Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Global Internet Firms Operating in Russia Face New Rules September 1

August 31, 2015

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A new Russian law imposes restrictions on foreign Internet firms. It’s a feeling locals already know all too well.

By 
Bloomberg

Global Internet firms operating in Russia wake up on Tuesday to a new era in Kremlin regulation.

A law now forces tech firms with Russian customers to operate local servers to handle Russian personal data. It’s the latest in a string of about 20 laws tightening government control of the Internet, all put into place since President Vladimir Putin’s re-election in 2012.

Taken at face value the new program is aimed at protecting the privacy of Russian citizens. It’s not a uniquely Russian idea, and is something Brazil and Germany are also exploring in the post-Snowden era. Yet human rights activists fear the regulation will be misused, allowing officials to spy on citizens and suppress political activists. It comes into force days after Wikipedia was briefly blacklisted because of an article about cannabis.

“The regime is already ramping up censorship and surveillance and using it to target opposition activists, so the requiring of companies to host data on servers in the country makes it easier for the government to access that data,” says Laura Reed, a research analyst from Freedom House.

In theory Russia’s intelligence services need a court order to access any data, but observers say they are rarely turned down.

All eyes are now on Facebook, Google and Twitter, which have been meeting with the Kremlin in private to make sense of the law. At this stage it’s not clear whether they will agree to comply. Facebook simply says it won’t comment on speculation, and that “we regularly meet with government officials and have nothing more to share at this time.”

Russian investigative journalist and author Andrei Soldatov thinks the lack of transparency is concerning. “If global companies agree to talk in secret, the Russian authorities will think they are ready to cooperate in more sensitive areas,” he says.

After the Protests

The Internet clampdown started after riots in Moscow following Putin’s 2012 re-election. The mass protests prompted the Kremlin to wake up to the power of social media.

A series of quickly drafted laws are now enforced by Internet regulator Roskomnadzor, which has the power to block websites without court rulings – sometimes because of a single article containing banned content. That can include anything considered to harm children, linked to extremism, or that incites illegal gatherings.

Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated since 2012, and the situation is now being exacerbated by a weak ruble and trade sanctions imposed since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Businesses face a bureaucratic overload, foreign companies are leaving Russia (Google moved an engineering office to Poland and Microsoft closed its Moscow Office), talent is fleeing. Russia’s once-flourishing Internet sector is now stagnating.

Wikipedia’s run-in with the regulator made it just the latest popular Internet service to be blocked within Russia:

  • Software repository GitHub was blocked over a suicide reference
  • Social network Reddit was banned because of a single post about magic mushrooms
  • Internet archive The Wayback Machine was blacked out over a post deemed extremist by regulators
  • Satirical wiki site Lurkmore (1.2 million visitors per month) was closed because of “extremist” content
  • The editor of news site Lenta.ru was dismissed for publishing an “extremist” interview with a Ukrainian nationalist in March 2014.
Wikipedia was blacklisted over a marijuana derivative. An article about a marijuana derivative was deemed too informative.

Critics – and those affected – say the regulations encourage self-censorship, often prompted by fear of fines or jail time. Roskomnadzor did not respond to several requests for comments on the issue.

Lurkmore founder Dmitry Homak fled Russia and now lives in Israel. “You can’t assure any investor that your site won’t be blocked, or that you won’t be labeled as a traitor or criminal,” he says.

“I’m just trying to recover. Everything I did for 15 years was stomped, crashed and burned.”

Galia Timchenko, the sacked Lenta.ru news editor, moved to Latvia to set up a new Russian news site, Meduza, which she says would be “much harder” to operate in Russia. “The situation is getting worse and worse by the day,” she says.

Even Pavel Durov, the founder of Vkontakte, Russia’s most successful social network, quit after a lengthy dispute over Ukraine with the company’s new Putin-friendly owners.

Yandex Defiant

Only the biggest players such as Yandex – Russia’s equivalent to Google – have been able to resist the administrative pressures.

Despite evidence that the Kremlin tried to manipulate Yandex.News, the search giant’s news aggregator, critics say it hasn’t really mastered the art. “They don’t know how to control Yandex, because they don’t understand how it works,” says blogger Anton Nossik, who founded Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru.

