On our radar

last 7 days

19 Feb

India is setting up its first artificial intelligence (AI) institute, at the Mumbai University campus, in collaboration with the US-based Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The new institute will focus on the use of AI for improving sectors such as healthcare, education, and agriculture. Speaking at the inauguration of the institute, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for all actors involved to 'identify the grand challenges that AI can solve for India' in areas such as facilitating communication across India's multiple languages and dialects, delivering quality education and bridging the gap in teacher-student ratio, expanding the capacities of healthcare workers, and assisting farmers in their work. Modi also noted that 'the road ahead for AI depends on and will be driven by human intentions' and asked whether India 'can take the global lead on creating AI that is less about making humans redundant and more about enhancing human abilities and expanding human capacities'.​

Singapore's Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has announced a goods and services tax on imported digital services, such as 'movie and music streaming services and mobile apps', to come into effect from 1 January 2020. The measure is aimed to create a 'fair and resilient' tax system for the modern economy, and to ensure that foreign services are treated the same as those that are locally created. Currently, the country can only tax imported digital services from companies that have an establishment in Singapore. With the new regulation, online service providers that meet certain criteria will need to register themselves with the Singaporean authorities to continue offer their services. The tax does not apply to physical goods that are bought online.

Since Indonesia introduced a 'crawling system' to identify inappropriate Internet content in January, its Ministry of Communication and Information has blocked more than 70,000 websites with 'negative' and pornographic content. The ministry is also attempting to resolve disagreements with Internet companies over what constitutes pornography. According to the Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information, 'To us probably it is pornographic, because we refer to the laws of pornography in Indonesia. But for other parts of the world, they say it is not pornography, it is art.' The country has recently been criticised for cracking down on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) content. For example, it requested Google last month to remove 73 LGBT-related applications from its PlayStore.

16 Feb

In a guidelines published on February 16th, Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) publishes the guidelines on how it intends to treat enquiries from ICO organisers. Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is a system for money raising from public.

This guidelines are complementary to 2017 guidelines and define ICO’s in tree groups: payment ICO’s, utility ICO’s, and asset ICO. Related to this, types of token that companies are issuing are also categorised as: payment tokens, utility tokens and asset tokens. FINMA emphasized that ICO are not under the existing financial law and regulations and that every ICO enquiry should be decided on an individual merits. FINMA reminded investors that many ICO products are subject to numerous uncertainties, and stated a support for the further implementation of the blockchain development and the work of Federal Government Working Group on Blockchain and ICO.

The office of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies for their role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment claims that the individuals and organisations 'had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election'. Among other accusations, Mueller's office writes that the Russian individuals '[posed] as U.S. persons and [created] false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract audiences.' The Russian individuals and organisations are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. A spokeswoman of the Russian foreign ministry denounced the allegations, claiming it is 'absurd' to think that thirteen Russian individuals would be able to undermine 'the billions' budgets of the secret services'.

A federal court in New York has ruled that embedding a tweet on a web page could count as copyright infringement. The case appeared as Justin Goldman took a photo of American Football player Tom Brady and shared it on Snapchat. The photo was then tweeted by someone else, and this Tweet was subsequently embedded in articles of online publications, such as Breitbard, Time, and Yahoo. Goldman brought the case to court, claiming that the online publications infringed his copyright. The ruling breaks with U.S. legal tradition, as 'courts have long held that copyright liability rests with the entity that hosts the infringing content - not someone who simply links to it'. Critics fear that the ruling would set a dangerous precedent, as those who publish links to content are usually unaware of whether this content infringes copyright. If the court ruling is generalised, they fear that it would inhibit Internet users' freedom to 'share and link to new information as they see fit, without fear of retribution'. 

The Wikimedia Foundation decided to discontinue its Wikipedia Zero programme this year. The programme, launched in 2012, saw Wikimedia partnering with 97 mobile operators in 72 countries around the world to provide free access to Wikipedia on mobile devices to more than 800 million people. Current partnerships with mobile operators will expire throughout the year, and no new partnerships will be concluded. According to the foundation, there has been 'a significant drop off in adoption and interest' in the programme since 2016, which could have been caused by changes in mobile data costs. Wikipedia Zero was criticised by some for being against net neutrality principles, although the Foundation argued that this was not the case.

15 Feb

Mid-January, a German regional court in Berlin ruled against Facebook’s default privacy settings and use of personal data. It was found that Facebook does not provide its users enough information on the personal data it collects and uses for them to render meaningful consent. The court also ruled that Facebook’s real name policy is illegal and that its users must be allowed to sign up for the service under pseudonyms in order to comply with a decade-old privacy law. Couple of days after making the ruling public, the Federation of German Consumer Organisation (VZBV), which filed the lawsuit against Facebook, published press info with a breakdown of the ruling. Litigation policy officer at the VZBV, Heiko Duenkel, stated: ‘Facebook hides default settings that are not privacy friendly in its privacy centre and does not provide sufficient information about it when users register. This does not meet the requirement for informed consent.’ Days after the Berlin court ruled agains Facebook, according to the media, this social media network stated their intentions to overhaul its privacy settings in order to prepare for the upcoming European General Data Protection Regulation (DGPR). Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, announced the changes, saying they plan to: ‘put the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data’. According to Reuters, Facebook’s spokesperson said it will appeal the ruling, however it will make changes to comply with European Union privacy laws coming into effect in June 2018: ‘We are working hard to ensure that our guidelines are clear and easy to understand, and that the services offered by Facebook are in full accordance with the law’.

