5 Things You Didn’t Know About Cuba

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Cuba

When many people think about Cuba, their mind goes to rum, cigars and Fidel Castro. But there is so much more to this Caribbean island than that! It is an interesting and exciting place, and it is only within the last five years that U.S. citizens have been able to legally travel there. Here are five things about Cuba that you probably didn’t know.

Christmas Was Once Banned in Cuba

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When The Grinch – ehem, I mean, Fidel Castro – came to power, he went right to work banning things that everyone loves, like Monopoly and, yes, even Christmas. He declared the entire country atheist and abolished Christmas and the paid work holiday that went with it because he wanted people to work on harvesting sugar instead of celebrating and giving gifts. After 30 long, sad years for the people of Cuba, whose population is truly largely a Catholic one, the Pope visited Havana and convinced Castro to reinstate Christmas. Even though it was January at the time, Cuban citizens ran right out to buy the Christmas trees and religious statues they weren’t allowed to have before. It is unclear whether Castro’s heart grew three sizes that day, but it seems unlikely.

Cubans Only Recently Got the Right to Buy a New Car

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If you have ever wondered why Cuba is full of so many classic, 1950s-style cars, the answer might make you a bit sad. Beginning in 1959, Cubans were not allowed to buy a new car, so there were no cars on the streets newer than the 1959 models. In 2013, though, the laws changed, and citizens were able to start buying new cars without getting special permission from the state. The only problem? These cars are marked up by 400 percent, with prices running between $91,000 and $262,000. The average monthly earnings for a citizen of Cuba is equivalent to between 20 and 30 U.S. dollars, making owning a new car an impossible dream for most.

Cuba Once Had a Toilet Paper Shortage

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In 2009, Cuba faced a crisis that no one else wants to think about: a shortage of toilet paper. While this seems a bit preposterous for a country like the U.S., keep in mind that Cuba produces some of its own toilet paper but has to import the rest. In 2009, the country did not have enough natural resources to make its own toilet paper and was also facing an economic crisis. Luckily the country eventually recovered enough to allow people to stock up on this bathroom essential, but it was surely a tough few months.

Cuba Is Home to the Largest Colony of Flamingos

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Cuba is home to many beautiful and rare species of birds, including the bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. The birds stay here because the habitat is both perfect for their needs and located within protected areas. Flamingos are no exception, with the largest colony in the Western Hemisphere nesting in Cuba’s wetlands. In Humedal Rio Maximo-Caguey in particular, nearly 70,000 nesting flamingos have given birth to more than 50,000 chicks. That is one big feathery family!

Hardly Anyone in Cuba Can Access the Internet

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While travelers can usually buy a scratch-off card that allows them to use the internet, as a rule, internet is hard to come by in Cuba. In 2011, a study reported that only around five percent of the population was able to access the worldwide web instead of just a government-created intranet that didn’t let them view anything that their leader didn’t want them to see. It was only in 2008 that Cubans were allowed to start buying computers at all, even if the prices were ridiculously high. The number of internet users has surely increased as technology has advanced, but it is highly likely that our friends in Cuba won’t be reading this article.

Oracle: China’s internet is designed more like an intranet

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ZDNET)

 

Oracle: China’s internet is designed more like an intranet

China’s internet could continue to operate as a national intranet in the case of a cyber-attack or foreign intervention.

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The structure of the Chinese internet is unlike any other country, being similar to a gigantic intranet, according to research published by Oracle last week.

The country has very few connection points to the global internet, has zero foreign telcos operating within its borders, and Chinese-to-Chinese internet traffic never leaves the country.

All of these allow China to disconnect itself at will from the global internet and continue to operate, albeit with no connectivity to western services.

“Put plainly, in terms of resilience, China could effectively withdraw from the global public internet and maintain domestic connectivity (essentially having an intranet),” Oracle’s Dave Allen said. “This means the rest of the world could be restricted from connecting into China, and vice versa for external connections for Chinese businesses/users.”

VERY FEW PEERING POINTS

The most obvious sign that China is different from any other country in terms of how it structured its internet infrastructure is by looking at how the country is connected to the rest of the internet.

Normally, most countries allow local and foreign telecommunications providers to operate within each other’s borders. These companies interconnect their infrastructure at physical locations called Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), and all the internet is a giant mesh of IXP peering points interconnecting smaller telco networks.

