Articles 11 and 13 Have Just Been Passed. Here’s What That Means.

New Changes in EU copyright Law Could End Your Freedom of Expression Online

 

Are you European?

Do you like memes?

How about parodies?

Remixes?

Well, too damn bad, because the European Parliament just changed the rules of the internet on your behalf.

Buckle up for a complicated story of copyright laws and prepare to be outraged.

First thing’s first.

Before we get to the story of how the internet will never be the same again, let me give you some context.

Copyright is a legal means of protecting an author’s work. It’s a type of intellectual property that provides exclusive publication, distribution, and usage rights for the author. Within the European Union, copyright law has undergone modifications since 2001.

The purpose was to unify copyrighting and adjust it to the ever-changing digital and technological times.

This led to the EU Copyright Directive, or EUCD, stirring some controversy with the general public.

EUCD has 15 articles in total. They mainly address how each member state can implement and ensure fair pay and distribution rights.

Spoiler alert: the main concerns lie with Article 11 and Article 13.

A Brief History of Copyright Law in the EU

Copyright laws have been under intense scrutiny for the past years.

Here’s what’s been going down.

06/22/01
The Copyright Directive is implemented to the WIPO Copyright Treaty to harmonize aspects of the Copyright law across members states of the European Union.
12/22/02
The deadline for EU states to adopt the Copyright Directive into their national laws. Only Greece and Denmark managed to do it.
10/31/03
UK transposed the EU copyright directive into United Kingdom law. ISPs now need to take measures to wipe out piracy.
12/05/12
The European Commission starts reviewing the 2001 Directive.
11/01/14
Jean-Claude Juncker is elected President of the European Commission. He supports new copyright reforms, claiming their potential to improve the EU’s financial status.
07/09/15
Aspects of the Directive are revised.
09/14/16
The EU Commission released a legal initiative for a Directive.
05/10/17
The Digital Single Market policy is reviewed (again).
09/12/18
The European Parliament adopts the Copyright Directive by a landslide majority.
02/13/19
The European Parliament, The European Commission, and the EU Council negotiate the final version of the Directive.
03/26/19
The copyright reform laws are passed with 348 votes in favor, 274 against.

But let’s get into more details.

Big Boss Axel Voss

The key figure through the final plenary debates for the EUCD has been German MEP, Axel Voss.

Axel Voss has been a key figure in getting Articles 11 and 13 through the European Parliament.

Time to get familiar with him.

Voss has been a strong proponent of the EUCD. He’s mentioned numerous times that platforms should take more responsibility for the content they host.

His main reasoning is that if Netflix and Spotify buy licenses, so can YouTube and Facebook. People were quick to point out that it’s like comparing apples and oranges, but this didn’t change his mind.

Despite contradictions in his statements and constant criticism, Voss simply claimed he’s not a software technician.

Oh, and he mentioned that it’s no biggie if YouTube goes down.

What even, mister Voss??

German-speaking friends, sit back and enjoy the song. Hopefully, it won’t get taken down.

And it’s not just him.

Some of his colleagues have also been a bit confused. They claim to have mistakenly voted to block any amendments to Articles 11 and 13, when they actually wanted the opposite. Apparently, someone had changed the vote order:

What happened was that in the middle of a sitting meeting, it was decided to make an adjustment in the order of voting in itself. This did not appear in a clear way where the President was also somewhat confused.
Peter Lundgren and Kristina Winberg

See, kids? Nothing will stop you from passing laws that can radically change the internet, even when you don’t fully grasp it.

What a time to be online!

Article 11 in a Nutshell

Article 11 grants publishers direct copyright over the use of their publications by other service provides.

Are you sitting down? You might want to for this.

The Article states that anyone must pay a fee to share a hyperlink, regardless if it’s for personal or commercial use. That’s why it’s been dubbed the Link Tax.

Under Article 11, snippets are no longer safe. Since they often include the headline and a small paragraph from a link, they will be subjected to taxation or risk being considered copyright infringement.

Article 11 opens the door to:

  • Independent journalists and bloggers no longer having their content shared. Even a factual statement could be subjected to a link tax!
  • Fake news-outlets blooming their business. Since they are less likely to charge a fee for their links, as opposed to respected news publishers, their content could become more visible.
  • Start-ups and small outlets being significantly disadvantaged. It’s more likely for websites to pay the fees for an established news source.
  • The Berne Convention being ignored. Just FYI, that’s an international treaty that guarantees the right to quote news.

It doesn’t sound good so far. But don’t worry. It gets even worse with Article 13.

Deciphering Article 13

This is what Article 13 says:

Information society service providers that store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users shall, in cooperation with rightholders, take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightholders for the use of their works or other subject-matter or to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter identified by rightholders through the cooperation with the service providers. Those measures such as the use of effective content recognition technologies shall be appropriate and proportionate.

Ok, let’s translate all that legalese.

Basically, according to Article 13, both the platform and the individual sharing copyrighted material are responsible.

If you upload copyrighted material onto a website and it goes live, the owner can be sued, unless they purchase the license to the content in question.

Article 13 will, without a doubt, change the internet as Europe knows it. It’s all because:

  • Article 13 nudges to upload filters scanning content before being uploaded online. This is, in other words, mass surveillance of every user and post.
  • Under the premise of protecting copyright holders, Article 13 will limit freedom of expression online for independent content creators. This could be the end of memes, parodies, remixes, GIFs, and basically everything making the internet great.
  • Article 13 would make it hard for new digital platforms to thrive since complying to the copyright regulations takes a lot of funds.
  • Undoubtedly, there will be unintended victims. Community projects like Wikipedia and code hosting platforms like GitHub will also need to implement filters, even if they only accept free licensed content.

Things aren’t looking great.

How Did They Vote?

A protest in Berlin amassed 100,000 people.

And an online petition has reached over 5,000,000 signatures.

Academics, leading technologists, and UN human rights experts have all advised against it.

But in the face of all that, 338 MEPs in the European Parliament still voted to pass the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive without a single amendment. 283 voted against.