Germany does not have any intention to procure autonomous weapons systems, according to the head of the country's Cyber and Information Space Command, Lieutenant General Ludwig Leinhos. Speaking at an artificial intelligence-focused pre-event held in the context of the Munich Security Conference, Leinhos said that Germany's position on this matter is clear, but that the country needs to prepare to defend itself against such weapons being used by other countries. He also noted that the issue of autonomous weapons systems needs to be subject to more focused political and legal discussions. During the same session, Mary Wareham, representative of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, said that 22 countries are in favour of a ban on autonomous weapons.

Major European telecoms companies are providing lower levels of digital rights such as transparency and consumer protections to countries in Africa than in European markets, according to Slate's comment on a new study, Droits Numeriques en Afrique Subsaharienne: Analyses des Pratiques D'Orange au Senegal et Safaricom au Kenya (in French), by Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders). Daniel Finnan of RFI notes that the research report assesses respect for freedom of expression and privacy, 'concluding that users in Europe are treated differently to those in sub-Saharan Africa'. Finnan includes an interview Julie Owono, Executive Director of Internet without Borders, which details specific information from the study about how Safaricom and Orange operate differently in Europe than they do in Africa. The interview covers points about terms of service, Internet shutdowns, and privacy considerations, among others.

The Authority for Regulation of the Electronic Communications and Postal Sectors (ARCEP) in France has published a report on 'Open Internet and devices', arguing that net neutrality is not enough to ensure an open Internet, and that attention should also be paid to 'other intermediaries [that] have the power to hamper users' ability to access the online content and services of their choice'. ARCEP particularly refers to devices such as smartphones and tablets which 'provide users with only limited Internet access', as they impose restrictions as to operating systems, applications, and other services and content that individuals can use or access. The authority makes several proposals for how policymakers could address these issues: clarifying the scope of the open Internet by enshrining the principle of users' freedom to choose their content and applications, regardless of the device; employing data-driven regulation; increasing the freedom of users to switch from one environment to another; lifting certain restrictions that device producers impose artificially on users, and on content and service developers; etc. The report also contains several recommendations for market players, such as allowing users to delete pre-installed apps, enabling alternative rankings of the online content and services available on app stores, and allowing users easy access to the applications offered on alternative app stores.​

A leaked draft has revealed that the European Commission has been preparing a recommendation on how members states should manage the challenge of illegal content online. Rather than encouraging member states to regulate online content, the draft proposes to move this responsibility to online service providers, such as Facebook and Google. Distinctions are made with regard to terrorist and copyrighted content. According to the draft, platforms should make 'swift decisions as regards possible actions with respect to illegal content online without being required to do so on the basis of a court order or administrative decision.' The leaked document has been criticised by digital rights activists. For example, Joe McNamee, Executive Director of European Digital Rights, is concerned that the recommendation will 'fully privatise the task of deciding what is acceptable online or not. The only protection for user rights like freedom of expression is an unenforceable hope that certain 'adequate safeguards' will be put in place voluntarily by the companies'.


14 Feb

In More children becoming victims of 'brutal' online sex abuseKieran Guilbert of the Thomson Reuters Foundation writes that 'The global spread of cheap, high-speed internet and the rise in mobile phone ownership is fuelling the growth of cybersex trafficking, which has become a “brutal form of modern-day slavery”', citing a report by Britain-led WeProtect. According to UNICEF, some 1.8 million children are brought into sex traffic each year. The WePROTECT Global Threat Assessment 2018 – Working together to end the sexual exploitation of children online concludes that 'Technology is enabling offender communities to attain unprecedented levels of organisation, creating new and persistent threats'.

Crime Russia reports that YouTube and Instagram are facing possible blocking as '14 photos from Instagram of Rybka and video published on YouTube entered the register of prohibited information based on the decision of the court and Roskomnadzor'. Hannah Levintova reports in Mother Jones that Russia is trying to bury the video. Levintova says that the video, published by Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, links Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko of facilitating the alleged link between the Kremlin, Oleg Deripaska, and the Trump campaign. A court injunction was issued, requiring takedown of six video and 14 Instagram posts, finding that the posts violated Deripaska's right to privacy. According to the BBC, 'If neither Mr Navalny nor the US tech firms involved delete or otherwise block local access to the imagery by the end of the day, then Russia's ISPs will be required to take action themselves.' The BBC goes on to quote a spokeswoman for the Russian Association for Electronic Communications as saying 'It's impossible for internet providers to block certain pages on Instagram and YouTube.' This could result in blocking local access to the social networks.

last 30 days

13 Feb

Researchers at Google Brain and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have worked on demonstrating that artificial intelligence (AI) agents can learn from implicit social feedback from humans, and use that feedback to improve themselves. In their experiment, the researchers built an application that showed people samples of drawings generated by an AI system, and recorded their facial expressions. The recorded images were   fed into a facial-expression detection network and used to compute emotions such as amusement, contentment, concentration, and sadness. The resulting data was then used to train the AI system to produce better drawings. The experiment demonstrated that 'implicit social feedback in the form of facial expressions not only can reflect user preference, but also can significantly improve the performance of a deep learning model'. The researchers believe that making AI models improve in quality as a result of learning from implicit human feedback is a significant step towards improving AI safety: 'an AI agent motivated by satisfaction expressed by humans will be less likely to take actions against human interest'.