The next legal milestone will be the introduction of a “right to be forgotten” law on Jan. 1, 2016. This will hold search engines such as Yandex and Google liable for linking to information that individuals want to be deleted, with a possible fine of up to 3 million rubles ($45,000). Unlike the EU version of the law, the Russian model lets public figures ask for links to be removed from search results if they can show the information is inaccurate or outdated.

“If the law works, every policeman who got drunk and ran over a baby can try to sue Yandex,” says Nossik. He believes all Internet businesses will end up answering to “Putin’s cronies” or going out of business.

“Many of us tried to bring international culture to the post-Soviet media,” says Dmitry Homak, of Lurkmore. “We succeeded at first, but then everything turned sour.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-31/russia-internet-law-tests-facebook-google-and-other-foreign-firms

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Russia Puts Off Data Showdown With Technology Firms

August 31, 2015

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Russia: Facebook, Google and Twitter get more time to comply with law requiring Russian data centers

A new law that goes into effect on Tuesday requires companies to store and process data about Russian users within the country’s borders. Above a Facebook server in Prineville, Ore.
A new law that goes into effect on Tuesday requires companies to store and process data about Russian users within the country’s borders. Above a Facebook server in Prineville, Ore. PHOTO: MEG ROUSSOS/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Russia is postponing a showdown with a handful of U.S. tech titans, including Facebook Inc., over putting data centers on Russian soil, handing an interim victory to tech companies that have resisted the divisive new rule.

Ahead of a new law that goes into effect on Tuesday requiring companies to store and process data about Russian users within the country’s borders, Russian regulators have told companies such as Facebook, Google Inc. and Twitter Inc. that they don’t plan to check until at least January whether the companies are in compliance, tech executives and Russian officials said.

The three companies have so far either told officials they won’t have new data centers on Russian soil in the immediate future, or haven’t made clear whether they plan to comply, some of the tech executives said. But Russian officials provided a loophole when they said these companies weren’t on the list of those the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor was planning to check before 2016.

“We understand that in transnational companies where offices are spread globally, it takes a while to make a decision,” said Vadim Ampelonsky, spokesman for the regulator, adding that checking up on companies like Google would take resources the regulator doesn’t have. “There’s only that much we can physically do.”

Russia’s regulatory stance eases immediate pressure on big U.S. technology firms involved in social media and messaging to implement rules that Russia says are meant to ensure privacy for Russians, but critics say could be a back door to government surveillance.

While it is unclear whether Russian regulators will later move to enforce the new law against the U.S. firms, their initial reluctance to do so illustrates how difficult it can be for governments to exercise control over U.S. tech superpowers when it comes to the sensitive issue of where they locate their data and who has access to it.

Last year, for instance, tech companies successfully resisted an attempt in Brazil to implement such a measure, arguing it would cost them hundreds of millions of dollars to build new data centers and upset the structure of the Internet.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have at times bent to censorship requests from countries including Turkey to remain online, arguing they must respect the rule of law in countries where they operate. But the companies have been far less willing to compromise on the location of their data centers, of which they typically operate only a handful globally. They say doing so would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We’re not thumbing our nose at law. But saying you respect local law doesn’t mean you always implement it fully if it wouldn’t work with how you deliver your service,” one technology executive said.

To be sure, the Russian regulator says it intends to enforce the law against small and medium-size domestic and foreign companies with offices in Russia, and reserved the right to conduct spot checks on them if necessary. Some foreign companies have said they will agree to implement the law, including Samsung Electronics Co., Uber Technologies Inc. and eBay Inc., representatives for the three companies said, potentially giving it momentum.

But the regulator says it hasn’t recently been in touch with Apple Inc. about the new law. And one U.S. technology executive said the companies that had said they were complying operate in hardware-manufacturing and e-commerce sectors, which often have accounting and other data already located within countries like Russia—in contrast to firms like Facebook or Twitter.

In addition, many Russians use home-grown services like market-leading social network VKontakte, which already have servers in Russia. That gives regulators more leeway to allow foreign providers to slide, some observers say. “It would be a lousy PR hit for Russia to try to take on Facebook, especially when they already have access to the personal data of online discussions,” said Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Russia is a dilemma for technology companies. With a large population but relatively low penetration of Western firms, the country represents one of Silicon Valley’s biggest growth opportunities. But with a government that has passed new rules giving it the ability to crack down on online speech, Russia also highlights the compromises companies must consider in that expansion, putting principles and profits in conflict.