But China doesn’t do this. Rather than allowing foreign telcos to operate within its borders, this market is completely off limits. Instead, local telcos extend China’s infrastructure to foreign countries, where they interlink with the global internet.

This way, Chinese ISPs form a closely-knit structure capable of exchanging traffic among themselves. All connections that need to reach foreign services must go through the country’s Great Firewall, reach foreign IXPs via closely selected telcos (China Telecom, China Unicom, China Mobile), and then land on the public internet.

China IPXs
Image: Oracle

This entire structure is very much akin to a corporate intranet, and has quite a few advantages.

First, China can impose its internet censorship program at will, without needing to account for foreign telcos operating inside its borders, and have to deal with their sensitive customer policies.

Second, China can disconnect from the internet whenever it detects an external attack, but still maintain a level of internet connectivity within its borders, relying solely on local telcos and data centers.

INTERNAL TRAFFIC NEVER LEAVES THE COUNTRY

But another advantage of this structure is that traffic meant to go from one Chinese user to another never leaves the country’s borders.

This is very different from most internet connections. For example, a user from an Italian town wanting to access their city’s website might find it surprising that their connection often goes through servers located in France or Germany before reaching the city’s website.

Such “weird” connection paths happen all the time on the internet, and in many countries, but not in China. Here, because local telcos peer primarily with each other and have a few tightly controlled outlets to the external world, internal traffic has no reason to leave the country.

China internal traffic
Image: Oracle

MORE “NATIONAL INTRANETS” TO FOLLOW

The main advantage of this is that foreign intelligence services have very little insight into Chinese traffic, unless users connect to foreign services, and the traffic must cross China’s borders.

From a national security standpoint, this is ideal; however, only China has such a system in place — at least, for now.

“While China’s structure is unique in the way it is physically set up to be separate from the rest of the world, other countries have begun to adopt the theoretical approach to cyber sovereignty that China is promoting,” said Oracle’s Dave Allen.

One of the countries that’s trying to replicate this Chinese “national intranet” model is Russia. This March, President Vladimir Putin signed a new law giving the government expanded control over the internet. The law basically forces local internet providers to install devices that route Russian web traffic through government-run servers, where intelligence services are given free will to analyze the traffic.

Furthermore, the country has also been busy building a local backup of the Domain Name System (DNS), and has conducted tests to disconnect the country from the rest of the internet, as part of a planned experiment.

Russia may be a few years behind China, but the writing’s on the wall as to Kremlin’s intentions.

7 surprising facts about email

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRIVIA GENIUS)

 

7 surprising facts about email

Email, that magical way of sending instant messages between electronic devices, is used and consumed round-the-clock by people the length and breadth of the planet. But have you ever stopped to think about how it came about, or how often we use it? Next time you find yourself with a group of friends too busy on their telephones to talk, reignite the conversation with these fun email facts.

Email predates the Internet

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Although it didn’t become popular until the early 1990s, the first emails were sent in 1965 via a system called MAIL at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This was four years prior to the creation of ARPANET, which itself laid the foundations for the Internet. Pioneering programmer Ray Tomlinson sent the first email as we know them today in 1971, almost two decades before the World Wide Web appeared.

The content of the first email is unknown

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Legend once had us believe that Tomlinson’s first email, which incidentally was sent to himself between two computers in the same office, included the words “Hello world“. In fact, according to the man himself, the actual content was in all probability something along the lines of “QWERTYUIOP.” As there’s no official record we’ll just have to take his word for it.

Hotmail was launched as recently as 1996

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Over three decades after the first emails were traded, Microsoft’s Hotmail took the world by storm with its messaging service. Rebranded as Outlook in 2012, it now has 400 million users and is available in 106 languages. RocketMail was Hotmail’s biggest contender in the early days, and later became what we know today as Yahoo!

Today, 2.8 million emails are sent every second

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Thanks to our technology-savvy friends Internet Live Stats, we can see that in just one second, 2,780,870 emails are sent on their journey. Let’s put this into some more impressive numbers: that’s a whopping 240 billion per day. If every person on Earth was sending then that would equate to 31 emails per person per day. We are also watching 77,925 YouTube videos and sending 8,415 Tweets per second.