If you’re curious whether or not you should be super mad at your EU representatives, here’s a breakdown of the vote:

Image source: SaveYourInternet.eu

France were the biggest supporters in the final vote, with 62 of their 74 MEPs voting in favor of the bill.

That’s a whopping 84% of them.

President Macron is also widely expected to be one of the first leaders to write the directive into national law, which many in his administration see as a win for the French media establishment.

Denmark, Belgium and Spain also saw a high percentage of their MEPs support the new directive.

On the flip side, citizens from Poland, Germany, and Sweden will be happy to see that the majority of their MEPs back a free internet. Each of these countries seeing a majority vote against the introduction of Articles 11 and 13.

Disappointingly, 93 MEPs were not even present for the vote. A number that could have swung the outcome had they all attended and voted against the directive.

Should’ve. Would’ve. Could’ve.

New Barriers to Enter the Market

With EUCD, it’s not all about the big guys.

The law exempts:

  • smaller start-up companies that are less than three years old
  • have a turnover of less than ten million Euros
  • have less than five million unique visitors per month

But this doesn’t seem quite right.

Basically, a new social media platform would be granted a three-year window before having to comply with the same standards and rules as Google.

It would also be a three-year margin to either develop and finance their own filter or buy one from the bigger companies.

The introduction of Articles 11 and 13 could actually be very profitable for YouTube.

This will surely cause quite a discrepancy, empowering big tech companies even more and potentially making it difficult for new platforms to hit the European market.

Similar stories seem to be unfolding across the digital landscape, with the UK government’s Digital Economy Act due to be introduced this year.

The British legislation means that websites hosting pornographic material will be required to introduce age verification (AV) checks. The aim is to ensure people are over 18 before they view adult content online.

Several firms have developed AV solutions, and one of the more controversial among them is called AgeID.

The issue?

Well, it’s made by MindGeek. The parent company of PornHub, RedTube, and many other adult sites.

As well as being used across the MindGeek family of websites, the solution is due to be in use across thousands of other smaller websites.

There is an expectation that Content ID, the upload filter created by YouTube, will also see many smaller sites across the internet clamoring for its integration. Compliance with Articles 11 and 13 may force things to go this way, since not everyone has buckets of cash to throw at developing their own content filter solutions.

In that respect, the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive could actually be very profitable for the likes of YouTube.

How Will This Affect the Internet?

To prevent being held accountable under the EUCD, big social media platforms such as YouTube or Facebook have two options.

One would be to purchase licenses for all copyrighted material that could get uploaded onto their platform. This would include licenses for music, pictures, clips, and texts from renowned companies, but also from indie artists.

Sounds impossible?

Well, that’s because it is.

There’s no way to possibly predict what sort of content could get uploaded and from what source. Not to mention the fact that no company has the manpower to manually double-check every post every day to snoop out any copyright infringement.

YouTube, for example, has 300 hours of video content uploaded every minute, which makes it impossible to keep up.

Automating Censorship

If they can’t afford to buy licenses for all copyrighted material, companies can resort to implementing a filter that would scan and analyze everything that gets uploaded onto the platform.

Given the current state of technological advancements, upload filters seem to be the way to go for ensuring copyright.

This could turn into an enormous financial investment, but it seems to be the only reasonable way to keep up with the new laws.

Only if the software deems it compliant with Article 13, can a post go public.

This is clearly not your regular internet.

Music to the Ears of Copyright Holders

While social media platforms are skeptical, to say the least, about the new copyright laws, not all companies shake their head disapprovingly.

It’s no surprise that most broadcasting companies and the music industry are in favor of the EUCD policies. To them, it’s a guarantee that their content is no longer under the threat of online piracy and illegal distribution.

Back in 2018, 84 European media organizations publicly put pressure on the European Parliament to pass Article 13.

In 2019, the number increased and over 200 European copyright groups have banded together in support of the new legislation and sent an open letter.

The letter reads:

We, the undersigned organizations, representing authors, composers, writers, journalists, performers and others working in all artistic fields, news agencies, book, press, and music publishers, audiovisual, and independent music producers call on the European Parliament to adopt the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.

Well, at least we know who stands to profit from the EUCD.

A New Era for the Indie Artist

The times when broadcasting companies purchased copyright licenses from artists and ensured payment have been fading away.

Now it’s all about the on-demand culture in our digital era.

As a result, it’s more challenging to keep track of intellectual property and copyright infringement.

Article 13 also focuses on smaller artists and indie groups who, more often than not, have their content shared and distributed online without proper credits or remuneration for their work.

When in trouble, most indie content creators lack the proper funds to take legal actions. So, they usually have to rely on a platform to take down the copyrighted material.

But this is a process that can take days or even months.

The EUCD would like to stop this problem from even surfacing.

Filtering Software in Use Today

In its current form, the EUCD calls for stronger means of copyright protection.

But companies like Audible Magic already produce software for the likes of Facebook, Vimeo, and Dailymotion. Their purpose is to register content and automatically implements recognition filters to stop copyright infringement.

While Audible Magic is considered one of the best at automatic content recognition, it’s still far from being 100% accurate and effective.

YouTube also makes frequent use of Content ID.

Content ID is a digital fingerprinting system developed by Google. It checks every uploaded video against a database that has been submitted by content owners.

This helps YouTube to:

  • keep track of their material
  • block videos from being viewed
  • track viewership statistics
  • monetize on videos by running ads

When re-uploaded, the copyright owner will still benefit from proper remuneration from a video.

Even if just a few digital European companies are currently using upload filters, this will most likely turn into a reality for many more in the future.

A Lack of Transparency

Under Article 13, online service providers would most likely have to resort to using upload filters. Only by screening content such as music, movies, pictures or text can they ensure they’re not breaking the European law.

At first glance, this mainly concerns big companies like YouTube or Wikipedia.

But at large, it affects all online users because it reduces the freedom of expression. The amount of freely accessible digital content worldwide stands to be drastically diminished.

We can also expect a lack of transparency since most talks on how to avoid copyright infringements will happen behind closed doors.

Content from a Pixel Perspective

With the EUCD, things get tricky with copyright infringement and fair use.

You’re not breaking the law if you use something copyrighted for critique and satire. Also, short snippets can be means for:

  • critique
  • satire
  • pastiche
  • promotion

But there are gray areas that the critics of Article 13 are concerned about.