A law that obliged bloggers to register with the government caused consternation last year, and Facebook, Twitter and Google were briefly locked in a conflict with the government over their refusal to block pages promoting a rally for opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Russia’s push for a so-called data localization law has been among the most worrying for technology executives. The executives argue the new law, passed last year as a privacy initiative, could serve as a pretext for Russian authorities to demand deeper access to user data and could give governments more power to control how the Internet behaves in their territory.

“It’s not how our network is built,” the U.S. tech executive said of the Russian law. “And it would set a bad precedent.”

Google has been trying to run a fine line between resisting the new rules without calling attention to itself in a way that could lead regulators to crack down, or endangering local staff, according to people familiar with the matter. While the company said last year it would shutter its engineering operation in Russia, it maintains sales and marketing staff in the country.

Russian state-controlled telecommunications company OAO Rostelecom’s officials said earlier this year that Google had started to move some data into Russia in preparation for the law, but the Russian regulator’s spokesman now says it isn’t clear whether Google will comply with the law.

Facebook, which has no office in Russia, told Russian regulators last week that it won’t be ready to comply before Sept. 1, and added that it has very few data centers and therefore wouldn’t commit to putting one in Russia, according to a person knowledge with the meeting. The company told Russian officials that it would be willing to discuss its privacy practices with them to address any concerns.

As recently as July, Russia had indicated that Twitter—which has no office in Russia—likely wouldn’t be subject to the law because it didn’t collect enough personal data. Now the Russian regulator says the company may in fact be subject to the law but that it still doesn’t plan an inspection. A person familiar with the matter said Twitter isn’t currently planning to locate a data center in Russia.

Write to Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com and Olga Razumovskaya atolga.razumovskaya@wsj.com

China’s President Xi Jinping looks powerless in the face of economic forces

August 26, 2015

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While China’s stock markets plunged in June, the government took a number of steps to actively intervene and stop the slide. On Monday, China shares dropped 9%, with ripple effects quickly felt across the globe, and the slide continued Tuesday morning. So far, the government has not responded as aggressively this time, as some question whether Xi Jinping is equipped to manage the Chinese economy and whether too much attention has been focused on the fight against corruption at the expense of the country’s financial management.

Before Monday’s crash, Michael Forsythe and Jonathan Ansfield of the New York Times wrote:

Mr. Xi has positioned himself as the chief architect of economic policy — usually the prime minister’s job — and has vowed to reshape the economy, exposing himself to blame if growth continues to sputter. At the same time, Mr. Xi is making enemies with an anticorruption drive that has taken down some of the most powerful men in the country and sidelined more than a hundred thousand lower-ranking officials.

Senior party officials are said to be alarmed by the state of the economy, which grew at the slowest pace in a quarter century during the first half of the year, and now seems to be decelerating further. In a sign of its anxiety, the leadership this month implemented the biggest devaluation of the Chinese currency in more than two decades, sending global markets into plunges.

Mr. Xi’s reputation was also dented this summer by panicked official efforts to prop up the Chinese stock market after a sharp dive in share prices. His government had promoted the market as a good investment to the public for months.

[…] “Everyone understands that the economy is the biggest pillar of the Chinese government’s legitimacy to govern and win over popular sentiment,” said Chen Jieren, a well-known Beijing-based commentator on politics. “If the economy falters, the political power of the Chinese Communist Party will be confronted with more real challenges, social stability in China will be endangered tremendously, and Xi Jinping’s administration will suffer even more criticism.” [Source]

Likewise, in Slate, Joshua Keating writes about the confluence of stock market woes with global tensions of which China is at the center:

These ongoing tensions are worrying enough in normal times, but are even more dangerous when China’s leaders feel insecure and challenged by domestic enemies. Which is how they must feel right now. The economic turmoil of the past few weeks has dealt a blow to the image of China’s leaders as competent stewards of the country’s economic rise, and President Xi Jinping looks powerless in the face of economic forces. Reports are already emerging about grumbling within senior ranks of the Communist Party over whether Xi and his advisers are up to the task of managing China’s next economic transition. If Xi feels threatened by a lack of support at home, he could ramp up his purge of potential rivals.