The curious origins of the word spam

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Spam is that wonderful folder in your webmail service that gets bombarded with offers to inherit a fortune from a generous widow, purchase products from phantom companies and earn hundreds of dollars for taking part in surveys. Spam was originally, and still is, the brand name of a canned meat introduced during World War II. In the 1970s, British comedy team Monty Python referred to Spam as something unavoidable and repetitive. Techies later coined the name spammers for the people that repeatedly send you dishonest and unsolicited emails.

We spend over five hours per day checking email

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For many, email and the Internet have taken over our lives, so much so that in 2017 a vast majority of us were spending 5.4 hours every day checking messages. Naturally, this has a knock-on effect on productivity. Statistics show that time spent distracted by emails and social media costs the U.S. economy $997 billion annually.

Studies have proved that decreased email usage leads to increased health

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Fancy reducing your stress levels, relaxing your heart rate and increasing both focus and productivity? Simple: reduce your email time. A study by the University of California Irvine and U.S. Army on a group of office workers proved this. So it must be true, right?

Loss Of Internet Freedom = Loss Of Freedom

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

Editor’s Note:In Unpacked, Brookings experts provide analysis of Trump administration policies and news. Subscribe to the Brookings Creative Lab YouTube channel to stay up to date on the latest from Unpacked.

The issue:

On June 11, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the Open Internet Order—the net neutrality rules—went into effect. In the wake of this change, Americans are wondering how the repeal will affect them, and what it means for the future of internet access. Though consumers may not see changes quickly, the shift on net neutrality undermines the nation’s history on network regulation, creating a new era in how these networks operate in America.

Internet companies will now have the opportunity to start to discriminate in very subtle ways.

The things you need to know:

  • Consumers can expect not to see any rapid changes as a result to the change in Net Neutrality rules
  • Internet services will likely not jump on this quickly and begin to extract the advantages of this repeal, but they will begin to discriminate in subtle ways
  • There is a pending court appeal that challenges the FCC’s ability to repeal Net Neutrality
  • The Congressional Review Act, which has already passed the Senate, would repeal the FCC’s decision
  • To understand what impact the repeal of the Open Internet rule might have, you have to understand why it was put in place to begin with
  • The underlying concept of networks in America, all the way back to the telegraph, has been that there needs to be first-come, first-serve, non-discriminatory access
  • The reason why we have this rule is because of monopoly networks
  • In most communities, there is one internet service provider – you don’t have a choice. When you have a monopoly situation, there is an incentive to discriminate to help the monopoly owner
  • In the past the government has always said that companies cannot discriminate to favor themselves – those concepts were at the heart of the Open Internet Order and they have now gone away
  • Internet companies will now have the opportunity to start to discriminate in very subtle ways
  • The court decision on the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner (and its assets like CNN) is important because when you have a merger of wired and wireless internet service and give them the opportunity to discriminate against competitors to favor their own content, then you have a new day in how America’s networks operate

The sources:

A wide gulf between federal agencies on broadband competition

The state of tech policy, one year into the Trump Administration

Where’s the fire? With unclear legal authority, Trump FCC rushes to hand responsibility over internet service to FTC

China: NOTHING About Xi Jinping Is ‘For The People’ Everything Is About His Power

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE LONG READ’)

(WHEN IT COMES TO THE INTERNET THE GOVERNMENT OF CHINA AND PRESIDENT XI JINPING SHOW THAT THEY ARE SCARED TO DEATH OF THE PEOPLE HAVING ANY KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR COWARDLINESS AND CRIMES TOWARD THE PEOPLE, IN THIS SENSE XI JINPING IS NO BETTER THAN NORTH KOREA’S KIM JONG UN, COWARDS, LIARS AND MURDERERS WITH NO INTEGRITY AT ALL.)(OPED BY oldpoet56) 

The great firewall of China: Xi Jinping’s internet shutdown

Before Xi Jinping, the internet was becoming a more vibrant political space for Chinese citizens. But today the country has the largest and most sophisticated online censorship operation in the world. By 

In December 2015, thousands of tech entrepreneurs and analysts, along with a few international heads of state, gathered in Wuzhen, in southern China, for the country’s second World Internet Conference. At the opening ceremony the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, set out his vision for the future of China’s internet. “We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber-development,” said Xi, warning against foreign interference “in other countries’ internal affairs”.