The US Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, released the annual 'Worldwide threat assessment of the US Intelligence Community', listing artificial intelligence (AI) and other disruptive technologies among the areas that could generate national security concerns to the USA. The document talks about the potential of emerging technologies to 'disrupt labor markets and alter health, energy, and transportation systems', and assesses that regulation is likely to lag behind technological progress. A concern is raised that emerging technologies and new applications of existing technologies 'will also allow [US] adversaries to more readily develop weapon systems that can strike farther, faster, and harder and challenge the United States in all warfare domains'. The report specifically mentions artificial intelligence (AI), noting that 'is likely to prompt new national security concerns; existing machine learning technology, for example, could enable high degrees of automation in labor-intensive activities such as satellite imagery analysis and cyber defense. Increasingly capable AI tools, which are often enabled by large amounts of data, are also likely to present socioeconomic challenges, including impacts on employment and privacy.' In addition, AI is mentioned together with 5G, the Internet of Things, and big data as advanced ICTs that 'will increasingly test US competitiveness'.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has launched a new tool to remove jihadist content from the Internet, powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The tool is mainly developed for smaller content providers that do not have the capacity to properly police content, although she doesn't rule out forcing tech giants to use it as well. Yet, some fear that the tool could limit freedom of expression and might be misused to stifle political opposition.

12 Feb

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and telecom company Telefonica have concluded an agreement that would see the two parties working together on leveraging the use of digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data for agricultural development, food security, and nutrition. The agreement, to be implemented within three years, will involve initiatives focused on three main areas: implementing IoT in the agricultural sector to improve processes and the use of natural resources; using big data on weather patterns to establish early warning systems; and implementing digital education and capacity building projects.​

9 Feb

Netherlands' Authority for Consumers and Markets denied a request by the civil society group Bits of Freedoms to take action against T-Mobile, as the telecom operator was allegedly breaching net neutrality rules through its zero-rated music streaming offer. The authority decided that it had no reason to intervene, as T-Mobile was offering the service on a non-discriminatory basis, and without any harmful effects on users and their rights.

Sean Fine, justice writer for the Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian Supreme Court will not require that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) unpublish (remove) an article from its website, even though a ban on the reported victim's identity was put in place. The two-year debate, which includes an order of contempt against the CBC, involves questions of freedom of expression and privacy, often referred to together as the right to be forgotten. Iwona Kuklicz, of the Alberta Justice Department, filed an appeal to this ruling noting that 'Every media organization, and every individual with an online platform, has been handed an incentive to rush to publish information before a ban can be issued.' 

In a 2016 article, also in the Globe and Mail, Silvia Stead, Globe and Public Mail Editor, wrote that 'We’re not in the unpublishing business,' noting that '[...] the public has an expectation that the archives can be viewed and are true to their original form. In many ways, they are part of history.' She concluded her piece saying 'Years ago, the paper was the permanent record, and online seemed ephemeral; in fact, the reverse is true.'



The Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology in India has announced the creation of four committees tasked with preparing a national roadmap on artificial intelligence (AI). The committees, to be lead by government officials and industry experts, will focus on the following main areas: citizen-centric services; data platforms; skilling, re-skilling, and research and development; and legal, regulatory, and cybersecurity issues. The ministry also plans to conduct high-level research in this field. According to minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the country 'must learn new dimensions of AI'.

8 Feb

In a letter addressed to the US Senate, the Internet Association – representing companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter – has expressed support for the Senate Congressional Review Act resolution, put forward by some members of the Senate in an attempt to invalidate the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) decision to reverse net neutrality rules. The association also notes that, while the resolution would 'help alleviate immediate concerns', a more long-term solution is needed. It calls for Congress to pass 'legislation that memorializes all of the protections from the 2015 Order', and to 'establish permanent net neutrality rules for consumers, startups, established internet businesses, and internet service providers'.

In a case brought forward by an Uber driver, the labour tribunal in Paris, France ruled that Uber's 'business is intermediation rather than transportation', and that the driver was self-employed. The court denied the driver's request for a paid leave of absence and severance pay for his work with Uber, and that his service agreement is recognised as an employment contract. The ruling is not final, as the driver can appeal within one month.

7 Feb

The Moscow Times reports that online freedom in Russia declined in 2017. International human rights group Agora's recent report (news story in Russian) recorded over 115 000 cases of Internet censorship. It notes that 110 000 of these cases involved websites, with an average of 244 web pages being blocked each day during 2017. 6 Signs There’s No Such Thing as Internet Freedom in Russia specifies six ways censorship trends can be seen. For example, in spite of strong growth in the Russian online population, Internet freedom is declining. In 2017 Freedom House ranked Russia 6.6 out of 7 (with 7 being the least free) in Internet Freedom. In a different emphasis on the same report, VOA News highlights that 'Russia sentenced 43 people to jail over online posts last year' underlining the report's warning that 'the country is slowly criminalizing internet use as the security service tightens its grip.'

The UK government has issued a 'Good Work plan' containing proposals on how the country could 'address the challenges of the changing world of work in the modern economy'. The plan deals, among other things, with the so-called gig economy, and notes that, while opportunities offered by platform-based working offers should be protected, fairness needs to be ensured for 'those who work through these platforms and those who compete with them'. Some action points envisioned in the plan include: redefining the status of 'dependent contractors' for those working in the gig economy; defining working time for flexible workers, so that they can be clear about how the minimum wage applies; adapt legislation to ensure that those working in the gig economy can enjoy maximum flexibility while also earning the minimum wage; align the employment status framework with the tax status to reduce differences to a minimum; and develop an online tool to allow individuals and employers to determine the employment status.

