Updates

last 7 days

19 Jul

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has announced the launch of a project for the creation of a Standard for personal data artificial intelligence (AI) agent. In explaining the reasoning for this project, the IEEE notes: ‘In order to enable ethics based AI, individuals will require the means to influence and determine the values, rules, and inputs that guide the development of personalised algorithms and AI. They will need an agent that can negotiate their individuals rights in a system of shared social norms, ethics, and human rights […]’. The standard will describe the technical elements needed to create and grant access to a personalised AI that will comprise input, learning, ethics, rules, and values controlled by individuals. It will be aimed at educating policy makers and the private sector on the need to create the mechanisms for individuals to train personal AI agents to harmonise personal data usage for the future. This work will be in line with the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems.

The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence – created by the UK Parliament’s House of Lords in June 2017 to explore the economic, ethical, and social implications of artificial intelligence (AI) – has launched a public call for evidence on the implications of AI. The Committee intends to use the submissions to prepare the report it has to delivered by 31 March 2018. Some of the aspects that the inquiry is focused on include the current state of AI and the pace of development, the impact of AI on society, ethical implications, the role of government, and the work of other countries and international organisations.

China has partially blocked messaging platform WhatsApp. Although WhatsApp is not nearly as popular in China as the country's messaging service WeChat, the app is increasingly used by Chinese who are concerned about privacy and surveillance, as well as for communication with people abroad. While WhatsApp ensures encryption, WeChat messages are routinely monitored.

 

Media reports the UK’s Government Digital Service (DGS) urged users of its data website to change login details ‘as a precautionary measure’ due to a security breach exposing names and email addresses of thousands for almost two years. Following the security beach, around 68,216 accounts signed before 20 June 2015 have been suspended until the users reset their passwords. A DGS spokeswoman ensured BBC reporter that the breach affected only data.gov.uk accounts, and that individuals with separate accounts for other governments websites were not affected.

18 Jul

A new study by the Pew Research Center has found that online harassment affects men as much as women, leading Cathy Young at Reason.com to suggest that the online harrassment might not be a gender issue. In comments about the study, Maeve Duggan notes that online harrassment 'can be highly contextual and often a matter of personal interpretation. And while certain behaviors would seem to "cross a line", that line can vary from one person to the next.' 

In a content censorship move which has even gotten comedians into the game, Winnie the Pooh has been banished from the Internet in China. Wider implications were drawn by Peter Hartcher's article From Liu Xiaobo to Winnie the Pooh, China's net censors can make you disappear, who wrote 'It may seem ridiculous, but for the Chinese Communist Party this is deadly serious.' WhatsApp has also seen recent restrictions in China.

  Chinese politicians side by side with Eeyore and Winnie the Pooh

The US White House has officially expressed its support for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plans to roll back the net neutrality rules the Commission adopted in 2015. In a press briefing, White House’s Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated that the administration supports ‘the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believes that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty’. Sanders also mentioned that the previous US administration took a wrong step ‘by imposing rules on ISPs through the FCC’s Title II rulemaking power’.

17 Jul

The US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has issued a consumer notice about Internet-connected toys, warning about privacy and safety implications for children. Because smart toys and entertainment devices for children contain technologies that allow them to act based on user interactions, they ‘could put the privacy and safety of children at risk, due to the large amount of personal information that may be unwittingly disclosed’. To address such risks, the FBI outlines several recommendations, including only using toys in environments with trusted and secured Wi-Fi Internet access, researching where user data is stored and carefully reading the disclosures and privacy policies, and checking if the toy can receive firmware and/or software updates and security patches.

The bitcoin.org website announced the possible disruption in bitcoin payment system starting from July 31. On Tuesday, August 01, from 02:00 CEST bitcoin blockchain will start running alternative core clients with ability to increase number of transactions in bitcoin payment system. Bitcoin nodes, users who run the core bitcoin software, vote on which version of softwere will implement into blockchain. The old version and the new versions of bitcoin software will compete for primacy over main bitcoin blockchain. On August 1, a portion of bitcoin’s nodes will run software that another portion of nodes are not fully compatible with. This may create problems for bitcoin users.