Maybe most media consumers can easily distinguish remixes, covers or satirical reinterpretations.

However, software might not be as good at recognizing the subtle nuances of sarcasm, irony or eulogy. After all, it looks at content from a pixel perspective.

To software, copyright infringement might end up being mostly indistinguishable from fair use.

There’s also the matter of derivative works, aka works that:

  • were adapted from an original piece
  • incorporate previously published material

This type of content could become falsely flagged as copyright infringement, even if it differs enough from the source material to be considered fair use content.

And all of this is scaring meme lovers and social commentators alike.

Spain’s Ridiculous Copyright Law

Article 11 just passed, but there are examples of such legislation backfiring.

Let’s think of Spain in 2014.

Back then, the Spanish government implemented its version of Article 11.

The idea was that any aggregator site linking to other sources must pay them. Even little snippets telling people what’s in a link came at a price.

Sites couldn’t even opt-out of getting such link payments.

Google’s reaction to this was to shut down Google News in Spain entirely.

In the end, 84 Spanish online newspapers experienced a massive decline in visitors.

Journalism Took a Hit from GDPR Too

It’s not just Spain who experienced how legislation can affect access to information.

Many European citizens lost access to US news outlets following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation regulations in May 2018.

GDPR regulates data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union and the European Economic Area. It also addresses the export of personal data outside these regions.

As a result of GDPR, every EU citizen can request any processor to disclose any data collected on them and require erasure at any time.

In response to the new rules, more than 1000 U.S. news outlets blocked traffic from Europe within two months, since they did not wish to comply with the GPDR legislation.

The world of journalism took yet another hit.

Academia Under Threat?

The EUCD states that academic freedom shall be respected.

But we know better than to believe in empty promises. Plus, there are already plenty of concerns. For example, how well can a machine differentiate between copyright infringements and legitimate content?

That’s why more than 200 academics from over 25 research centers, including the leading European institutes, have signed open letters opposing Articles 11 and 13.

Open research advocates say that facts and information in a scientific article must remain free from copyright.

Some researchers have even expressed concern that the proposed rule might force scientists to pay fees to publishers for references they include in their publications.

This is not some fantasy scenario. It already happened with the scholarly social network ResearchGate. Publishers have removed millions of papers from the site as a lawsuit was filed claiming widespread copyright infringement.

But matters get even worse.

As you can imagine, research and reference or source citing go hand in hand. Otherwise, as a scientist, you just end up with an unverifiable and untrustworthy piece of paper.

Well, with Article 11 in place, every link would come at a price.

It’s no wonder that, in this case, critics fear academia might become biased and possibly even misleading.

Articles 11 and 13 might also target online encyclopedias, general reference works and anything requiring a citation, basically.

It’s no wonder that even the world wide web inventor, Tim Berners, express concern about the proposed EUCD laws.

In 2018, he addressed the European Parliament saying that:

The impact of Article 13 would also fall heavily on ordinary users of Internet platforms—not only those who upload music or video (frequently in reliance upon copyright limitations and exceptions, that Article 13 ignores), but even those who contribute photos, text, or computer code to open collaboration platforms such as Wikipedia and GitHub.

But we all know the sad outcome already. Such concerns were dismissed, and the EUCD was passed.

Other Educational Content

There are many people on the internet who create informative content. Think of all the YouTubers making Did you know? or DIY videos.

They often use images found online or other videos from TV, much like your science teacher would in class.

But now, these videos might fall under the new legislation of EUCD.

Ben G Thomas is a YouTuber, and he’s from England. Since this is not the best combo at the moment, he mentioned that most of his videos relating to prehistoric life would most likely be taken down, as the channel does not own the copyright to the pictures used in the videos.

In all fairness, no one can just take a quick picture of a Saurophaganax these days, right?

Monitoring these kinds of videos would ultimately translate to limiting access to science news and projects.

And this is terrible.

False Copyright Infringement Flags

Supporters of the EUCD claim that nothing significant will change online. But opponents fear a censorship apparatus.

YouTube’s Content ID has been at the heart of controversy before for falsely flagging copyright violations.

To some extent, that’s understandable. Content ID is just a piece of software. One that can’t accurately filter out all parodies or fair use content yet.

One such thing happened in 2018.

A music theory professor, Dr. Ulrich Kaiser, used a free recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and received a copyright strike.

But under German law, the copyright term for recordings made before January 1, 1963, has expired. They have entered the public domain and can be used with no problems.

So, even if the copyright owner died a long time ago (RIP Beethoven) and the videos were promoted under education purposes, the upload filter harmed the distribution of cultural content.

That’s not very nice.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only time when art didn’t get a chance to be fairly distributed online.

The pianist James Thodes also experienced a similar situation when he recorded his performance of Bach in his living room.

The video was taken down.

But wait, it gets even worse.

In 2018, the Australian music technologist, Sebastian Tomczak, also know under his username “littlescale”, received 5 copyright strikes on a video.

But here’s the deal.

His video was just a 10-hour recording of white noise!

So yeah, copyright infringements were already taken very seriously, even before the EUCD.

Copyright claims can also be downright abusive

One famous example of this comes from the YouTuber TotalBiscuit.

He posted a critical review of the game Day One: Garry’s Incident. Wild Games, the developer company, didn’t take it lightly. They flagged the video for copyright reasons, causing it to be taken down.

Talk about freedom of speech…

Critics of the EUCD often refer to these types of cases when mentioning the unintended consequences of Article 13.

And we’re bound to see a lot more of them in the future.

Goodbye, Free Internet

A European internet regulated by Article 13 would be something quite hard to adjust to. It’s possible that memes, parodies, remixes, or critical opinions no longer have a place online.

*Shocked gasp*

But it’s not just this, and it gets way more serious.

If they can’t afford the development themselves, outsourcing will be the most likely solution for companies. And this is a troubling can of privacy worms.

If you’re trying to calm yourself down, don’t think of the fact that almost 80% of the total internet traffic is handled by American ISPs.

Somebody else already knows what the EU is doing online.