The European Commission will present its plan for tax reforms for Internet giants by the end of March, according to EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. Moscovici told a French radio station that the tax proposals would create ‘an electroshock’. In an interview with Reuters, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that he would like the EU to adopt new tax regulation next year; ‘kissing the feet of GAFAs won’t ensure our prosperity’, Le Maire said. The new coalition agreement in Germany aligns itself with the tax proposals, which now converge around the central idea of ‘an EU-wide Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base’. According to the plan, European profits to countries should be proportionate to the location of customers and operations. The proposal is contested by some of the smaller countries in the EU, which fear that tax reforms could have adverse effects on their economies. Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe indicated that there is a growing number of countries that are concerned about the proposed digital taxation measures.

General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Mr Agustín Carsten, held a presentation on the subject: Money in the digital age and the role for central banks. In his presentation Mr Carsten pointed out that central banks needs to work with legislators and commercial banks in order to policy the digital economy. In relation to cryptocurrencies BIS General Manager added that central banks should particularly look at the ties linking cryptocurrencies to fiat currency, making sure that is not parasitic. ‘If authorities do not act pre-emptively, cryptocurrencies could become more interconnected with the main financial system and become a threat to financial stability’ he added. Referring to bitcoin, Carsten added that even envisaged as an alternative payment system it now represent the ‘combination of a bubble, Ponzi scheme and environmental disaster’. Presentation was held in House of Finance, Goethe University in Frankfurt.

The European Commission, through its Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, has sent a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), expressing concerns over the organisation's proposed models for ensuring compliance between its WHOIS policy and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In the letter, the Commission asks ICANN to delay its final decision on an interim model, and to instead allow for further 'discussion with all stakeholders involved, as well as the data protection authorities'. It also noted that the proposed models are abstract, and difficult to assess regarding their scope and impact, therefore encouraging ICANN to further develop possible options 'to balance the various legal requirements, needs, and interests'.​ The letter came a few weeks after the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, and the Commissioner for the Security Union wrote to ICANN's CEO on the same topic GDPR compliance.

Voting 557 to 89, the European Parliament adopted new regulation that bans most types of geoblocking. Geoblocking restricts Internet content to particular geographic locations, which, for example, allows companies to charge different fees in different locations. The regulation aims to facilitate cross-border access to online services, on the same terms, within the EU, preventing the restriction or discrimination of content in particular locations. An exemption has been made for copyrighted material, which can remain blocked in locations across the EU. This exception, which will be re-examined in 2020, has been criticised by consumer rights organisations, claiming that ‘from the consumer’s point of view, this makes no sense at all.’ The ban is expected to enter into force by the end of 2018, after the formal approval by EU member states.

6 Feb

Foreign affairs ministers of ASEAN countries, gathered in Singapore for a retreat, expressed support for a proposal to build an ASEAN Smart Cities Network. The proposal was put forward by Singapore, which chairs ASEAN throughout the year, and is aimed at 'improving the urban living environment and enhancing business opportunities for Southeast Asia' through the use of technology. The project is to be implemented as a collaborative platform in which up to three cities for each ASEAN member states work together to drive smart and sustainable urban development. Internet of Things technologies will be used to improve services in areas such as transport, water, energy, healthcare, education, and public services.

On 6 February the U.S. senate The Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, held an open hearing entitled, ‘Virtual Currencies: The Oversight Role of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.’ The witnesses in this open session were:  The Honorable Jay Clayton, Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; and The Honorable J. Christopher Giancarlo, Chairman, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In their statement both chairmen pledged the work on future thought regulation of ICO mechanism.

Mr Clayton added in a discussion on ICO: “From what I have seen, initial coin offerings are securities offerings… (They) have nothing to do with distributed ledger technology beyond the coin itself’. Regarding the consumer protection Mr. Giancarlo added that CFTC never conducted this much outreach for any other financial product. In his words ‘We owe it this new generation to respect their enthusiasm about virtual currencies with a thoughtful and balanced response, not a dismissive one. And yet we must crack down hard on those who try to abuse their enthusiasm with fraud and manipulation’ You can find the full statements from The Honorable Jay Clayton and The Honorable J. Christopher Giancarlo, alongside the recording of the hearing, on this link.

5 Feb

The Internet Freedom Conference 2017 report presents recommendations and a summary of the key discussion points and conclusions. According to the Council of Europe's newsroom announcement, 'the report reflects the essential role of internet intermediaries as gateways to information and facilitators of the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms online, as well as the need for states to ensure that the internet remains an open network where those rights and freedoms are safeguarded.' The report calls for greater transparency, 'the free flow of information and ideas, regardless of frontiers', and 'that any proposals to regulate the internet respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, online just as offline, including the right to freedom of expression'. 

Following a trend that started after the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality rules last December, more states have taken measures to protect net neutrality. In Hawaii, the governor signed an executive order directing state institutions to only offer contracts for Internet-related services to providers who agree to respect net neutrality principles. A similar order was announced by the governor of New Jersey. In Vermont, the State Senate voted for a bill establishing certain net neutrality requirements that telecom providers with state contracts must meet; the bill is now to be discussed by the House of Representatives. The same thing took place in California, where the Senate passed a net neutrality bill which also needs to be reviewed by the State Assembly.