Users are advised to refrain from payments in bitcoin from July 31st until this is settled out. Transactions in 'losing' version of core software might render invalid and founds will be lost. Two versions of proposed bitcoin scalability which compete with current solution, differ in approach. The ‘SegWit’ solution (aka BIP141) is developed by core bitcoin developers, and tested extensively over past months. It implements 'User Activated Soft Fork' approach, allowing changes to happen when 95 per cent of network power signals that is ready to change. This proposal will not increase the 1MB block size. Another version of core software: SegWit2X (aka 'The 'New York Agreement') is a proposal of major bitcoin companies and mining pools (mostly from China). It is not developed by core bitcoin contributors, and will require 80 per cent of network power to signal that is ready for change. This solution envisaged the change of the block size to 2MB.

Looking at the statistics from nodes that already actively vote in this events, bitcoin will almost sure enact changes in its network.

The bitcoin.org originally registered and owned by Bitcoin's first two developers, Satoshi Nakamoto and Martti Malmi, is now an independent open source project with contributors from around the world.

Starting 22 July, Uber will temporarily suspend its ridesharing operations in Macau. While announcing the decision, the company also stated that it hopes ‘to open the door for a constructive dialogue with all stakeholders in Macau’. Having already launched discussions with transport operators and hotels, Uber is ‘exploring ways to serve the city again’.

Messaging platform Telegram has agreed to remove extremist content on its application. The decision was made after Indonesian authorities ordered to block access to the messaging application. According to the Indonesian communications ministry, Telegram is 'full of radical and terrorist propaganda'. Telegram's co-founder, Pavel Durov, responded that 'Telegram is heavily encrypted and privacy-oriented, but we're no friends of terrorists.' 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned US governors that artificial intelligence (AI) ‘is a fundamental existential risk for human civilisation’, and called for precautionary and proactive government intervention. In Musk’s words, ‘AI is a rare case where we need to be proactive about regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late’. This is not the first time when Musk issues such warnings on the possible dangers of what researchers call ‘general AI’ (complex AI systems that can replicate humans’ intellectual capability). But there are voices criticising him for such views, as they are seen as distracting attention from challenges related to the current ‘narrow AI’ already in use in areas such as self-driving cars.

In two separate letters sent to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – as comments to the Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – Internet engineers, technologists, and Internet companies (represented by the Internet Association) have expressed their support for the 2015 net neutrality rules and asked the FCC to keep them in place. In their comments, a group of more than 190 engineers and technologists argue that, if the FCC goes ahead with its proposal tis would have disastrous results, as it is based on ‘plainly incorrect assumptions about the underlying technology and Internet ecosystem’. The comments submitted by the Internet Association underline, among others, that ‘both quantitative and qualitative evidence demonstrates the 2015 Open Internet Order is working’ and that ‘the entire Internet sector is thriving and there’s no need to change the rules’. Both letters point to the fact that the FCC should continue to maintain light-touch rules protecting net neutrality.

16 Jul

The social network botnet called Siren algorithmically created Twitter accounts and generated more than 8.5 million spam tweets. ZeroFOX, a company that discovered the botnet, believes this has been one of the largest spam campaigns on social media so far. The botnet used sophisticated techniques in order to deceive various anti-spam tools used by Twitter and Google. Siren gained over 30 million clicks from its victims. Although the links led to sites related to porn services they, reportedly, did not contain any malware.  Nevertheless this case demonstrates some weak points and vulnerabilities of new communication tools. Spammers have been increasingly re-focusing their vectors of attack shifting from email to other channels like social media and instant messengers. 