The bigger fear if there’s a long-turn economic downturn is social instability. Under the country’s unspoken post-Tiananmen grand bargain, China’s population hasn’t significantly challenged the autocratic one-party state, so long as the party continues to deliver economic progress and increasing prosperity. This is not to say that Chinese society is entirely harmonious—while the authorities have been adept at managing dissent, the country still sees tens of thousands of “mass incidents” every year, sparked by causes ranging from labor disputes, to environmental degradation, to land seizures. But thanks to steady growth, public anger over economic conditions hasn’t been a major problem over the last 25 years. It could be soon: Chinese investors, who were strongly encouraged by the state-run media to put money in the market during the country’s boom, are already venting their anger online. [Source]

China’s geopolitical role is currently in the spotlight as the country prepares for a major military parade to mark the end of World War II and to showcase Beijing’s power. But the economic troubles threaten to sideline China’s achievements in recent decades. Fergus Ryan reports in The Guardian:

The V-Day celebrations, due to occur on 3 September, are designed to be a showcase of Xi’s power and credibility and are clearly aimed at a domestic audience. But increasingly, when it comes to the economy, his and the government’s credibility are taking a hammering. Beijing’s reputation as skilful and competent economic managers – built up over years of breakneck economic growth – is in tatters after a two-month long stock market rescue operation has faltered.

More so than anywhere else, China’s stock market is disconnected from the economic fundamentals of the country, experts say, but nonetheless the rapid decline shows that market sentiment has fallen off a cliff.

“It is a key moment for China. The equity market in freefall, the banking system increasingly starved of liquidity, rising capital outflows, and a rapidly slowing economy,” Angus Nicholson, of IG Group, wrote in a note on Monday.

Global markets were already reeling from last week’s data, which showed the country’s manufacturing output had dipped to its lowest point since the global economic crisis. Experts say there’s a sense that it no longer matters what the government says or does, as the market is now adjusting to what it believes the reality is. [Source]

Chinese authorities issued notice to state media to censor negative market reports

Authorities have attempted to manage the response to the stock market crash by censoring news and social media posts. Propaganda officials have issued directives to the media on how to report the news, according to the South China Morning Post’s George Chen:

And Baidu search results have been censored as well, according to the Feichang Dao blog and Chen.

Read more about the individuals who are tasked with helping Xi manage the economy, from Bloomberg.
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From Monday, August 24, 2015 and earlier:

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Without a Free Press and Checks and Balances, China’s Economic and Stock Market Problems Largely Not Discussed in Media

August 26, 2015

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CNN Money

Global stocks have been on one hell of a ride in recent days, and everyone is looking for a scapegoat.

International media have tended to focus on fears of an economic slowdown in China, and extreme volatility in the country’s stock market. Chinese state media, meanwhile, have emphasized the threat of a possible U.S. interest rate hike when discussing the selloff.

Both worries are legitimate. China is hugely important to the world economy, and a sharp slowdown would have far-reaching consequences. At the same time, plenty of countries stand to be negatively impacted by a Federal Reserve rate hike.

But how can the same story generate such a divergent tone and focus? In China, the answer is simple: Information is tightly controlled, and media can face penalties for breaking ranks and undermining the government’s messaging apparatus. The idea is that restrictions are needed to maintain social order.

What’s happening in the country’s stock market is the perfect example.

Compared to Western media, Chinese media outlets have taken a much rosier view of market events. On Wednesday morning, the homepage of China Daily, a state-run newspaper, barely mentioned the stock market panic, leading instead with stories about President Xi Jinping’s push to support economic growth in Tibet and the development of China’s youth.

The handful of China Daily stories that did mention stocks were short on analysis — one reported how China’s national and local leaders regard the stock market, concluding that they don’t see the current situation leading to a financial crisis.

While levels of coverage vary from day to day, China Daily sticks to the official government line. The newspaper did republish central bank statements from Tuesday announcing moves to boost the economy, for example.

Related: China acts to boost economy after stocks crash

Official state news agency Xinhua gave slightly more prominent placement on its homepage to coverage of China’s stock volatility and the global rout. But the agenda was apparent: The agency quoted experts saying that market panic is due to poor global economic sentiment, and that fears over China are overblown.

Chinese journalists routinely receive confidential propaganda directives about how certain stories should be covered.

California-based China Digital Times, which collects such memos, published one from late June that instructed Chinese media to avoid verbs like “slump” or “spike,” and warns journalists not to conduct in-depth analysis or speculate on a bull versus bear market.