No one was surprised by what they heard. Xi had already established that the Chinese internet would be a world unto itself, with its content closely monitored and managed by the Communist party. In recent years, the Chinese leadership has devoted more and more resources to controlling content online. Government policies have contributed to a dramatic fall in the number of postings on the Chinese blogging platform Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter), and have silenced many of China’s most important voices advocating reform and opening up the internet.

It wasn’t always like this. In the years before Xi became president in 2012, the internet had begun to afford the Chinese people an unprecedented level of transparency and power to communicate. Popular bloggers, some of whom advocated bold social and political reforms, commanded tens of millions of followers. Chinese citizens used virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blocked websites. Citizens banded together online to hold authorities accountable for their actions, through virtual petitions and organising physical protests. In 2010, a survey of 300 Chinese officials revealed that 70% were anxious about whether mistakes or details about their private life might be leaked online. Of the almost 6,000 Chinese citizens also surveyed, 88% believed it was good for officials to feel this anxiety.

For Xi Jinping, however, there is no distinction between the virtual world and the real world: both should reflect the same political values, ideals, and standards. To this end, the government has invested in technological upgrades to monitor and censor content. It has passed new laws on acceptable content, and aggressively punished those who defy the new restrictions. Under Xi, foreign content providers have found their access to China shrinking. They are being pushed out by both Xi’s ideological war and his desire that Chinese companies dominate the country’s rapidly growing online economy.

At home, Xi paints the west’s version of the internet, which prioritises freedom of information flow, as anathema to the values of the Chinese government. Abroad, he asserts China’s sovereign right to determine what constitutes harmful content. Rather than acknowledging that efforts to control the internet are a source of embarrassment – a sign of potential authoritarian fragility – Xi is trying to turn his vision of a “Chinanet” (to use blogger Michael Anti’s phrase) into a model for other countries.

The challenge for China’s leadership is to maintain what it perceives as the benefits of the internet – advancing commerce and innovation – without letting technology accelerate political change. To maintain his “Chinanet”, Xi seems willing to accept the costs in terms of economic development, creative expression, government credibility, and the development of civil society. But the internet continues to serve as a powerful tool for citizens seeking to advance social change and human rights. The game of cat-and-mouse continues, and there are many more mice than cats.


The very first email in China was sent in September 1987 – 16 years after Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in the US. It broadcast a triumphal message: “Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world.” For the first few years, the government reserved the internet for academics and officials. Then, in 1995, it was opened to the general public. In 1996, although only about 150,000 Chinese people were connected to the internet, the government deemed it the “Year of the Internet”, and internet clubs and cafes appeared all over China’s largest cities.

Yet as enthusiastically as the government proclaimed its support for the internet, it also took steps to control it. Rogier Creemers, a China expert at Oxford University, has noted that “As the internet became a publicly accessible information and communication platform, there was no debate about whether it should fall under government supervision – only about how such control would be implemented in practice.” By 1997, Beijing had enacted its first laws criminalising online postings that it believed were designed to hurt national security or the interests of the state.

China’s leaders were right to be worried. Their citizens quickly realised the political potential inherent in the internet. In 1998, a 30-year-old software engineer called Lin Hai forwarded 30,000 Chinese email addresses to a US-based pro-democracy magazine. Lin was arrested, tried and ultimately sent to prison in the country’s first known trial for a political violation committed completely online. The following year, the spiritual organisation Falun Gongused email and mobile phones to organise a silent demonstration of more than 10,000 followers around the Communist party’s central compound, Zhongnanhai, to protest their inability to practise freely. The gathering, which had been arranged without the knowledge of the government, precipitated an ongoing persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and a new determination to exercise control over the internet.

The man who emerged to lead the government’s technological efforts was Fang Binxing. In the late 1990s, Fang worked on developing the “Golden Shield” – transformative software that enabled the government to inspect any data being received or sent, and to block destination IP addresses and domain names. His work was rewarded by a swift political rise. By the 2000s, he had earned the moniker “Father of the Great Firewall” and, eventually, the enmity of hundreds of thousands of Chinese web users.

Security outside Google’s office in Beijing in January 2010.
 Security outside Google’s office in Beijing in January 2010. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

Throughout the early 2000s, the Chinese leadership supplemented Fang’s technology with a set of new regulations designed to ensure that anyone with access to China’s internet played by Chinese rules. In September 2000, the state council issued order no 292, which required internet service providers to ensure that the information sent out on their services adhered to the law, and that some domain names and IP addresses were recorded. Two years later, Beijing blocked Google for the first time. (A few years later, Google introduced Google.cn, a censored version of the site.) In 2002, the government increased its emphasis on self-censorship with the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for China’s Internet Industry, which established four principles: patriotic observance of law, equitableness, trustworthiness and honesty. More than 100 companies, including Yahoo!, signed the pledge.