14 Jul

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has published RFC 8200, making the Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) a full Internet Standard. As explained on the Internet Society’s website, although IPv6 was already defined in RFC 2460 (updated by several other RFCs), this was a draft standard. What IETF did with RFC 8200 was to combine these many RFCs defining the IPv6 specification, into a single RFC, together with an Errata. So, technically speaking, there are no changes in the IPv6 specifications themselves, but IPv6 is now a full Internet Standard, defined in a single RFC.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in South Africa (an independent arbitration body) ruled that Uber drivers are subject to Uber’s control, and, as such, employees. The decision came in favour of a group of drivers who were fired by Uber by deactivating them from the Uber application without reason. According to the Commission, although drivers can choose their working hours, and decide whether to accept, decline, or ignore a request for a ride, Uber controls the manner in which they work, by setting ‘clear standards and performance requirements’. Uber announced it would challenge the decision in the Labour Court.

last 30 days

12 Jul

A court in Paris has ruled that Google was not liable for tax in France, after the French authorities demanded Google to pay back 1.1bn euros in taxes. The company booked its advertising contracts to be displayed in France through its subsidiary in Ireland. According to the court, the authorities' bill couldn't be justified, as Google did not have a 'permanent establishment' or 'sufficient taxable presence' in France. As a result, 'Google Ireland Ltd isn't taxable in France over the period 2005-2010.'

Microsoft has launched two new initiatives in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The AI for Earth initiative will focus on AI projects in the areas of agriculture, water, biodiversity, and climate change, and has three dimensions: access – giving researchers and organisations the possibility to use cloud and AI computing resources for developing environmental solutions; education – allowing organisations to explore available AI tools and learn how to use them; and innovation – managing projects that demonstrate new applications, undertaking research, and engaging in partnerships with other organisations. The Microsoft Research AI lab will be aimed at identifying solutions for AI challenges, as well as on developing general purpose AI, by integrating research results from different fields such as machine learning, perception, and natural language processing.

Major Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix, and civil society organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge take part today (12 July) in a massive online ‘day of action’ in support of the US net neutrality rules. The rules, adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015, are now at risk of being overturned by the Commission. As part of the Battle for the Internet initiative, companies and organisations are expressing support for these rules by displaying alerts on their websites showing ‘the world that the web will look like without net neutrality’. Users are encouraged to send letters to the FCC and the US Congress in support of net neutrality, and to share the message via their websites, blogs, or social media. Telecom provider AT&T – a vocal opponent of the 2015 rules – has announced it is also joining the day of action, noting that it supports an open Internet, but not the current regulations.

11 Jul

As part of the Independent Review Process (a procedure mandated by ICANN bylaws) initiated by Amazon over ICANN’s decision to reject the company’s application for the .amazon new generic top-level domain (and its equivalents in Chinese and Japanese), an Independent Review Panel recommended that the ICANN Board re-evaluates Amazon’s application. The Panel determined that the ICANN Board acted in a manner inconsistent with ICANN bylaws, and that the Governmental Advisory Committee - GAC (whose objection to .amazon determined the Board to reject the application) ‘failed to allow the applicant to submit any information to the GAC and thus deprived the applicant of the minimal degree of procedural fairness before issuance of its advice’. According to the Panel, the ICANN Board ‘should make an objective and independent judgment regarding whether there are, in fact, well-founded , merits-based public policy reasons for denying Amazon’s applications’.

Microsoft announced the “Rural Airband Initiative”, a plan to foster digital inclusion by using channels between television broadcasts, known as white spaces, in order to provide connectivity in rural areas of the Unites States. The company issued a call for government and corporate entities to invest in its $10 billion plan to eliminate the rural broadband gap. The company claims that internet connection through white space technology would be 80% cheaper than broadband and would cost half of a wireless connection. The plan encompasses three major actions: a) pursue direct investments with partners, including telcos; b) invest in digital skills training for people in these newly connected communities; c) stimulate investment through technology licensing. Microsoft plans to share lessons learned with other companies and stimulate investment through royalty-free access to more than 39 patents and sample source code related to technology they developed to enable broadband connectivity through TV white spaces spectrum.