The memo, published as China’s stock markets started to slide, also directed reporters to stick to information vetted and released by the China Securities Regulatory Commission, and to halt all expert interviews.

In China, consumers are often forced to reply on state media. Foreign news sources, and many social media platforms, are off limits. Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB, Tech30) and Twitter (TWTR,Tech30) are blocked in China, for example.

Related: China’s stock market crash…in 2 minutes

Includes video:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/08/26/media/china-market-blame-state-media/

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An investor monitoring stock data in Beijing yesterday. Jumpy investors see the latest market turmoil as a potential forerunner of a new full-blown crisis.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESS PHOTO AGENCY

China’s Party-Run Media Is Silent on Market Mayhem

By Chris Buckley
The New York Times

HONG KONG — After China’s stock markets crumpled, prompting a global sell-off, People’s Daily, the premier newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, had other things on its mind.

There was no mention of the market mayhem on the newspaper’s front page on Tuesday, when it featured a report about economic development in Tibet. Indeed, there was not a single reference to the stock markets throughout the entire 24 pages of the paper, which dwelled instead on the forthcoming 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

The silence continued on Wednesday, when the paper again did not report on the stock market upheavals, although it did have articles about Chinese central bank decisions and Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s restatement of confidence in the broader economy, despite the effects of what he called global “market volatility.”

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/world/asia/chinese-news-media-largely-silent-amid-stock-market-turmoil.html?ref=world&_r=0

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From Monday, August 24, 2015 and earlier:

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Chinese government in an uproar over sex tape made in Chinese store in Beijing and circulated on the Internet

July 16, 2015

AFP

Communist authorities said distribution of tape on the internet was ‘against socialist core values’

China’s Communist authorities have said the distribution of a sex tape on the internet purportedly shot in a fitting room in one of Beijing’s trendiest shopping malls is “against socialist core values”, after the footage went viral.

The Cyberspace Administration of China said it had summoned executives from the country’s top social network service providers after censors took the clip down.

The footage shows a young couple, a man in black and a naked woman, apparently having sex in the changing room of a Uniqlo store in the capital.

The clip rapidly went viral on China’s Twitter-like Weibo and mobile messaging service WeChat, with scores of people going to take selfies outside the outlet, some mimicking the poses seen in the footage.

The administration ordered senior managers of Weibo’s operator Sina and Tencent, owner of WeChat, to cooperate in an investigation, the agency said in a statement.

“The viral circulation of the obscene fitting room video on the internet has severely violated socialist core values,” it cited an unnamed official as saying.

The organisation also suggested that the incident could have been a publicity stunt.

“Highly concerned Web users have reprimanded the acts that are suspected vulgar marketing or event marketing and have called for severe punishment,” the official said.

Sina and Tencent must “further improve their social responsibility awareness”, the official added.

China’s Communist Party oversees a vast censorship system, dubbed the Great Firewall, that aggressively blocks sites or snuffs out content and commentary that is pornographic, violent or deemed politically sensitive.

Popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are inaccessible in the country, as is YouTube.

Several Western news organisations have accused Beijing of blocking access to their websites in the past, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

Uniqlo “firmly” denied the video was a marketing ploy in a statement posted on its website.

“As a responsible international brand, Uniqlo… would like to ask consumers to abide by social ethics, maintain social justice and correctly and properly use the fitting spaces provided by Uniqlo stores,” it said.

Netizens in China face more controls — “You might as well shut down the Chinese cyberspace.”

July 10, 2015

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China’s authorities can get access to records, block spread of ‘illegal’ info and cut off Internet during crisis

The Chinese authorities will be able to access records and block dissemination of private information deemed illegal in China under a proposed cyber security law that could further curtail freedom for netizens and affect how foreign firms do business in the country.

The draft law will also empower local governments to cut Internet access during emergencies such as public protests or riots similar to the ethnic unrest in July 2009 that killed nearly 200 people in restive Xinjiang region.

The full text of the law was released on Monday by the Chinese parliament but reported by Chinese media on Wednesday. Public feedback is being sought until early next month and could lead to revisions before the law is passed.

A statement by the National People’s Congress said the 68-article law is needed to “safeguard national cyberspace sovereignty, security and development”.

China has been touting its concept of “cyberspace sovereignty” to rebut critics. It bans Google services and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and employs state-sponsored censors to monitor and remove politically damaging materials. It has also been accused of using hackers against foreign countries.