StepFeed's Rayana Khalaf calls the Kharabish Nasawiya (Feminist Doodles), Facebook page 'the best thing on the internet right now'. The author of the Facebook page, a feminist researcher with degrees in Art and Gender and Women's Studies, says that 'It aims towards recycling pop art found on the internet and give it a feminist tone and message in Arabic.' She focuses on 'communicating and deconstructing the system of oppression in Arabic through those comics'.

                                                                                   Cartoon image of man and woman

                                                                                   Him: Smile, you will look so much better if you smile.

                                                                                  Her: Leave me alone. It would look so much better if you leave me alone.

Karen Guan, from StudyBreaks at Southern Methodist University (USA), has highlighted four feminist magazines and online communities to 'help you get through 2018', Bitch Magazine, Wear Your Voice, Bust, and The Siren, which she recommends to those who want to gather more information and gain insight on feminist topics.

More than five years after Amazon was charged with a tax bill of almost €200 million, in November 2012, the company settled the case with the French tax authorities for an amount that remains undisclosed. According to Amazon, the two parties have reached a ‘comprehensive settlement agreement’, adding that the company has invested more than $2 billion in France, and ‘created more than 5,500 permanent jobs’. After losing a court case against Google in July 2017, the French government has not only been pushing for new EU regulation to tax online companies, but it also ‘opened the door to negotiating settlements’, Reuters writes.

4 Feb

The Board of Directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decided not to delegate the .corp, .home, and .mail generic top-level domains (gTLDs) because of concerns overs name collisions. As explained in the board's resolution, a 'name collision occurs when an attempt to resolve a name used in a private name space (e.g., under a non-delegated TLD, or a short, unqualified name) results in a query to the public Domain Name System (DNS)'. Otherwise put, the three strings were identified as being of high risk, as they could be identical to name labels used in private networks, which could then result in unintended and harmful consequences. The applicants are entitled to a full refund of their application fees.

China is reportedly working on enhancing its nuclear submarines with artificial intelligence (AI). AI would be used to upgrade the computer systems through which submarines are managed, with the aim of assisting commanding officers in making decisions. According to a researcher cited by the South China Morning Post, 'an AI decision-support system with its own thoughts would reduce the commanding officers' workload and mental burden'. There are several ways in which an AI assistant could support the work of submarines' commanding officers: assessing the environment, recognising and flagging threats, estimating the risks and benefits of certain manoeuvres, and suggesting possible moves. While researchers work on developing a system that is compatible with the existing computer system on submarines and is simple enough to reduce risks of failure, it is not expected that the deployment of such as system would lead to reducing the size of submarine crews. The system is said to be complementing human capabilities, and not replacing them.

The Board of Directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) passed a resolution to respond to advice provided by the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) at the most recent ICANN meeting in Abu Dhabi, in October 2018. Among other issues, the GAC advised that 'ICANN 'continue facilitating negotiations between the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization’s (ACTO) member states and the Amazon corporation with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable solution to allow for the use of .amazon as a top level domain name.' In its response, the Board noted that it accepts the GAC advice, and that it has asked ICANN's CEO to facilitate negotiations between ACTO member states and Amazon on the issues of .amazon.

2 Feb

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published its annual Broadband Deployment Report, assessing progress in broadband deployment across the USA. In a press release accompanying the report, the FCC stated that the progress of broadband deployment 'slowed dramatically' due to the 2015 net neutrality rules, but that the actions taken by the FCC in 2017 to reverse the rules 'have restored progress by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and restoring the longstanding bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework for broadband'. The report concludes that 'the Commission is now encouraging broadband deployment on a reasonable and timely basis'. This view is, however, not shared by all FCC members. Commissioner Rosenworcel and Commissioner Clyburn noted, in their dissenting statements, that the report falls short of reflecting the real situation, as many in the USA still do not have access to broadband. Other commentators argue that the report's findings according to which the FCC's rollback of net neutrality rules in 2017 lead to investments and competition are flawed, mainly because the new broadband deployments cited in the report actually began during the mandate of the previous FCC.

In a set of recommendations for the formulation of India's national telecom policy, the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) suggested, among other things, the adoption of policies to encourage the development of networks especially suited for the Internet of Things (IoT). The authority notes that 'industry 4.0 is being built around the IoT/M2M [machine-to-machine] infrastructure and services for which the availability of ubiquitous digital communication services [...] is a pre-requisite'. It recommends that one of the objectives of the national telecom policy is 'to enable access for connecting to 1 billion IoT/M2M sensors/devices by 2020 and 5 billion by 2022. Strategies to achieve this objective could include supporting the development of markets for IoT/M2M connectivity services; creating appropriate institutions for coordinated development of 5G services, IoT/M2M systems and their security framework; having simplified licensing and regulatory frameworks for IoT/M2M service providers; and earmarking suitable licensed and unlicensed spectrum for IoT/M2M services.

A report from NSPCC, a UK children’s charity, found that British ministers have failed to take on board urgent recommendations that were made 10 years ago to protect children online. The recommendations were made as part of a review, commissioned by former prime minister Gordon Brown in 2008. Yet of the 38 recommendations that were proposed in 2008, less than half have been implemented, and almost a third have been completely ignored. At the same time, NSPCC has reported a sharp increase in helpline calls about online sexual abuse, which have surged by 250 per cent over the past three years.