During a speech following the G20 summit, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has urged Internet companies to act more quickly against online extremism and to solve the 'problem' of encrypted content. According to Turnbull, 'Just as the owner of a locked bank vault cannot resist the order to hand over a document', Internet companies should not be able to deny requests by law enforcement agencies for encrypted messages. Although the Internet is 'transformative and democratic', this should not override the need to prevent harm.

Somalia is undergoing an Internet outage, which is costing the country $10m each day, according to authorities. The outage was caused by damage to an undersea fibre-optic cable, which happened more than two weeks ago. The government says the cable is being fixed and the service will be restored in the next days.

China's three telecommunications companies (China MobileChina Unicom and China Telecom) have been ordered to block access to private virtual private networks (VPNs) by February 2018. This will close one of the few avenues Internet users in China still have to access the global Internet. Without this access, users will not be able to access Twitter, Facebook, and most news sites. The move was said to be 'part of a sweeping crackdown aimed at suppressing dissent and maintaining the Communist party's grip on power.' In the past China has instituted bans on VPNs, especially during high-level government meetings in Beijing.

China has established new regulations for 'auditing' of online content, including movies, dramas, documentaries, and animations to ensure that they 'adhere to "core socialist values"', as part of a new campaign to control social discourse online. Response has been vocal, with one group calling China the 'worst abuser of internet freedom' in the world. Concerns have also been voiced about the prohibition of references to luxurious lifestyles, shows violent and criminal processes in detail, or demonstrates obscenity or alternate sexual lifestyles. In May, China launched its own government version of Wikipedia, with heavy censorship expected.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) looked at how artificial neural networks (used in artificial intelligence (AI) systems) process information, and found that individual neurons in such networks could be highly correlated to high-level concepts involved in decision-making (such as identifying patterns and concepts in an image). In scientific terms, tracing the recognition of specific concepts to a specific neuron can be used to objectively measure bias imparted in a neural network by its training data. In more practical terms, identifying the specific neuron in an artificial neural network that is responsible for a certain decision could pave the way to determining why an AI system makes one decision over another (w.g. why a driverless car makes certain decisions while on the road).

7 Jul

A forthcoming report: Internet Surveillance, Regulation, and Chilling Effects Online: A Comparative Case Study by Jonathon W. Penney concludes that 'Women and young people are more likely to self-censor if they think they’re being monitored'. In a world where the US Director of National Intelligence admits that even the US National Security Agency would be unable to determine the number of targets of warrantless surveillance, it is important to analyse how this monitoring affects Internet users. The paper also suggests that the same users who are most likely to self-censor, are those who are unlikely to take steps to defend themselves.

5 Jul

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has published the Global Cybersecurity Index (CGI) 2017, a new edition of its assessment of the commitments of its members to cybersecurity. The GCI 2017 records capabilities in 134 member states, by focusing on five factors related to the ITU Global Cybersecurity Agenda: legal, technical, organizational, capacity building and international cooperation. This version increased the visibility of what countries are doing to improve cybersecurity. According to findings, CGI has motivated countries to improve their work related to cybersecurity and raised awareness in countries for the need to start bilateral, multilateral and international cooperation. The research revealed that, while increased Internet access and technological development is correlated with improvement in cybersecurity at the global level, this is not necessarily true for countries with developing economies and lower levels of technological development. Developing countries lack well-trained cybersecurity experts, and necessary education on cybersecurity issues for law enforcement, and thus more cooperation should be initiated between developed and developing countries to assist them in cybersecurity development. Yet the research also showed that poorer nations can be stronger in their overall commitment to cybersecurity than rich ones: while Singapore ranked as the most committed country, it is followed by US and then Malaysia, Oman, Estonia, Mauritius, Australia, Georgia and France, Canada and Russia.

Asi@Connect, an academic network that will connect over 55 million researchers and students across the Asia Pacific region, was launched in Sri Lanka. Asi@Connect is the successor project to TEIN4, part of the Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) initiative. TEIN currently supports 24 countries and economies by providing a regional high-capacity internet backbone for R&E collaborations within the Asia Pacific region and its interconnection with the pan-European GÉANT network and with other parts of the world. The project received a five-year EU co-funding commitment of € 20 Million up to 2021.