  • KEY ELEMENTS OF PROPOSED LAW

  • 1. Government will define and establish national and industry standards for technical systems and networks that technology vendors must observe.2. Internet service providers must support and assist the government in dealing with criminal investigations and matters of national security.3. Collection of user data by ISPs must comply with principles of legality, justice and necessity. Collected data must be adequately protected and breaches reported promptly.

    4. User data collected in China must be stored on Chinese territory, but exemption could be given for business purposes.

    5. Real-name registrations must be enforced strictly, especially on messaging applications.

    6. Employees of telecom operators must pass background checks. The Cyberspace Administration of China will review the firms’ practices and procurement processes, and provide help to implement the law.

Proponents of the law, mostly Chinese officials and cyber security experts, say it would beef up China’s defence against cyber attacks, protect users’ Internet data and ensure social stability amid public security threats. They also say the law largely formalises rules or practices already in place, such as requiring Chinese social media sites to make their users register with real names.

But the proposed legislation still sparked concerns among rights groups and netizens over tightening censorship.

Researcher Maya Wang from Human Rights Watch told The Straits Times that the ultimate effect of the law is that it will “further stifle the Internet, which is the only means people have to publicly express their opinions in China”.

Chinese netizens have scoffed at the proposed law, calling it a development that would put China on a par with reclusive North Korea.

“You might as well shut down the Chinese cyberspace,” wrote microblogger Teluner yesterday on the Twitter-like Weibo portal.

China has stepped up cyber security efforts after revelations in 2013 by former Central Intelligence Agency contractor Edward Snowden that China was among the countries targeted by US intelligence agencies. Another factor is the new Chinese leadership’s beliefs that tighter cyberspace control would help preserve the Communist Party’s rule.

President Xi Jinping heads a task force within the Communist Party that oversees cyber security and the promotion of information technologies across various sectors. It was set up early last year.

A national security law was passed on July 1, which contains cyber-related clauses aimed to make technology used in China “secure and controllable”.

The cyber security law contains similar clauses.

Cyber security expert Adam Segal from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York believes the new law could affect China’s relations with the United States.

Both countries have sparred over cyber security issues.

“Just weeks after the Strategic and Economic Dialogue ended, and months before President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States, cyber security and information technology are becoming an even greater source of tension in the bilateral relationship,” Mr Segal wrote in a blog yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2015, with the headline ‘Netizens in China face more controls’.

European cyber police unit to take on Islamic State propaganda

June 22, 2015

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The Islamic State group controls some 300,000 square kilometres (115,000 square miles), terrifying residents with a gruesome brutality that analysts say has become central to its existence

THE HAGUE (AFP) – European policeagencyEuropol said Monday it was launching acontinent-widecybercrime unit to combat social media accountspromotingjihadist propaganda, particularly those of the Islamic State (IS) group.The unit, set to start operating fromEuropol’s Hague-based headquarters next month, will comb tens of thousands of social media accounts connected with IS and report them to the companies behind the websites,Europol chief Rob Wainwright said.He declined to name Facebook and Twitter “for privacy reasons,” but said: “These are the leading social media companies. There’s only three or four, so that’s who we are talking about.”

The team “will focus on publicly-available material and combine what we see on social media with more traditional intelligence sources,” Wainwright told AFP in a telephone interview.

Initially consisting of some 15 to 20 members, the cyber squad will focus on key figures who put out thousands of tweets and run accounts used to lure would-be jihadists to Iraq and Syria, as well as to recruit jihadists’ brides.

A recent US study identified at least 46,000 Twitter accounts linked to supporters of the IS group, three-quarters of them tweeting in Arabic.

Since the IS group called on Muslims to come to the caliphate it declared a year ago, foreign fighter numbers have jumped, with the United Nations reporting a 71 percent spike in the nine months to April.

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London said the number of foreigners fighting in Syria and Iraq topped 20,000 by January — with nearly a fifth of them from western Europe.

“The IS is the most well-connected terrorist organisation that we’ve seen online,” Wainwright pointed out.

“They are manipulating the Internet and social media, which has become a cornerstone in the lives of many young people,” he said.

Europol will draw on a decade of experience in monitoring extremist websites and well as “deep knowledge of extremist content and good linguistic capabilities including our knowledge of Arabic,” to combat the problem.