Finance Minister of India announced in his Budget speech for 2019, that Indian government do not recognise bitcoin as a legal tender for payment. He also added that government will seek for thorough regulation on cryptocurrency industry in India. In his words India will take “all measures to eliminate the use of these cryptoassets in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payments system.” This will not imply the direct ban of cryptocurrencies (like bitcoin) but will strengthen the security and audit of online cryptocurrency exchanges. Earlier this year India announced the draft on regulation for cryptocurrencies and invited Indian citizens to add their comments on an open government portal. Government also formed a committee with central bank and other financial institutions in order to shape further regulation.

1 Feb

Krzysztof Izdebski reports that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that user rights to anonymously share photos of ballot cards should be allowed as a manifestation of the freedom of expression. Complaints to the National Election Commission of Hungary alleged that this sharing violated the secrecy of the vote. The court based its decision on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to expression of opinion, and on an earlier ruling that the freedom of expression includes the publication of photographs.  Izdebski considers this ruling to be important because it addresses new technologies used by civil society, and because similar applications are likely to emerge in other approaching elections.

A UK court found the government’s mass surveillance powers unlawful, which could force changes to the country’s spy laws. The media reports that the judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that the data retention law, which allowed authorities to access an individual’s phone and email records, was not subject to adequate safeguards. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act forces telecommunications companies to store records about customers’ emails and phone calls for a period of 12 months. The Investigatory Powers Act broadened the data retention system by allowing the government to compel phone and Internet companies to also store logs showing the websites customers visited and the apps used. This meant that law enforcement agencies were able to access this information without a warrant for a broad range of reasons, and not necessarily related to a criminal activity. This ruling partly reaffirms a December 2016 judgment in the European Union’s top court, which found that the UK government’s data retention powers were ‘highly invasive and exceeded the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified, within a democratic society’. Martha Spurrier, human rights ‘Liberty’ group director, said: ‘Yet again U.K. court has ruled the government’s extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgment tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public’s human rights. … When will the government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?’.

The EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum will start its work from February 20th 2018. The observatory should play a proactive role to help the EU to stay at the forefront and build expertise in the field of blockchain and cryptocurrencies industry. It will be operated by the ConsenSys blockchain development company. Observatory will also aim to reinforce European engagement with multiple stakeholders involved in blockchain activities. In words from Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip ‘Technologies like blockchain can help reduce costs while increasing trust, traceability and security.’ Read the press release here.

31 Jan

South Korea’s Finance Minister, Kim Dong-yeon, stated that South Korea will not ban cryptocurrency exchanges or any other form of virtual coin trading. In his answer to a question from lawmakers on the government’s plans for regulation of the cryptocurrency market, Dong-yeon said, ‘there is no intention to ban or suppress cryptocurrency (market).’ He added that regulating the exchanges would be the government's top priority. [link]

29 Jan

Celine Castronuovo reports that Government Censorship Attempts to Silence #MeToo Movement in China, limiting the presence of #WoYeShi using censorship on the Internet and social media. While the #WoYeShi movement has been embraced by women seeking to share their experiences with sexual assault and harassment, women are becoming reluctant to risk with the recent government censorship. Nonetheless, The Guardian reports that slowly, women are starting to speak up, noting the importance for China, where the study, Why sexual harassment persists in the workplace suggested that 80% of women had experienced some kind of sexual harassment.

28 Jan

The government of Malaysia is looking the introduction of regulation to combat fake news. Speaking to reporters, the country's prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, warned for the spread of fake news, claiming that his ruling coalition has also fallen victim to fake news and false allegations. He added that 'this does not mean we control the Internet, the Internet is free but freedom must exist with the elements of accountability.' Earlier this month, the government launched an online news portal to combat fake news on social media. 

26 Jan

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) launched the report Achieving universal and affordable Internet in least developed countries in partnership with the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS). The report highlights some encouraging progress being made by LDCs, such as the launch of third generation (3G) mobile telephony and data services in all 47 countries LDC countries as well as over 60 per cent coverage of the population by a 3G network. Four in five people in these countries have access to mobile networks, according to the report. The document also outlines some gaps which need to be overcome, including issues related to limited capacity in information and communication technology skills, and socio-economic issues such as education levels and gender equality.

25 Jan

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU),  ruled that Austrian lawyer, Maximilian Schrems, could sue Facebook in his home country, with respect to their handling of his personal data. However, the CJEU ruled that he could not bring a consumer lawsuit on behalf of 25 000 Facebook users (who he contacted via Facebook) for alleged privacy breaches. Facebook claimed that Schrems was a ‘professional litigant’, and not a neutral consumer, meaning that he had no right to sue Facebook in Austria - but had to sue them in Ireland, where Facebook’s European headquarters are located. On Thursday, the CJEU ruled that Schrems could sue Facebook as a consumer in Austria - despite his activities (publishing books, giving lectures, fundraising, and his campaigning Facebook page) - because he primarily used his account for personal reasons.

Schrems sought to use EU consumer laws to sue Facebook for damages worth €500 for each of his signatories. EU judges said that his claims did not fall under Europe’s consumer protection laws, although he could still sue Facebook individually in the Austrian courts.

Inhabitants of the city of Stockholm can use driverless buses for free during a trial project implemented by Ericsson in collaboration with the Stockholm City. The buses can transport up to 11 people and will travel at a speed of 24 km/h. They will also have a driver on board. According to Ericsson, the aim of the project is to test the driverless buses over a longer period of time on public roads, under real traffic and weather conditions. Remote takeover and human responses will be tested as well during the trial. The project is implemented as part of the Drive Sweden programme launched by the Swedish government in 2015.