How to Get Around the Geo-Block

All in all, European creators will now face even greater scrutiny when it comes to the content they upload online.

A lot of what was previously acceptable could end up getting flagged as copyright infringement.

On top of that, if you are based within the EU’s jurisdiction, the content available to you may be at risk too.

YouTube has already said that if Articles 11 and 13 pass (which they have), it could be forced to block tons of content from being seen by EU residents.

To avoid being affected by this, you need to get a VPN.

With a virtual private network, you are essentially able to mask your IP and your activity online. It achieves this by replacing your IP with one from another country and fully encrypting your web traffic.

That way, nobody will be able to figure out your actual location or what content you’re viewing.

So, for example, if YouTube does make content from US creators unavailable in Europe, you can simply use your VPN to unblock Youtube and connect with a US-based server and watch all the Markiplier vids you want.

Getting around those pesky geo-restrictions can be pretty straight forward, but it’s still sad it got down to this.

Free internet, you will be missed!

 

How do you feel about Articles 11 & 13? What are your main concerns? Let me know in the comments section below.

What to Expect from Season 8 of Game of Thrones

And How to Stream It as Soon as It Airs

 

9.5/10 on IMDb.

9/10 on TV.com.

94% on Rotten Tomatoes.

What do these fabulous scores have in common?

They all belong to the hit drama Game of Thrones.

This spring, the cultural phenomenon is returning to our screens for an eighth and final season. And if the rumors are any true, it will be a TV experience like no other. With an ending to shatter all expectations.

In the words of the Dothraki, me nem nesa. Here’s what is it known.

Winter is finally coming

It’s been about a year and eight months since the Season 7 finale, and we’ve been anxiously waiting to discover the fate of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and who’ll get to sit atop the Iron Throne.

Here’s what the Game of Thrones trailers reveal about the highly anticipated final season:

Mark your calendars for Season 8 of Game of Thrones

The new season of GoT packs so much drama and action, that it’s rumored to be more like 6 movies than a TV show. And even the runtimes seem to confirm this.

Get ready to immerse yourself once again in the worlds of Westeros and Essos. These are the dates you should be saving for the final Game of Thrones episodes.

Episode
Date
Runtime
Episode 1
April 14, 2019
54 minutes
Episode 2
April 21, 2019
58 minutes
Episode 3
April 28, 2019
82 minutes
Episode 4
May 5, 2019
78 minutes
Episode 5
May 12, 2019
80 minutes
Episode 6
May 19, 2019
80 minutes

Each episode airs at 9:00 PM (ET/PT) on HBO.

How to watch Game of Thrones

If you want to rewatch Game of Thrones or if you’re new to the series, now’s the time to catch up on all the details.

To date, there are 7 fully transmitted seasons, with 67 episodes in total.

In light of recent revelations, it will be particularly impressive to hit replay on the second season.

It was shot right after Emilia Clarke survived severe brain surgery for an aneurysm and was in tremendous pain. You can read the remarkable story she penned for The New Yorker here.

To immerse yourself in the world of ASOIAF as soon as the new episodes are available on HBO in the States, you’ll need a VPN. So, we’ve put together this handy guide on how to watch Game of Thrones for you. Check it out also how our VPN can unblock all other streaming services and watch your favorite shows.

And, as always with this pop culture phenomenon, prepare to expect the unexpected.

A recap of Game of Thrones

It’s been almost 8 years since the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series hit the screens.

The most recent seasons don’t follow the books, and A LOT has happened.

So, before we dive into more details, maybe take a moment and brush up on your GoT knowledge.

And be warned. From here on, the night is long and full of spoilers.

Deaths per season

When you play a game of thrones, you win or you die. And throughout the first seven seasons, thousands have met their end. Here’s a breakdown of exactly how many lives have been lost so far:

Season
Number of deaths
1
59
2
130
3
87
4
181
5
246
6
540
7
1096

The most lethal killer?

Could it be John Snow with his heroic efforts in the battle on the frozen lake? (S7, E6)

Nope.

What about Rhaegal, one of the dragons that accompanied John during that same battle, wiping out hordes of wight walkers?

Not quite.

The only character capable of topping Rhaegal’s impressive kill total of 171: Cersei Lannister.

I mean, killing 198 people in the explosion at the Great Sept of Baelor is pretty ruthless. (S6, E10)

What to look forward to in Season 8

In Season 8, everyone is in serious jeopardy. Winter is coming, the White Walkers are approaching, the throne is as coveted as ever, and everything could change in the blink of an eye.

But season 8 is also all about girl power.

Sansa has become a leader in her own right. We’ve seen her grow, take on challenges, and become the master of her own fate. Will she be the new Queen in the North?

via GIPHY

Arya seems to be on her own difficult path to transformation. She’s leaving behind her innocence, but she still has unfinished business. And will she end up with Gendry, as the clues seem to suggest?

We’re eagerly waiting to find out.

via GIPHY

Oh, and Arya’s reunion with Jon Snow is guaranteed to be a real tear-jerker, since they’ve spent so much time apart.

via GIPHY

Cersei, as usual, is trapped in a web of her own making. Will she be queen after the snow melts? Or will Jaime have finally had enough and kill her, as some theories speculate?

via GIPHY

Finally, in this season, Brienne is treated like an equal. But what will her final faith be? Will she discover love for Tormund or stick with Jaime?

via GIPHY

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Missandei and Grey Worm finally accept their love for each other. But with all the impending doom, we can’t even know if they will survive.

via GIPHY

Tyrion seems to be trying to figure out who he really is in a storm of negotiations. Will Season 8 be the moment when we’ll have to say goodbye to our favorite Lannister sibling?

via GIPHY

And speaking of Lannister brothers, it seems like Jaime will finally decide to do what he believes is right.

via GIPHY

Keeping it in the realm of family, it looks like we’re also going to be getting a Clegane reunion. It’s time they square each other up and face their demons.

via GIPHY

As everyone seems to be coming together, tensions are high, and plot twists are to be expected. But by the beginning of this summer, we’ll know how it all ends.

via GIPHY

All eyes on Jon Snow & Dany

Remember that scene of Jon Snow and Dany making sweet, sweet love? Well, in Season 8, it will be the cause of a lot of torment.