Perhaps the most significant development, however, was a 2004 guideline on internet censorship that called for Chinese universities to recruit internet commentators who could guide online discussions in politically acceptable directions and report comments that did not follow Chinese law. These commentators became known as wu mao dang, or “50-cent party”, after the small bonuses they were supposedly paid for each post.

Yet even as the government was striving to limit individuals’ access to information, many citizens were making significant inroads into the country’s political world – and their primary target was corrupt local officials.


In May 2009, Deng Yujiao, a young woman working in a hotel in Hubei province, stabbed a party official to death after she rejected his efforts to pay her for sex and he tried to rape her. Police initially committed Deng to a mental hospital. A popular blogger, Wu Gan, however, publicised her case. Using information gathered through a process known as ren rou sousuo, or “human flesh search engine”, in which web users collaborate to discover the identity of a specific individual or organisation, Wu wrote a blog describing the events and actions of the party officials involved.

In an interview with the Atlantic magazine at the time, he commented: “The cultural significance of flesh searches is this: in an undemocratic country, the people have limited means to get information … [but] citizens can get access to information through the internet, exposing lies and the truth.” Deng’s case began to attract public support, with young people gathering in Beijing with signs reading “Anyone could be Deng Yujiao.” Eventually the court ruled that Deng had acted in self-defence.

During this period, in the final years of Hu Jintao’s presidency, the internet was becoming more and more powerful as a mechanism by which Chinese citizens held their officials to account. Most cases were like that of Deng Yujiao – lodged and resolved at the local level. A small number, however, reached central authorities in Beijing. On 23 July 2011, a high-speed train derailed in the coastal city of Wenzhou, leaving at least 40 people dead and 172 injured. In the wake of the accident, Chinese officials banned journalistsfrom investigating, telling them to use only information “released from authorities”. But local residents took photos of the wreckage being buried instead of being examined for evidence. The photos went viral and heightened the impression that the government’s main goal was not to seek the true cause of the accident.

A Sina Weibo poll – later blocked – asked users why they thought the train wreckage was buried: 98% (61,382) believed it represented destruction of evidence. Dark humour spread online: “How far are we from heaven? Only a train ticket away,” and “The Ministry of Railways earnestly requests that you ride the Heavenly Party Express.” The popular pressure resulted in a full-scale investigation of the crash, and in late December, the government issued a report blaming poorly designed signal equipment and insufficient safety procedures. As many as 54 officials faced disciplinary action as a result of the crash.

The internet also provided a new sense of community for Chinese citizens, who mostly lacked robust civil-society organisations. In July 2012, devastating floods in Beijing led to the evacuation of more than 65,000 residents and the deaths of at least 77 people. Damages totalled an estimated $1.9bn. Local officials failed to respond effectively: police officers allegedly kept ticketing stranded cars instead of assisting residents, and the early warning system did not work. Yet the real story was the extraordinary outpouring of assistance from Beijing web users, who volunteered their homes and food to stranded citizens. In a span of just 24 hours, an estimated 8.8m messages were sent on Weibo regarding the floods. The story of the floods became not only one of government incompetence, but also one of how an online community could transform into a real one.


While the Chinese people explored new ways to use the internet, the leadership also began to develop a taste for the new powers it offered, such as a better understanding of citizens’ concerns and new ways to shape public opinion. Yet as the internet increasingly became a vehicle for dissent, concern within the leadership mounted that it might be used to mobilise a large-scale political protest capable of threatening the central government. The government responded with a stream of technological fixes and political directives; yet the boundaries of internet life continued to expand.

The advent of Xi Jinping in 2012 brought a new determination to move beyond deleting posts and passing regulations. Beijing wanted to ensure that internet content more actively served the interests of the Communist party. Within the virtual world, as in the real world, the party moved to silence dissenting voices, to mobilise party members in support of its values, and to prevent foreign ideas from seeping into Chinese political and social life. In a leaked speech in August 2013, Xi articulated a dark vision: “The internet has become the main battlefield for the public opinion struggle.”