Addressing the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, UK Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about UK's plans to become a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and 'the place [for companies] to come and set up to seize the opportunities of AI for the future'. She also made a call for the international community 'to shape this [technological] change to ensure it works for everyone – be that in people's jobs or their daily lives'. Speaking about the need for rules and standards 'that can make most of AI in a responsible way', May called for international cooperation in building 'a common understanding of how to ensure the safe, ethical and innovative deployment of AI'. Such cooperation could happen in the framework of UK's Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (currently under creation) or WEF’s Council on the Future of AI and Robotics.

Amidst a cash flow crisis, Tajikistan is taking measures to increasingly monopolise Internet services. Earlier this month, it ordered local Internet service providers to only purchase Internet infrastructure from the Tajik state-owned company, and stop buying it from Kyrgyzstan. The country also took measures to block Viber's voice calls, a move motivated to benefit state-run telecom operator Tojiktelecom. While the shutdown of Viber seems to be coming to an end, the government is now looking to increase revenues from taxing foreign Internet companies. After issuing fines for tax evasion to Russian and European telecom companies in 2017, it is exploring ways to tax Google, Alibaba and Telegram, mirroring Russia's 'Google tax law'. 

Microsoft has announced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Neural Networks to improve real-time language machine translation for Hindi, Bengali and Tamil languages, notably for India. This will produce more accurate results for users while surfing the Internet, across different browsers and applications. Complexities in achieving these results included the number of Indic languages and the lack of content in local languages. Bhashaindia.com provides links to this and other and other computing tools for Indic languages.

24 Jan

Trade negotiations between the European Union and several Latin American countries are picking up in the new year. EU-Mexico talks have resumed in January. The talks on the EU-Mercosur are also expected to resume shortly, after efforts to reach a conclusion at the margins of the WTO 11th Ministerial Conference failed because of remaining differences, such as market access for beef and ethanol. Also on the docket is a planned modernisation of the EU’s trade accord with Chile.

The company for online payments Stripe, released a statement providing several reasons for their decision. Transaction confirmation times had risen significantly, and they could no longer cope with the greater price of transaction costs. This rise in transaction costs made cryptocurrency ‘about as expensive as bank wires’. Stripe was one of the first major online payment companies that included cryptocurrency payments.

The UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development launched the document 2025 Targets: connecting the other half at the World Economic Forum, in Davos. With this document, the Commission updated its roadmap with the release of targets to assist in connecting the half of the world currently operating without Internet access. The Commission's goals are:

  • All countries to have a funded national broadband plan or strategy in place, or to include broadband in their definition of universal access and services;
  • entry-level broadband access should be made more affordable in developing nations at a maximum of two percent of the monthly gross income per capita;
  • access to the Internet should be available to 75 percent of people worldwide, up from a projected 50 percent by the end of 2019, with 65 percent of those in developing countries and at least 35 percent of those in least developed countries connected;
  • 60 percent of youth and adults should have achieved 'at least a minimum proficiency in sustainable digital skills';
  • 40 percent of the world's population to be using digital financial services;
  • a reduction in 'unconnectedness' of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (SME) by 50 percent in each sector; and
  • gender equality should be achieved across all targets.

On the occasion of World Communications Day, Pope Francis condemned the ‘manipulative use of social networks’ and other forms of communication in facilitating the spread of fake news. According to the Pope, ‘spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests,’ advocating for an ‘education for truth’. He added that fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads to the spread of hatred. He praised the measures to educate people, the work of tech and media companies to verify personal identities, and the institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing the phenomenon.


In the USA, the governors or Montana and New York have announced they have signed executive orders supporting net neutrality at state level. The orders require service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality rules. In Montana, any service provider wishing to receive a state contract after 1 July 2018 will be required to follow key net neutrality rules and agree not to block or degrade content, or allow for paid prioritisation plans. In New York, the executive order will require any service provider receiving or renewing a contract after 1 March 2018 to sign an agreement that they will adhere to net neutrality principles. It is likely that the two orders will be challenged in court if the Restoring Internet Freedom order adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December 2017 enters into force. This is because the FCC order contains a provision preventing states from adopting net neutrality rules.

Quartz Africa's There’s a decades-old law threatening digital freedom in DR Congo reports new restrictions on the Internet in the DR Congo in response to a call for peaceful protests against President Joseph Kabila's rule. Similar cuts were reported at the end of December. The cuts are based on law No. 013/2002 (in French) which governs the telecommunication sector and allows the government to intervene in the interest of national security or public defense. Internet service providers run the risk of losing their license if they refuse to comply with the restrictions.

In the context of the ongoing debate on net neutrality, AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson has called for an Internet Bill of Rights to be adopted by the US Congress. In a blog post published on the company's website, Stephenson expresses concerns over the fact that 'government rules for the Internet' change so often, and says that the Congress should step in and adopt 'new laws that govern the Internet and protect consumers'. While mentioning that 'AT&T is committed to an open Internet', Stephenson notes that 'the commitment of one company is not enough', and that 'Congressional action is needed to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users'. Such legislation 'would provide consistent rules of the road for all Internet companies across all websites, content, devices and applications'. Some commentators argue that AT&T's call has little to do with net neutrality, but is rather targeted at Internet companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google, which have not been subject to as much regulatory scrutiny as ISPs have.