The problem?

Incest.

Eh, but what’s a little incest in a show where even weddings involve stabbing?

Jon’s world will be turned upside down, as he’ll find out that yes, he’s a bastard; but he’s the bastard son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. The same one who’s Dany’s older brother.

Dany is Jon’s aunt.

To Jon, the news will be like a sledgehammer. Even though the world looked like it was about to end, he was finally in love and knew who he was.

But things are also complicated for Dany. She’s been working her entire life to get to the throne, knowing it’s hers. Now, she has to deal with the news that her nephew-lover is actually the rightful heir.

Here’s what D.B. Weiss, one of the show creators, said about this to TV Insider:

From a dramatic standpoint, [the truth about Dany and Jon] makes things interesting, because the story is no longer about who Jon’s parents are. It’s about what happens when Jon finds out.

Talk about a plot twist!

A battle like TV has never seen before

One of the most popular episodes of GoT is “Battle of the Bastards” in Seasons 6. It’s when Jon and Sansa face Ramsay Bolton on the fields of Winterfell.

The battle is one of the most impressive scenes in television. The 20-minute segment took 25 days to shoot.

But now, we’ve been promised something even bigger, with more impressive special effects and the highest level of quality.

The biggest battle of Game of Thrones will occur in Season 8, Episode 3.

Humans will finally face the White Walkers and living dragons will get a whiff of a dead dragon.

To get a feel of just how big this is going to be, you should know the inevitable clash took 55 nights to shoot in Belfast.

55!

And since this happens in the middle of the season, it leaves us with Episodes 4, 5, and 6 to tie loose ends in the story.

Anything could happen in Season 8

You’re going to need therapy. I think just the show ending is going to send all of the world into professional help

The cast of the show has been particularly tight-lipped about the final installment of the show.

Gwendoline Christie, aka Brienne of Tarth, warned us things will be intense.

And here’s Kit Harington beating around the season finale’s bush:

So, as you emotionally prepare yourself for the potential death of your favorite character, maybe keep in mind something Littlefinger once told Sansa: Everyone is your enemy. Everyone is your friend. Live that way and nothing will surprise you.

Keep up with the Game of Thrones cast

If you want to peek some more behind the scenes of GoT, the best way to do it is by turning to social media.

You’ll be in for treats just like this one:

Here are some of the social media accounts of the cast you should be following:

Actor
Twitter
Instagram
Carice van Houten
Jack Gleeson
Nope 🙁
Jerome Flynn
Nope 🙁
Nathalie Emmanuel
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Sibel Kekilli
Nope 🙁
Sophie Turner

If you’re after some of the people behind the show, here they are:

Name
Role
Twitter
David J. Peterson
Linguist for conlangs
D.B. Weiss
Producer
George R.R. Martin
Writer
Jane Espenson
Writer
Ramin Djawadi
Main composer

Bend the knee and support them all.

 

If you’ve been busy theory-crafting, give me your take on the final season of Game of Thrones in the comments section below. 👇

The Definitive Guide to the Digital Economy Act and the UK Porn Ban

 

On 15 July 2019, a new law will come into force across the United Kingdom. The Digital Economy Act 2017 will effectively result in the UK porn ban.

Austerity is inflicting unnecessary misery.

Brexit is a shambles, regardless of what you voted for.

And just when you thought the UK government couldn’t be less popular, they pull this rabbit (giggity) out of the hat.

The average age a person enjoys their sexual debut in the UK may be 16-17, but those even younger are able to readily access pornographic content online.

All they have to do is mistakenly search for ‘Mr. Hands’ instead of ‘Mr. Tickle’, and…

BOOM.

What has been seen, cannot be unseen.

(Do not search for Mr. Hands. You have been warned.)

This should not be allowed to happen, according to Doctor May and Snoop Moggy Mogg.

And so, as is the apparent wont of the Conservative Party, everyone must be made to suffer.

That’s right, the time has come to erect the age verification statute.

Why is the UK blocking adult sites? How is the ban going to work? And is it really a good idea?

Let’s find out. 👇

Why is the UK Banning Porn?

The block is an attempt to stop under 18s from gaining access to adult material online.

A 2015 poll motivated the legislation, after discovering some startling statistics relating to children aged 11-16 viewing pornography online.

Most notably, the survey found that 10% of 12 to 13-year-olds in the UK fear they are addicted to pornography.

One in five of the 700 young people surveyed also said they had seen adult images that had shocked or upset them.

The research was commissioned by the NSPCC, a national charity dedicated to the care of children.

Initially, the findings were widely reported and caused a moral panic. People were understandably horrified.

As a result, the Conservative Party promised to tackle the issue as part of their 2016 election campaign.

On their Facebook page, they announced:

 
Legislating to put online hard-core pornography behind effective age verification controls is an important part of our plan to back families and give children the best start in life.
 

This pledge, to block internet adult content web sites that did not have controls to prevent under 18s from looking at them, is what would eventually become the UK porn ban.

The Problem

Soon after the BBC led with the story, many other news outlets and publishers began to report on the story.

As you might imagine, the media was filled with outraged headlines about children being addicted to online pornography.

The problem?

Nobody had taken the time to actually question the findings.

At least not until Frankie Mullin at Vice decided to dig a little deeper. And what she found raised a few questions about the data behind the drama.

When a respected national charity publishes the results of an investigation that it has conducted, it’s usually accompanied by a full report of the study.

You might expect the report to disclose details such as the number of those surveyed, relevant demographic information, how they were vetted or prepared, and the conditions in which they participated; among many other factors that could influence their responses.

When dealing with very sensitive issues, such as children and pornography, you would also want a number of safeguards to be put in place.

The NSPCC had commissioned OnePoll to carry out the survey. This was problematic for a number of reasons.

As the Vice article points out, these should include pilot tests to gauge each child’s state of mind, face-to-face interviews, a self-completion section for sensitive questions to avoid being heard and influenced by parents, family members or the interviewer, detailed surveys about the children themselves and measures of mediating factors such as psychological vulnerability.

That’s what the London School of Economics did when they published research into the internet use of children in 2010.