4 Jul

The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), Maciej Spunar, has issued another non binding opinion in which he classifies Uber as a transportation company. As summarised in a CJEU press release, the opinion, issued in a case brought to the CJEU by the tribunal de grande instance de Lille (France), states that EU member states may prohibit and punish the illegal exercise of a transport activity such as UberPop without having to notify the Commission of the draft law in advance. Spunar reiterates an argument he made in a previous opinion, in May 2017, stating that the UberPop service falls within the field of transport and does not constitute an information society service.   

3 Jul

According to minister of science and technology Wan Gang, cited in media reports, China has been working on an artificial intelligence (AI) development plan that is to be soon made public. The plan is said to be focused on four areas: the building up of AI capabilities, the application of AI technologies, the introduction of policies to handle risks brought by AI, and international collaboration. The plan will also contain provisions on financial resources for funding activities in these areas. Earlier this year, minister Wan said that the Chinese government would establish a special fund for research in the field of AI.

Amazon bought the e-commerce firm Souq.com for $580 million, definitely putting its flag in the Middle Eastern market. The two companies said that they have completed an initial integration that allows customers to log into Souq.com using their Amazon account credentials. They plan to integrate products and services between the two sites to leverage their respective scale.

1 Jul

The digital divide in the UK is particularly significant among the elderly people and the disabled. This was the conclusion of a report by Good Things Foundation and Professor Simeon Yates, titled ‘The real digital divide?’. The research uncovered that 15.2 million people in the UK were found to be either ‘non-users’ (defined as people who have no internet access or don’t use the internet even if they have access) or ‘limited users’ (people who rarely and infrequently go online). 47.7% of the ‘non-user’ group were found to have “a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity”, representing around 3.7 million people in the UK. 64.4% of non-users in the report are aged 65 or over. The report is based on a 2015 report from telecommunications regulatory body Ofcom on ‘Adults’ media use and attitudes’

30 Jun

From October onwards, social media platforms with more than two million German users need to remove 'obviously illegal' content within 24 hours or risk a fine that could rise to €50 million. The German parliament voted in favour of this law after months of discussion. In response to the new law, Facebook reconfirmed its commitment to fighting illegal content, but states that 'this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem'. The Internet industry claims that these tight deadlines are 'unrealistic' and can lead to 'accidental censorship'. UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, argued that 'the obligations placed upon private companies to regulate and take down content raises concern with respect to freedom of expression'. 

29 Jun

China’s Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs introduced an emergency cybersecurity plan for Internet security incidents, China Daily reports. The plan will "improve handling of cybersecurity incidents, prevent and reduce damage, protect the public interest and safeguard national security, public safety and social order." The plan divides cybersecurity incidents into six categories, including cyberattacks and information security incidents. It defines four-levels of security warnings and response systems according to threat conditions: the “extremely serious” category relates to disabling important information systems or losing sensitive state information that could impact social stability, and triggers setting up the emergency headquarters and cross-departmental coordination. The plan implements the emergency response mechanism stipulated by the Cybersecurity Law China adopted last year.

28 Jun

The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that it can force Google to remove search results worldwide. The ruling followed an appeal made by Google against a court ruling in 2015, which ordered Google to remove all its search results linked to a certain company, even outside of Canada's borders. According to the court, 'The internet has no borders - its natural habitat is global,' and 'the only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates - globally.' The decision has drawn criticism from rights groups, as they claim that the case could set a precedent for infringements on freedom of expression and would be seen to justify 'censorship requests that could result in perfectly legal and legitimate content disappearing off the web because of a court order in the opposite corner of the globe.'

