's President Erdogan and the ruling AKP party are increasingly bent on silencing online dissent, and that now affects you even if you're smart enough to evade typical censorship methods. Watchdog group Turkey Blocks has confirmed that Turkey is blocking the Tor anonymity network's direct access mode for most users. You can still use a bridge mode for now, but there are hints that internet providers might be hurting performance even then. The restrictions come alongside a recent government ban on virtual private network services.
China

China Takes Action On Thousands Of Websites For 'Harmful', Obscene Content (reuters.com) 60

China has shut down or "dealt with" thousands of websites for sharing "harmful" erotic or obscene content since April, the state's office for combating pornography and illegal publications announced on Thursday. From a report on Reuters: The office said 2,500 websites were prosecuted or shut down and more than 3 million "harmful" posts were deleted in eight months up to December during a drive to "purify" the internet in China and protect youth, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The government has tightening its grip on Chinese cyberspace in recent months, in particular placing new restrictions on the fast-growing live-streaming industry. The state has a zero-tolerance approach to what it considers lewd, smutty or illegal content and has in past crackdowns removed tens of thousands of websites in a single year.
Twitter

Twitter Reinstates White Nationalist Leader's Account (buzzfeed.com) 470

An anonymous reader quotes BuzzFeed: On Saturday evening, Twitter reinstated -- with verification -- the account of Richard Spencer, a leading figure of the so-called alt-right movement, and the head of the white nationalist think tank, The National Policy Institute. Spencer's account was suspended mid-November as part of a larger cull of prominent alt-right accounts... However, according to Twitter, Spencer was banned on a technicality: creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses. Twitter's multiple account policy was put in place as a safeguard to help curb dog piling and targeted harassment. [Twitter] offered to reinstate one of Spencer's accounts if he agreed to follow the company's protocols.
Vox says the move "raises the question of to what extent Twitter intends to enforce the 'hateful conduct' policy." But the suspension had also been criticized by David Frum, a senior editor at the Atlantic, who wrote that "The culture of offense-taking, platform-denying, and heckler-vetoing...lets loudmouths and thugs present themselves as heroes of free thought. They do not deserve this opportunity... today, a neo-Nazi has more right to build an arsenal of weapons and drill a militia than to speak on Twitter." But BuzzFeed points out that though the account's been reinstated, Spencer "is now tip-toeing around the company's three strike policy, which carries a permanent suspension."
Google

Google Global Cache Is Coming to Cuba (ap.org) 46

"The Associated Press reports that on Monday Eric Schmidt will be in Havana to sign a deal bringing Google Global Cache to Cuba," writes lpress. Here's some details from the AP's report on the deal. Cuba suffers from some of the world's slowest internet speeds due to a range of problems that include the convoluted, and thus slower, paths that data must travel between Cuban users and servers that are often in the U.S... home internet connections remain illegal for virtually all Cubans, forcing them to use public WiFi spots that are often shared by dozens of people at a time and run at achingly slow speeds... Both pro-detente forces and those arguing for a hard line on President Raul Castro's single-party government have been pushing for Cubans to have better access to information.
The article cites Slashdot reader Larry Press as "a California-based expert on the Cuban internet," who also shares some more thoughts on his blog. "I'd love to see a country -- even a small one -- in which Google Plus was more popular than Facebook."
EU

EU Threatens Twitter And Facebook With Possible 'Hate Speech' Laws (gizmodo.com) 373

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: On Sunday, the European Commission warned Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and Microsoft that if the companies do not address their hate speech problems, the EU will enact legislation that will force them to do so. In May, those five companies voluntarily signed a code of conduct to fight illegal hate speech on their platforms within 24 hours... But on Sunday, the European Commission revealed that the companies were not complying with this code in a satisfactory manner.

"In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours," a Commission official told Reuters. The Commission's report found that YouTube responded to reports of harassment the fastest, and unsurprisingly, Twitter found itself in last place. "If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months," Jourova told the Financial Times on Sunday.

United Kingdom

UK Health Secretary Urges Social Media Companies To Block Cyberbullying And Underaged Sexting (betanews.com) 71

Mark Wilson shares his article on Beta News: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has made calls for technology companies and social media to do more to tackle the problems of cyberbullying, online intimidation and -- rather specifically -- under-18-year-olds texting sexually explicit images. Of course, he doesn't have the slightest idea about how to go about tackling these problems, but he has expressed his concern so that, in conjunction with passing this buck to tech companies, should be enough, right?
Hunt apparently believes there's already a technology which can identify sexually explicit photos, and that social media networks should now also develop algorithms to identify and block cyberbullying, an idea the Guardian called "sadly laughable."