But this was not the case here.

The 2015 study had been conducted by ‘creative market research’ group OnePoll. A firm which pays people to participate in questionnaires online.

OnePoll is better known for speedy, fun polls with questions about celebrities and your daily life. Some of their previous work includes “The World’s Coolest Man Bun” and “Wrong Side of the Bed: Myth or Fact.”

The survey in question here was comprised of just 11 multiple choice questions. Hardly an academic approach to an important issue that would ultimately impact a change in the law.

In order to take part in a OnePoll survey, you have to be signed up as a panelist on their website. You also have log on to check for new polls, as it doesn’t send out invitations. Unlike many other survey sites.

And perhaps most importantly of all, OnePoll’s terms and conditions of use state that you must be at least 16 years old to become a member.

What this means is that the children who engaged in the survey were at best doing so under parental instruction and supervision (which would obviously affect their answers), or at worst were adults masquerading as youngsters in order to get paid.

Professor Clarissa Smith, an expert on Sexual Cultures at the University of Sunderland, spoke with Vice at the time:

 
Why aren’t they being entirely transparent with the research? If this was really robust, they would be sending the report to everybody, they wouldn’t be hiding it. There’s absolutely no way an organization like [OnePoll] could conduct the kind of in-depth interviews you need to really engage with young people on pornography. I cannot conceive of a child answering honestly in front of a parent. The dimensions of parent-pleasing there are horrific. I wouldn’t want to sit and answer a questionnaire about porn in front of my dad.
 

The Second Study

Needless to say, the NSPCC took notice of the criticism.

As a result, the charity and the Children’s Commissioner for England ordered a second study to be undertaken by the University of Middlesex.

This time around, just over one thousand young people aged 11-16 from around the UK took part in the project, which consisted of:

  • 1001 participants completing an extensive online survey
  • 34 participants for an online discussion forum and four online focus groups to inform the design of a survey and identify emerging issues
  • 40 participants in six online focus groups to provide more in-depth information on elements of the online survey findings – segregated by both age and gender

A much more ethical approach also included safeguards for the children involved.

The key findings in the Middlesex study were:

  • 39% of 13-14 year olds wanted to copy the behavior they viewed
  • Over 75% of all respondents agreed that the material didn’t help them understand consent
Not quite the porn addiction epidemic that had been previously reported.

There are still issues, too, relating to the small sample size when compared to the number of under 18s living in the country. A figure that currently stands at over 11 million.

Particularly when you consider that the statistic involving 39% of 13-14 year olds isn’t based on all 1001 participants aged 11-16, but rather a smaller age group within the study.

Another important note is that section 1.3 of the study itself, on Policy Implications, states that more research is needed into young people’s viewing of adult videos. Specifically, in relation to the effects it may have on their development and relationships.

The lawmakers failed to take this into account.

A case of premature legislation, so to speak.

The Legislation

In 2017, the UK government passed the Digital Economy Act.

Under the legislation, the government aims to impose mandatory age verification controls on websites that publish pornographic content. These websites must begin employing tougher measures to make sure their content is not accessible to under 18s.

If an adult site is found to be failing in its new obligations, it will face a financial penalty of up to £250,000 (or 5 per cent of turnover) and potentially a complete website block.

Having set aside a pool of £10 million, it appears the UK government is bracing itself for a number of legal battles due to the introduction of the porn block. The money has been ring-fenced to help deal with the fallout.

The regulator, which is set to be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), will have the power to request relevant information from Internet Service Providers and order them to block certain websites.

Big social media sites like Twitter, where pornographic material can be freely posted, are not in line to be blocked.

Exceptions will be made for websites where porn makes up a third or less of the available material on the site – unless the site is marketed as a purveyor of adult material.

A confusing aspect for some who point out that if children are going to stumble across adult content anywhere online, it’s likely to be on social media websites that allow adult content to be posted.

Abbie Gillgan, of the NSPCC, believes the legislation doesn’t go far enough to protect children from material they might find on social media platforms.

It also isn’t clear what methods the BBFC will be employing to calculate this 33.33%, or on which side of the regulation sex blogs will fall.

As Pandora Blake points out in their article, many sex bloggers receive small payments from advertising adult sites, and niche websites in the industry often have very small audiences and profit margins.

Many of these websites could end up facing a block, or being driven out of business, if they are forced to implement age verification technologies that they may not be able to afford.

An explanation was offered alongside the publishing of the regulations, which states that the focus of the legislation is on adult websites. Not popular blogs and social media platforms, where pornographic material is a small part of the overall content.

But a lot of minor details remain unclear.

Some microblogging and social networking sites, like Tumblr, have already attempted to permanently ban adult content websites.

It didn’t work.

There could easily be similar complications for websites who are not porn publishers by nature, but who do peak over that 33.33% threshold for adult content.

On top of all that, it’s only “commercial providers” that will be targeted. Meaning all other adult material will remain untouched.

The law is now due to take effect on 15 July 2019. However, a recent poll of 1,769 UK citizens suggests that the majority of the population are not even aware that the block will be introduced.

76%

76% of the general population indicated that they were not aware of the policy, but 67% indicated that they supported the new legislation once they were given the details.

As might be expected, the people who said they have “never” watched porn* were the most likely to be unaware. But more surprisingly, over 50% of those who said they watched “every or most days” also had no idea about the changes.

*Yeah, right. We totally believe them. 😉

There are plenty of vocal critics, though, despite the support the YouGov poll suggests. I spoke to Sam Bowman, a board member of the Volteface Think Tank, and he says:

I think it’s bizarre – the government has claimed to be interested in privacy and has really pushed the tech giants on whether they’re giving people’s data the protection it needs. But simultaneously they’re introducing what, at a minimum, is an invasion of privacy, and at worst risks exposing people to one of the most damaging and embarrassing data breaches possible. Imagine if a company that has your porn viewing history AND your personal details attached to that had a data breach? For many people it’s the worst privacy violation imaginable – and it’s exactly what the government has legislated for!

How Will the UK Porn Block Work?

The big change in pornography is almost upon us.

AgeID is a controversial technology aiming to handle the age verification process for thousands of adult websites.