27 Jun

A new ransomware, named Petya, spread around Ukraine, then Europe and the world, infecting and disabling Windows systems in various industries, from airports and shipping ports, to petrol and the financial industry, to supermarkets and law firms. According to Microsoft, the infection was identified in at least 65 countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Russia, and the USA. Petya is based on a code of a ransowmare developed in 2016, which locks the master boot records of the disk, effectively rendering the disc and computer dysfunctional until a ransom of USD$300 in Bitcoins is paid. Unlike its older version, the 2017 version – also dubbed ‘notPetya’ by some researchers – spreads like a worm through the infected systems (that is without a need for a user to activate it by opening an infected link or an attachment) by exploiting the same vulnerability that WannaCry did, and for which Microsoft issued a patch in March. NotPetya also uses a range of other tools, such as recovering administrator passwords on the infected systems and gaining top access privileges. While the malware has all the features of a ransomware, it appears the attackers have put relatively little effort in ensuring that payments are received, since there is only one Bitcoin wallet used for all the infected computers (which makes it easier to track and possibly locate the criminals when the funds are eventually withdrawn). In addition, the e-mail address offered for communication with the attackers was hosted on a public platform by German company Posteo, which immediately suspended it after the infection broke out. This is why some experts believe that the malware is not designed to make money, but to spread fast and cause damage, The Register reports.

Following a seven-year investigation, EU regulators fined Alphabet Inc.’s Google 2.4 billion euros on the grounds of violating of antitrust rules. According to EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, ‘Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors’. The ruling was triggered by complaints presented by retailers from Europe and United States who claimed that the company abused its search market dominance to give its Google Shopping service an advantage over other retailers and create a monopoly over consumers. Google said it will consider appealing the decision to the European Court of Justice.

26 Jun

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Microsoft have announced the formation of a Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism. This cooperation includes sharing technical solutions, research to inform their efforts, and working with counter-terrorism experts - including the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate and the ICT4Peace Foundation - to establish a knowledge-sharing network. The Forum does not only consist of the large social media companies, but will also include 'smaller tech companies, civil society groups and academics, governments and supranational bodies such as the EU and the UN'.

Scientists at CERN are deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to protect the CERN grid from cyber-threats. They are working with an AI system which is being taught to distinguish between safe and threatening behaviour on the CERN network and take action when it detects a problem. The biggest challenge, researchers say, is to develop algorithms that can accurately distinguish between normal and malicious network activity without causing false alarms. At the moment, the AI system is being tested on a part of the grid; if it proves to be efficient, it will be deployed throughout the entire system.

E-commerce companies such as Flipkart, Amazon, Shopclues and Snapdeal, among others, are allegedly resorting to price manipulation to boost sales and increase profit margins, say industry experts in India. Offering discounts still remain the crucial factor to push sales online. This especially true in a scenario in which ‘data crawling’ (e.g. a process conducted by apps that compare the best deals across different platforms) has made discounting mandatory to attract traffic. In the begging, e-commerce platforms used to cover discounts from their revenues; they are now squeezing them from the sellers.

In his address to the Australian Liberal Party, the country's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned that the Internet 'cannot be an ungoverned space', as 'ungoverned spaces pose great risks'. He made these remarks in relation to the use of the Internet by 'terrorists and extremists', who use Internet services to 'spread their poison'. Turnbull's speech echoed British Prime Minister Theresa May's remarks, as she pleaded for increased regulation of Internet services after the terror attacks in London.

25 Jun

From 1 July, Australia will apply a 10% goods and services tax (GST) on digital products and services from overseas that are bought in Australia. This 'Netflix tax' is meant to close a loophole through which foreign companies were exempt from collecting GST on their exports to Australia, making sure that 'Australian businesses selling digital products and services are not disadvantaged relative to overseas businesses that sell equivalent products in Australia'. Similar measures have been taken by the EU, New Zealand, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, and South Africa. Yet, earlier this month, the Canadian government rejected a proposal to implement a 'Netflix tax'.