Wainwright said once an extremist account had been detected, the companies would be informed and it would be taken down in “a matter of a few hours.”

Islamic State Seen Overtaking Al Qaeda in South Asia Social Media War

June 19, 2015

Reuters

ISLAMABAD — Islamist militant propaganda websites and social media accounts in South Asia are promoting Islamic State at the expense of al Qaeda, analysts said on Friday, highlighting the rivalry between the two global militant groups.

Disaffected Taliban factions have started to look toward Islamic State, impressed by its rapid capture of territory in Syria and Iraq, though there is no evidence it is providing substantial material support to the Taliban.

The popularity of IS comes at the expense of al Qaeda, whose deep pockets and foreign fighters once readily attracted local commanders. But al Qaeda has been decimated by drone strikes and its traditional influence severely eroded.

“The Taliban and al Qaeda have almost been written out of the picture,” said Omar Hamid, the head of Asia analysis at IHS Country Risk. “Most of these sites have converted their content to an Islamic State (IS) platform.”

So far the IS social media campaign has not been matched by material support to South Asian groups such as the Taliban, he said, but it has helped gather dissatisfied splinter groups around Islamic State.

A few Afghan commanders have sworn allegiance to IS, saying they oppose peace talks between the government and Taliban. Others have questioned whether reclusive one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has close ties to al Qaeda, is alive.

In Pakistan, home to a separate but allied Taliban insurgency, the leadership of the Taliban is hotly disputed. Some factions there also swore allegiance to Islamic State, cementing their vow by beheading a soldier and posting the video online.

This week, the Afghan Taliban sent a letter to Islamic State’s leader, urging the group to stop recruiting in Afghanistan.

“Twelve months ago, a majority of social media sites in Urdu or Pashto had around 70 percent (of content) related to South Asian jihadi groups,” Hamid said, referring to two languages commonly spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “It changed to about 95 percent IS content by September last year.”

Hamid, a former Pakistani counter-terror police officer, analyzed dozens of militant Twitter and Facebook profiles and militant propaganda sites.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly promised to ban jihadi websites but most remain online. A spokesman for the country’s telecoms authority could not say how many militant websites had been banned.

Islamic State is definitely gaining in popularity at the expense of al Qaeda, said Saifullah Mahsud, head of Islamabad-based thinktank the FATA Research Centre.

“Islamic State is the new poster boy,” he said. “But the ideology has been around a long time.”

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Apple iOS 9 may make it easier for iPhone users in China to bypass government internet censorship

June 9, 2015

By James Griffiths

South China Morning Post

An update to Apple’s mobile operating system could make it easier for users in China to bypass internet filtering and censorship.

The latest version of the operating system for iPhones and iPads, iOS 9, includes a change to how app developers can implement virtual private network (VPN) protocols on Apple devices. The update was released to developers on Monday, and will become widely available later this year.

READ MORE: Apple announces music streaming service, iOS 9, OS X El Capitan, and upgraded Siri

VPNs are the primary means by which internet users in China bypass the so-called Great Firewall (GFW), which blocks access to Twitter, Facebook, and the South China Morning Post among thousands of other websites.

At the beginning of this year, Beijing clamped down on VPN usage in mainland China, leading to complaints from many internet users and entrepreneurs and forcing VPN providers to find new ways of bypassing restrictions.

The primary means by which censors detect and block VPN traffic is by using deep packet inspection (DPI), which examines the data being sent across the network to see if it matches a certain profile, such as a VPN protocol.

VPN providers have gotten around this packet sniffing to a degree by adding another layer of encryption to their protocols to mask the traffic and ensure it is not recognisable via DPI.

“Before iOS 9, [Apple] only supported a few well known, standard VPN protocols in its built in app which are well known and easy for the GFW to detect, degrade and/or block,” he said.

The update means that custom VPN protocols designed to bypass Chinese internet blocking will now have “first class support” in iOS.

Salibra was quick to point out however, that the change was likely not motivated by a desire to help Chinese dissidents avoid the censors.

“Security and privacy have become a huge priority in the technology industry since the Snowden revelations,” he said. “It is entirely possible that Apple is offering this feature in response to security demands from their corporate customers.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

This technique has just received a boost from Apple, according to Larry Salibra, founder and chief executive of Hong Kong-based software testing platform Pay4Bugs.

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