Coming after years of delays and several protests from the likes of Open Rights Group, Privacy International, Backlash UK, Index on Censorship and NO2ID.

Age verification rules are going to be introduced on all adult websites accessed from the UK.

“But what about the practical implementation of such an inherently complex policy?” I hear you ask.

Here’s how the system will work.

When you visit a site that publishes or hosts adult content, your UK IP address will be picked up.

You’ll be redirected to a clean landing page with no explicit imagery, prompting you to verify that you are over 18 years old before you can enter.

Implementing the technology behind this age verification system is down to the websites themselves, with different solutions likely to be in use across the industry.

Let’s cast a critical eye over 4 solutions that will be in play once the law takes effect:

AgeID

AgeID is a controversial solution by MindGeek.

Why the controversy?

Well, MindGeek just so happens to be the parent company behind Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn, and many other popular adult sites.

Many people are questioning the involvement of such an industry giant in the age verification process. There are dangers associated with placing so much data (and power) in the hands of a single company.

It’s safe to assume that AgeID will be in use across MindGeek’s own family of websites. And the solution’s website indicates that “thousands” of others are in line to be using the system.

As per the privacy policy on the company’s website, AgeID does collect a limited amount of personal information on you. This includes:

  • Your login ID, including associated email address and password
  • Your age status
  • Your IP address
  • Cookie data

In response to the criticisms, James Clark, Director of Communications at AgeID, explains AgeID’s approach to user privacy:

When a user registers an AgeID account using an email address and password, both are protected by a salted, one-way hash. This means that at no point does AgeID have a database of email addresses. AgeID does not know the identity or date of birth of its users, all it knows is whether a hashed account is over 18 or not. We look forward to being scrutinised by the BBFC and the auditors of their voluntary certification scheme. We expect a robust penetration test to be part of that process. We also require all our third-party age verification providers to submit to the voluntary scheme, ensuring end to end security.

PortesCard

MindGeek’s AgeID has also landed an exclusive partnership with OCL, the outfit behind the PortesCard. This is essentially voucher that will be sold at local shops around the country.

Purchasing a card will set you back £4.99 for a single device and £8.99 for multiple devices.

The card allows this type of sites to verify the age of users without any personal information being submitted.

You verify your age by showing a valid form of ID in person at a shop. Once you have the voucher, you can enter or scan the voucher code via the Portes app. This has to take place within 24 hours of obtaining it.

The app will then generate a virtual card, called a DIID, on your device. DIID’s represent your verified status, and don’t include any personal information.

The final step is to secure your DIID with a passcode. The Portes app on your device can then verify your 18+ status anonymously to any website compatible with the system.

From a privacy perspective, this seems like a big win at first glance. The company’s policies also state that it does not collect or share any personal information, other than the email addresses of those who sign up for its newsletter.

There are, however, other privacy issues when it comes to the physical purchasing of the PortesCard. But we’ll get to those later.

AgeChecked

An encouraging alternative could come in the form of AgeChecked, with verification here taking place via an app, using credit cards and driving licenses.

According to its website, the company claims that it won’t be storing any personal data collected during the verification process. It also claims not to be sharing information with any website operators or third parties.

The company’s privacy policy also states that personal information will not be used or shared with anyone, except for an email or messaging service for the purpose of contacting those who make an enquiry.

However, the technology was recently found to be easily cheated.

AgePass

Another solution claiming to be more trustworthy comes in the form of AV Secure’s AgePass.

The platform is built on blockchain technology, incorporating the associated security that comes with its encryption processes, and will not involve usernames or email addresses.

Proving your age with AgePass involves a mobile phone number, driving license number, credit and debit card details; or you can do so via an app.

Unlike AgeChecked, though, the privacy policy of AV Secure leaves a lot to be desired.

By using the company’s website or services from within the European Union, you consent to “the transfer of your sensitive information as well as your personal information across international boundaries.”

Collected and stored information includes:

  • Questions, queries or feedback you leave, including your email address if you contact AVSecure.com
  • Your IP address, and details of which version of web browser you used
  • Information on how you use the site, using cookies and page tagging techniques

As with AgeID and the PortesCard, there will also be an option to buy a card in a shop. Valid ID will need to be shown in order to verify your 18+ status. These Age Verification ‘Paysafe’ cards will cost £10 and be available for purchase in shops around the UK.

Data Privacy Dangers

Time to get into the sticky stuff.

No, not that sticky stuff. 🙄

Let’s face the truth here. Adult content sites are not the best when it comes to privacy and security.

After all, they’re generally more concerned with the quality of their T&As than their T&Cs.

And with pornography sites collecting more data than the likes of Netflix and Hulu, recent history suggests that any individual giving up personal information like name, address, date of birth, and credit card details has good reason to sweat.

Particularly if they’re giving that info to a company involved with sensitive material.

And unfortunately, this industry doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to data privacy.

Here’s the skinny on the key data breaches that have taken place in the online porn industry:

2012

Brazzers

Compromised data: Email addresses, usernames, and passwords.

Compromised accounts: 790,724

2012

YouPorn

Compromised data: Email addresses and passwords.

Compromised accounts: 1,327,567

2015

Ashley Madison

Compromised data: Real names, home addresses, search history, and credit card transaction records.

Compromised accounts: 39,000,000

2015

Adult Friend Finder

Compromised data: Usernames, email addresses, dates of birth, genders, geographic locations, IP addresses, races, relationship statuses, sexual orientations, and spoken languages.

Compromised accounts: 3,867,997

2015

Eroticy

Compromised data: Email addresses, IP addresses, names, passwords, payment histories, phone numbers, physical addresses, usernames, and website activity.

Compromised accounts: 1,370,175

2016

Naughty America

Compromised data: Dates of birth, email addresses, IP addresses, passwords, usernames, and website activity.

Compromised accounts: 1,398,630

2016

xHamster

Compromised data: Email addresses, passwords, and usernames.

Compromised accounts: 377,377

2018

High Tail Hall

Compromised data: Browser user agent details, dates of birth, email addresses, IP addresses, names, phone numbers, physical addresses, purchase records, usernames.