Google's CEO Sundar Pichai spoke about the company's position on taxation, extremist content and artificial intelligence (AI), at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in a conversation with WEF founder Klaus Schwab. Responding to current criticism about Google's alleged tax evasion practices, Pichai said that the company is 'happy to pay more tax', although the question remains where Google should pay it. He added that Google is hiring more engineers from around the world, which may equalise the distribution of its tax payments across countries. On the topic of extremism, and in particular Germany's recent measure to fine tech firms when they refuse to timely delete illegal content, Pichai warned that Internet companies should not become 'de facto arbiters' and urged governments to be clearer in defining what is allowed online and what is not. Talking about AI, Pichai pleaded for an agreement between countries not to use AI for military purposes, but also argued that concerns about AI should not make us lose sight of its potential benefits.

The World Economic Forum has launched the Global Centre for Cybersecurity at the 48th meeting in Davos. The Centre will be based in Geneva, act as an autonomous organisation under the auspices of WEF, and under the leadership of the Managing Director at the World Economic Forum Alois Zwinggi. It aims to ‘prevent a digital dark age’ through cooperation of governments, corporate sector, experts and law enforcement agencies, and might have specific focus on cybercrime as well as the application of new technologies, like artificial intelligence, IoT and robotics, in finance, healthcare, telecommunications and mobility. In particular, the Centre will focus on consolidating existing cybersecurity initiatives of the WEF, establishing an independent library of cyber best practices, helping partners to enhance knowledge on cybersecurity, working towards an appropriate and agile regulatory framework on cybersecurity, and serving as a laboratory and early-warning think tank for future cybersecurity scenarios

23 Jan

The Tax Department of Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam will continue its efforts to collect tax from retailers using social networks to sell their products. In 2017, the agency contacted more than 14,500 online retailers, including Facebook accounts, demanding payment of tax for businesses operating on the social network. According to tax officials, account holders have tried to evade taxes by increasing cash transactions, setting up multiple sales pages, changing locations and refusing to accurately declare sales or disclose sales prices. Many holders of Facebook accounts do not want to declare or pay taxes since online trading is seen as a a part-time or seasonal job, which would be tax-free under the current regulation.

Amazon Go, a grocery store chain created by Amazon, had its first store inaugurated in Seattle. The store distinguishes itself by having no lines, no cashiers and no employees, functioning entirely on automated processes. Shoppers enter by scanning the Amazon Go smartphone app. When they pull an item of the shelf, it's added to their virtual cart. If the item is placed back on the shelf, it is removed from the virtual cart. Shoppers are charged when they leave the store. The company says it uses computer vision, machine learning and algorithms and sensors to figure out what people are grabbing off its store shelves.

Apple partnered with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, a Chinese state-owned company, to build Apple’s first data-storage center in China. The iCloud content of Apple ID users registered in China will be sent to and managed by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data starting in March. Apple’s new terms and conditions agreement with China reveals that all personal information and files of Chinese customers stored on the iCloud will be shared with the Guizhou-Cloud Big Data and could be further accesed and scrutinised the Chinese authorities.

The United States plans to expand Internet access in Cuba. In line with President Trump’s memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, from June 2017, the Department of State has created the Cuba internet Task Force. The group is composed of U.S. government and non-government representatives and aims to examine technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba. According to the June memorandum, the task force will also examine the possibilities of expanding federal support to programs and activities “that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom so that the Cuban people can enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information.”

Website accessibility for persons with disabilities continues to be important. Recent news shows renewed focus in India and the USA. The Indian Government is working towards making 917 State Government websites accessible for the disabled and 100 accessible websites have already been launched as part of India's Web Accessibility Project for state government and union territories, as part of its Accessible India Campaign. It is important to note that these sites are compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Todd Paton gives an overview of the existing problem and suggests possible approaches to website accessibility, exhorting Companies, give people with disabilities access to the superhighway.

Does Your Company Website Comply with Title III of the ADA?  from Lexology, explains the topic from the viewpoint of US companies' concerns with lawsuits, the state of the law in the USA, and achieving compliance with the US Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some good news is that Vision's Top 9 Digital Trends in Local Government includes as its 9th trend: 'Web Accessibility is Here to Stay: Government websites have often ignored users with vision loss, hearing impairments and other disabilities. Web accessibility will continue to get the attention it deserves. Not only are local government agencies recognizing that greater accessibility for web visitors is the right thing to do, it's the law. Local agencies should appoint an accessibility coordinator and adopt a formal accessibility statement that outlines key standards and provides a contact for reporting issues.'



The EU adopted 2018 Work program that should among other focus on adopting pending legislation from Digital Single Market Strategy 2015. Two very important pieces of this legislation for bossing e-commerce are proposed Directive on the supply of digital content (Digital Content Directive) and proposed Directive on online and other distance sales of goods (Online Goods Directive).  The Digital Content Directive should harmonize rules about delivering digital content to EU consumers, especially remedies. As for Online Goods Directive one of the major novelties is that burden of proof for defect is on seler. Consumer will have right to complain on defect within two years and sellers needs to prove that defect was not present at time of purchase. These Directive proposals suffered some amendments so they are back in the legislative procedure.

The UK will create a 'National Security Communications Unit' to combat disinformation and 'anti-Western propaganda' spread by foreign states and others. The decision follows remarks that May made last year, in which she condemned Russia for waging 'a fake news war' against the West. 'We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives. The government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle these interconnected, complex challenges,' a spokesman of the British prime minister said. The establishment of the Unit is part of a wider review of national defence capabilities.


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