Early in his tenure, Xi embraced the world of social media. One Weibo group, called Fan Group to Learn from Xi, appeared in late 2012, much to the delight of Chinese propaganda officials. (Many Chinese suspected that the account was directed by someone in the government, although the account’s owner denied it.) Xi allowed a visit he made to Hebei to be liveblogged on Weibo by government-affiliated press, and videos about Xi, including a viral music video called How Should I Address You, based on a trip he made to a mountain village, demonstrate the government’s increasing skill at digital propaganda.

Xi Jinping at the World Internet Conference in Jiaxing, China, in 2015.
 Xi Jinping at the World Internet Conference in Jiaxing, China, in 2015. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters

Under Xi, the government has also developed new technology that has enabled it to exert far greater control over the internet. In January 2015, the government blocked many of the VPNs that citizens had used to circumvent the Great Firewall. This was surprising to many outside observers, who had believed that VPNs were too useful to the Chinese economy – supporting multinationals, banks and retailers, among others – for the government to crack down on them.

In spring 2015, Beijing launched the Great Cannon. Unlike the Great Firewall, which has the capacity to block traffic as it enters or exits China, the Great Cannon is able to adjust and replace content as it travels around the internet. One of its first targets was the US coding and software development site GitHub. The Chinese government used the Great Cannon to levy a distributed denial of service attack against the site, overwhelming it with traffic redirected from Baidu (a search engine similar to Google). The attack focused on attempting to force GitHub to remove pages linked to the Chinese-language edition of the New York Times and GreatFire.org, a popular VPN that helps people circumvent Chinese internet censorship.

But perhaps Xi’s most noticeable gambit has been to constrain the nature of the content available online. In August 2013, the government issued a new set of regulations known as the “seven baselines”. The reaction by Chinese internet companies was immediate. Sina, for example, shut down or “handled” 100,000 Weibo accounts found to not comply with the new rules.

The government also adopted tough restrictions on internet-based rumours. In September 2013, the supreme people’s court ruled that authors of online posts that deliberately spread rumours or lies, and were either seen by more than 5,000 individuals or shared more than 500 times, could face defamation charges and up to three years in jail. Following massive flooding in Hebei province in July 2016, for example, the government detained three individuals accused of spreading “false news” via social media regarding the death toll and cause of the flood. Some social media posts and photos of the flooding, particularly of drowning victims, were also censored.

In addition, Xi’s government began targeting individuals with large social media followings who might challenge the authority of the Communist party. Restrictions on the most prominent Chinese web influencers, beginning in 2013, represented an important turning point in China’s internet life. Discussions began to move away from politics to personal and less sensitive issues. The impact on Sina Weibo was dramatic. According to a study of 1.6 million Weibo users, the number of Weibo posts fell by 70% between 2011 and 2013.


The strength of the Communist party’s control over the internet rests above all on its commitment to prevent the spread of information that it finds dangerous. It has also adopted sophisticated technology, such as the Great Firewall and the Golden Shield. Perhaps its most potent source of influence, however, is the cyber-army it has developed to implement its policies.

The total number of people employed to monitor opinion and censor content on the internet – a role euphemistically known as “internet public opinion analyst” – was estimated at 2 million in 2013. They are employed across government propaganda departments, private corporations and news outlets. One 2016 Harvard study estimated that the Chinese government fabricates and posts approximately 448m comments on social media annually. A considerable amount of censorship is conducted through the manual deletion of posts, and an estimated 100,000 people are employed by both the government and private companies to do just this.

Private companies also play an important role in facilitating internet censorship in China. Since commercial internet providers are so involved in censoring the sites that they host, internet scholar Guobin Yang argues that “it may not be too much of a stretch to talk about the privatisation of internet content control”. The process is made simpler by the fact that several major technology entrepreneurs also hold political office. For example, Robin Li of Baidu is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory legislature, while Lei Jun, founder and CEO of mobile phone giant Xiaomi, is a representative of the National People’s Congress.

Yet Xi’s growing control over the internet does not come without costs. An internet that does not work efficiently or limits access to information impedes economic growth. China’s internet is notoriously unreliable, and ranks 91st in the world for speed. As New Yorker writer Evan Osnos asked in discussing the transformation of the Chinese internet during Xi’s tenure: “How many countries in 2015 have an internet connection to the world that is worse than it was a year ago?”