24 Jun

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has published its final Report on Africa Domain Name System (DNS) Market Study. In the field of generic top-level domains (gTLDs), the study shows that there is a low demand for domain names in Africa (lower than in other regions), with only approximately 1% of gTLD domains being registered by Africans (1.4 million domain names in total, most of them being .com domains). The identified reasons for this low demand include high access costs, the lack of infrastructure, and the fact that African Internet access is primarily via mobile devices. When it comes to country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), there were 2.9 million ccTLD domain names registered in November 2016, and 51 functioning ccTLD registries across the continent. There are only 11 ICANN accredited registrars in Africa. The study also includes several recommendations aimed at advancing the DNS industry in Africa; these cover areas such as availability of infrastructure, digital awareness among individuals and communities, and enabling policies and regulations.

23 Jun

Facebook launched the Online Civil Courage Initiative in the UK, which trains organisations on how to monitor and counter extremist content, and which includes the creation of a dedicated support desk at Facebook. The social media platform has already launched the initiative in Germany and France.

Chinese authorities have shut down online video services of three media sites, leading Chinese Internet shares of Weibo and SINA to tumble. According to the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the measure 'will provide a clean and clear Internet space'. According to analysts, the ban is not likely to be permanent, yet it will probably lead to the re-opening of video services 'with beefed-up oversight'. 

A survey conducted in the USA by Politico and Morning Consult shows that 60% of registered voters support the net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted in 2015. More specifically, 34% of respondents indicated they strongly supported the rules, while 26% said they somewhat supported them. Only 17% either strongly or somewhat oppose the rules, while 23% do not have an opinion. A total of 2051 registered voters participated in the poll, which was conducted on 15–19 June.

In a very interesting example, Gogo, an in-flight connectivity service provider, is emphasising multilingual text chat support, and taking advantage of global multilingual expertise, as we see in the example of Honduras and Nearshore Americas. The service emphasises educated, skilled agents to offer support to clients all over the world in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. Does this portend a move toward a more multilingual Internet, supported by the private sector?

22 Jun

In March 2016, on his visit to Cuba, then US President Obama said, speaking of the need for greater Internet access: 'It also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas ... [I]f you can't access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential, and over time, the youth will lose hope'. Catherine Powell references this speech in her blog post What Expanding Internet Access in Cuba Could Mean for Women. She notes that 'Broadening access to the internet and other information and communication technology, such as mobile phones and social media, could be an important tool for women’s rights (and other human rights) in Cuba'. She explains four particular ways that increased access will improve women's access to the workforce: first, expanding opportunities to work from home; second, improved communications with children and caregivers during working hours; third, an easier balance of work and home responsibilities with a stronger Internet economy easing some tasks such as shopping; and fourth, increased access to information and communication technologies will create job opportunities for women.

Advertisers are pulling ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ from social media platforms, in response to concerns about the placement of their ads next to inappropriate content, such as extremist content and fake news. According to one expert, ‘we have seen a surprisingly general effect of clients either stopping spend altogether, or pausing spend in this area.’ Although both Google and Facebook are taking measures to prevent inappropriate content, there is not yet a fully effective fix.

Google has proposed setting up a new policy framework of direct requests by countries to the US Internet industry to obtain digital evidences for serious crimes conducted in their jurisdictions. The framework would apply to countries that honour privacy, human rights and due process. According to Google, the US national legal framework, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), should be adapted to base the requests of law enforcement authorities (LEA) on the location of the authority rather than of evidences. Google also considers the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA) as a good base to allow US Congress to update laws governing digital evidences. Further, Google proposes countries to sign bilateral agreements with the US, creating a functional alternative to very lengthy diplomatic Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) process of acquiring digital evidences. According to a speech by Kent Walker, Google SVP & General Counsel, delivered at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, non-existance of international legal framework for cross-border access to evidences, coupled with provisions of the existing US laws like ECPA, make it complicated for US-based Internet industry to provide timely assistance to countries. Currently, most LEA cooperation rely on MLATs, which can take almost a year to resolve a case. At the same time, Internet industry faces responses by governments to these challenges that are not in the interests of the industry: requests for localisation of personal data, and extraterritorial jurisdiction of courts over global business. The new framework is a proposed response by Google to such challenges.