"Is the blanket censorship of non-approved communications for all under 18s -- something that goes far further than even the Great Firewall of China -- really the kind of thing a government minister should be able to idly suggest in 2016?"
The Courts

It Will Soon Be Illegal To Punish US Customers Who Criticize Businesses Online (arstechnica.com) 90

An anonymous reader writes: Congress has passed a law protecting the right of U.S. consumers to post negative online reviews without fear of retaliation from companies. The bipartisan Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed by unanimous consent in the US Senate, a Senate Commerce Committee announcement said. The bill, introduced in 2014, was already approved by the House of Representatives and now awaits President Obama's signature.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act -- full text available here -- voids any provision in a form contract that prohibits or restricts customers from posting reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of the company providing the product or service. It also voids provisions that impose penalties or fees on customers for posting online reviews as well as those that require customers to give up the intellectual property rights related to such reviews.

Censorship

China Is Censoring People's Chats Without Them Even Knowing About It (qz.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A new study from The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, reveals that censorship on WeChat occurs primarily in group chats rather than one-on-one chats between two people, and often in such a way where the sender of a text isn't even aware a piece of text has been scrubbed. The discoveries illuminates how China's government attempts to keep its citizens blind to the scope of its censorship regime. The researchers set out find the extent to which certain keywords got scrubbed from conversations between two or more users in WeChat. To do this, in June 2016 the team posed as a Chinese WeChat user and sent out 26,821 keywords containing terms that had been censored on other apps, including Tom-Skype (a made-for-China version of Skype) and YY (a live broadcast app). A corresponding Canadian user in the two-way chat would then report back to say whether or not the message had been received. The report states that out of the entire sample, only one term -- Falun Gong -- had been scrubbed. When they ran an identical test in August, even that text mysteriously passed without censorship. Yet when they tested group chats, they found multiple cases in which certain keywords triggered a removal. Specifically, while sensitive terms used in isolation were unlikely to trigger censorship (say "June 4th," a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests, brutally put down on June 4, 1989), it took effect when they were used in a full sentence or with other keywords. The researchers also discovered that when WeChat censored a message, the sender received no notice informing him that his text had not reached the intended recipient. The study also notes that "WeChat only censors content for users who bind their account to a mainland Chinese phone number when they first register to use the app." The censorship is still applied even if Chinese residents move to different countries or change phone numbers.
Social Networks

Facebook Developing AI To Flag Offensive Live Videos (reuters.com) 104

Facebook is working on automatically flagging offensive material in live video streams, building on a growing effort to use artificial intelligence to monitor content, said Joaquin Candela, the company's director of applied machine learning. Reuters added: The social media company has been embroiled in a number of content moderation controversies this year, from facing international outcry after removing an iconic Vietnam War photo due to nudity, to allowing the spread of fake news on its site. Facebook has historically relied mostly on users to report offensive posts, which are then checked by Facebook employees against company "community standards." Decisions on especially thorny content issues that might require policy changes are made by top executives at the company. Candela told reporters that Facebook increasingly was using artificial intelligence to find offensive material. It is "an algorithm that detects nudity, violence, or any of the things that are not according to our policies," he said.
Canada

The Internet Archive Is Building a Canadian Copy To Protect Itself From Trump (theverge.com) 590

The Internet Archive, a digital library nonprofit that preserves billions of webpages for the historical record, is building a backup archive in Canada after the election of Donald Trump. The Verge adds: Today, it began collecting donations for the Internet Archive of Canada, intended to create a copy of the archive outside the United States. "On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change," writes founder Brewster Kahle. "It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change. For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions. It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase."
Censorship

Reddit CEO Admits To Editing User Comments Amid Pizzagate Malarkey (cnet.com) 254

Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit, today admitted to editing several comments that criticized him on the site. He made the admission on Reddit, where he posts under the username Spez. CNET adds: Huffman got a lot of flak from members of the The_Donald, a subreddit for supporters of President-elect Donald Trump, after Reddit banned the Pizzagate subreddit. Pizzagate was dedicated to a debunked conspiracy theory linking Hillary Clinton to a paedophile ring. In response, he edited comments reading "fuck Spez" to instead be directed at moderators of the The_Donald subreddit. "I messed with the "fuck u/spez" comments, replacing "spez" with r/the_donald mods for about an hour. It's been a long week here trying to unwind the r/pizzagate stuff," he wrote. "As much as we try to maintain a good relationship with you all, it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly." Huffman added: "Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won't do this again."
The Internet

UK Plans To Censor Online Videos Of 'Non-Conventional' Sex Acts (betanews.com) 135

Mark Wilson, writing for BetaNews: The UK government's relationship with the web is something of a checkered one. Keen to pander to the fear of concerned hand-wringers, we've seen torrent sites blocked and there are plans afoot to censor porn sites that do not implement 'effective' age checks. Now there is a chance that UK web users will be denied access to websites that portray "non-conventional sexual acts" in the latest act of censorship by the government. A bill currently being considered would apply the same restrictions to online pornography that currently apply offline. In what appears to be yet another example of the government failing to understand quite how the internet works -- and trying to bend offline laws to apply to online situations -- the plan is to block websites that display content that would not normally receive a classification if released on DVD.

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