Scientific innovation, particularly prized by the Chinese leadership, may also be at risk. After the VPN crackdown, a Chinese biologist published an essay that became popular on social media, entitled Why Do Scientists Need Google? He wrote: “If a country wants to make this many scientists take out time from the short duration of their professional lives to research technology for climbing over the Great Firewall and to install and to continually upgrade every kind of software for routers, computers, tablets and mobile devices, no matter that this behaviour wastes a great amount of time; it is all completely ridiculous.”

More difficult to gauge is the cost the Chinese leadership incurs to its credibility. Web users criticising the Great Firewall have used puns to mock China’s censorship system. Playing off the fact that the phrases “strong nation” and “wall nation” share a phonetic pronunciation in Chinese (qiangguo), some began using the phrase “wall nation” to refer to China. Those responsible for seeking to control content have also been widely mocked. When Fang opened an account on Sina Weibo in December 2010, he quickly closed the account after thousands of online users left “expletive-laden messages” accusing him of being a government hack. Censors at Sina Weibo blocked “Fang Binxing” as a search term; one Twitter user wrote: “Kind of poetic, really, the blocker, blocked.” When Fang delivered a speech at Wuhan University in central China in 2011, a few students pelted him with eggs and a pair of shoes.

Nonetheless, the government seems willing to bear the economic and scientific costs, as well as potential damage to its credibility, if it means more control over the internet. For the international community, Beijing’s cyber-policy is a sign of the challenge that a more powerful China presents to the liberal world order, which prioritises values such as freedom of speech. It also reflects the paradox inherent in China’s efforts to promote itself as a champion of globalisation, while simultaneously advocating a model of internet sovereignty and closing its cyber-world to information and investment from abroad.

Adapted from The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State by Elizabeth C Economy, published by Oxford University Press and available at guardianbookshop.com

 Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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Privacy: Is There No Longer Is Such A Thing On Planet Earth?

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Opinion

Living with Our Privacy Violated

The rule has never changed: Every phenomenon or positive change has a tax to be paid, whether we like it or not.This rule also applies to the enormous technological progress we are witnessing and its unlimited positive outcomes on our lives, businesses and communities. Here, the tax users pay is represented by forbidden acts and taboos becoming accepted and incorporated into our lives.

People might not sense this gradual transformation but they eventually accept it in return for using technology. Speaking of attempts to maintain some privacy has become impossible – privacy has been violated with a knockdown.

A group of scientists from Harvard University has developed a mosquito-sized robot that can steal samples of your DNA without you feeling it. Professor of Computer Science Margo Seltzer said that the privacy we used to know before no more exists, adding that current techniques such as credit cards, internet networks, highway radars, cameras in streets, social media and emails can all leave a digital print of us by which we can be followed.

In 2013, more than five billion data records were lost or stolen, according to the Breach Level Index (BLI). This reveals that perhaps only those distant from the world of internet were not subject to violation of privacy– and they did not avoid it for fear or cautiousness but because they weren’t capable of affording such technology – yet, they are certainly on their way there.

Half the world’s population is constantly connected to the Internet while the other half is on its way. According to Gartner, Inc. there will be 25 billion smartphones by 2020. At that time, no one will be safe regardless if he uses a smartphone or not. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a population of 30 million people, having 24 million internet users and 48 million subscribers of mobile telecommunication services.

Violations taking place every second with data and information divulged have become manifest for anyone connected to the internet. And it is impossible to stop or block them.

Take what has been published by founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange in 2013 as an example – he published a huge archive of correspondences for former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger since 1973 till 1976. These correspondences were classified as top secret and totaled 1.7 million, five-fold what has been previously published in WikiLeaks.

Another example is former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Edward Snowden, currently residing in Russia, who has unveiled that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain have jointly developed a technology that permits access to many global internet activity, call logs, individuals’ emails and a huge content of other digital telecommunications.

Misuse of personal data is a growing challenge all over the world. Requests were made to governments to take charge of protecting the future of citizens’ privacy and their social prosperity. However, it seems that none is capable of that, with governments themselves failing to protect their own classified data. So, how would a normal individual be able to do that?!

Till now there are no realistic solutions that show optimism in ending the violation of our privacy. Given that we have agreed to be connected to the Internet and to use smartphones, we should admit that our privacy has been violated irreversibly, even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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