Russia closed down Google for several hours. According to Russian officials, Google redirected Internet users to a website that as blocked as part of an ongoing tax dispute. Access to Google was restored after the company removed the banned link. Tensions between Russia and Google might be rising with the authorities’ recent approval of the ‘Google Tax Law’, which requires foreign companies to pay value-added tax on the sale of online content.

The UK government has opened initial areas of its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to business and researchers to apply for funding. Two of these areas cover robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). One area - Developing robotics and AI systems that can be deployed in extreme environments (e.g. offshore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining) – is aimed at making industry and public services more productive, and has a dedicated budget of £93 million over four years. The second area – Developing the next generation of AI and control systems to keep UK at the forefront of the driverless cars innovation – has a budget of  £38 million for new collaborative research and development projects with industry.

The challenges to connecting the urban population have been made clearer with the publication of the study ‘The Urban Unconnected’ by IHS Markit and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA). The white paper is the result of a research conducted on the topic of the digital divide and urban unconnected across eight leading countries (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America). The study concluded that: the digital divide is still a global and local challenge, present in the North and the South of the globe; 23.76% and 44.17%: are the average percentages of urban and rural unconnected population respectively found among the eight researched countries; London is leading the way to a connected society, while Delhi and Sao Paulo are lagging behind; there are multiple barriers to digital inclusion, from financial constraints to the availability of adequate technology and lack of awareness to internet generated benefits.  

21 Jun

Fraugster, a German-Israeli payment security company, has launched a fraud prevention solution, Fraud Free Product, using artificial intelligence technology to detect cases of fraud. The product is is connected to the largest payment gateways, requiring no additional integration or setup for online merchants. Some of the world’s largest payment companies such as Ingenico ePayments, Wirecard and Credorax are already successfully using the product.

The eCommerce Action 2017 (eComm 2017), a joint law enforcement operation which took place in the first two weeks of June, resulted in the arrest of 76 members of internet based criminal networks suspected of online fraud activities. The suspects were allegedly responsible for more than 20.000 fraudulent transactions, with an estimated value exceeding EUR 5 million. The eComm 2017 targeted criminal networks and the locations where illegally purchased goods had been delivered. Law enforcement and private sector formed teams for practical cooperation in 26 countries. The overall coordination of eComm 2017 was under the responsibility of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre. Some of the suspects have been involved in other forms of crime, such as identity fraud, phishing, cyber-attacks, romance fraud, illegal use of stolen passports, illegal immigration, online child sexual exploitation, drugs trafficking and money laundering.

The US White House is meeting representatives of the tech industry to discuss ways in which the government can support advancements in drones and other new technologies. Drone companies, network providers, and venture capitalists are meeting president Donald Trump to look at how the USA ‘can maintain its leadership creating and fostering entirely new technologies that will drive […] economic growth’, says Michael Kratsios, White House’s deputy chief  technology officer. According to Kratios, cited by Reuters, the US administration wants to promote the development and commercialisation of emerging technologies and speed up the development of drones and 5G technology.

China’s State Council has adopted a set of guidelines to boost the development of the sharing economy. The guidelines are aimed at ‘creating an enabling environment for sustained innovation’, by allowing easier access on the sharing economy market, enhancing policy transparency, and ensuring a better protection of the rights of both consumers and service providers. With regard to regulations for the sharing economy, China’s Premier Li Keqiang is of the opinion that they ‘should be tolerant while prudent, as there is still much yet to be learned about new business models. We should avoid simply applying traditional methodology on the sharing economy’.

ForeverShop, a Bangalore-based company which runs a consumer-to-consumer (C2C) e-commerce app, has raised around $ 300,000 of seed funding from a clutch of angel investors. The e-commerce platform is focused on small and individual business owners, and aims to empower them to own a Free Online Shop. The money will be used to upgrade the product, expand seller base to other cities, and build more business relationship with logistics and payment gateway partners.

 

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