Compromised accounts: 411,755

2018

Wife Lovers

Compromised data: Email addresses, IP addresses, names, passwords, usernames.

Compromised accounts: 1,274,051

Do you really think there won’t be any further additions to that list? Especially with malicious actors now aware that adult sites operating in the UK are forced to keep highly valuable databases of personal info.

It’s the equivalent of a bank putting up a “vault this way” sign for robbers.

I spoke with Neil Brown of Decoded.Legal, a UK-based firm that specializes in tech, telecoms and internet law, and he agrees:

The regulation of pornography, including age verification, is nothing new. In the offline world, there are age restrictions on pornographic magazines, and for the purchase of pornographic videos. Viewed through this prism, the online rules are merely an extension of the offline world to the online world — what some are terming ‘parity’ of regulation. In practice, there is a much greater potential for harm associated with online age verification, because of the risk of creating databases of sensitive viewing habits — both lawful and unlawful. Lawful databases run the risk of being hacked or compromised. Fraudsters and identify thieves are likely to create ‘fake AV’ portals, to encourage people to submit their personal data, perhaps even their bank details, which they will then abuse.

And two of those breaches listed above took place within the MindGeek family of sites. Yes, the same MindGeek mentioned earlier. The one with its own AgeID solution.

It’s the parent company of many free websites, including Pornhub, RedTube, and the two sites compromised in 2012 – Brazzers and YouPorn.

Legal professionals and digital rights groups aren’t the only ones raising such concerns, either.

David Kaye, special rapporteur for the United Nations, wrote an Open Letter to the UK Government back in 2017, raising several concerns about this block. Even going as far as questioning the legality of the proposed framework in relation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR):

There is no doubt that the protection of children is a legitimate objective under international human rights law, including under article 19(3) of the ICCPR which establishes criteria for permissible restrictions to freedom of expression. The question that arises relates to the way in which the bill seeks to achieve to protect children. Does the proposed way achieve this legitimate objective and it is lawful under international human rights law, in particular with respect to the UK’s obligations under articles 17 and 19 of the ICCPR?

The UK Government responded, failing to address any of the points raised and expressing no intention to take these concerns on board. Instead claiming that it was “proud” to be implementing such “robust” measures.

Jerry Fishenden, former Chair of the Cabinet Office’s Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group, resigned in May 2017 citing how “advice and offers of help [were] repeatedly ignored by officials who should know better.” Also accusing the government of taking a “half-baked approach” to the security of personal data when formulating the Digital Economy Act.

Now all that’s if you’re looking to verify your age online.

Is Your Offline Privacy at Risk Too?

The purchasing of physical cards is another option available to you. But let’s not forget:

UK citizens are living in the age of surveillance.

Pat Walshe, a highly experienced data privacy consultant who is quite simply a must follow on Twitter, gave me his take:

Splitting identity (who you are) from status (what you are, such as age) through ‘anonymous’ face to face age verification requires a person to physically buy a voucher from a local shop. While this kind of service argues no personal data is captured and the voucher and device IDs are not matched or retained, it nonetheless points to a number of issues:
  1. It has a chilling effect on people’s right to consume legal content
  2. As with alcohol consumption, it won’t stop those under 18 from persuading or paying an adult to buy a voucher on their behalf
  3. Data may well bind the identity of a person with the voucher unless they pay cash. For example, in a retail environment there is likely to be CCTV footage of the person buying a voucher and a credit card linked to the purchase. These things say a lot about that purchase – the date, time and location, and the nature of the purchase. That data may also be used for commercial analysis.

Expressing further concerns, Pat also noted that this kind of move could lay the groundwork for the use of facial recognition technology within stores throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Regarding age estimation via the scanning of a face; while it is intended not to retain personal data, it may lead to the normalization of facial recognition in retail environments if the service is rolled out for purchases not requiring age verification. Indeed, AI bias and errors may restrict people from accessing services.

Conclusion

Like it or not, the UK porn block is coming soon.

Now that the July 15 date has been set, media attention on the issue will be ramping up as the probable mess approaches. And at this point there doesn’t seem like much can be done to stop the law from eventually taking effect.

One way to get around the intrusive measures is to hide your IP with a virtual private network service. This would essentially mask the fact that you’re browsing from a UK location by replacing your IP with one from another country.

The fact that your web traffic would be fully encrypted also means that nobody will be able to snoop on the… perfectly bland documentary videos you will obviously be searching for. 😉

When your hands aren’t too busy with that, it’s important to get them dirty in another way – by supporting the activists and campaigners out there fighting for your digital rights.

Or the UK could end up on a list like this before you know it.

What are your thoughts on this new regulation? Let me know in the comments below!

Data Mining Your Personal Information

Has Facebook Changed Since the Cambridge Analytica Scandal?

 

It’s been one year since Christopher Wylie came forward as a whistleblower. The revelations were shocking and the impact was widespread. Data mining of Facebook users’ personal information had influenced key political votes. Cue the ignition of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

If nothing else, the events that unfolded revealed that the business model and policies in place at Facebook allowed for such unethical data mining practices. And it had been going on for years.

Since then, it seems like not a day goes by without more news breaking about Facebook.

Either the company is breaching user trust by selling personal information in deals with 3rd parties, or it’s committing to questionable future plans.

It’s hardly surprising, though.

This is a company born out of controversy. If you’ve seen The Social Network movie, you know all about the Winklevoss brothers, Divya Narendra and Eduardo Saverin.

In 2009, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook won’t share people’s information except for with the people they’ve asked for it to be shared.

Here’s what happened.

The Winklevoss twins, along with Narendra, had the original idea for HarvardConnection, a social networking platform for Harvard students. Zuckerberg entered into a verbal contract with the twins to help them finish the site. A few months later, he registered TheFacebook.com instead.

Saverin, a founding partner who funded the initial servers to run the site, was deceptively forced out of the company. Zuckerberg managed this by diluting Saverin’s stake in the company from 30% to below 10% between June 2004 and January 2005.

Over the years, plenty more drama has hit the front door of 1 Hacker Way (that’s Facebook HQ). From an attempted smear against Google that backfired, to an open back door for NSA surveillance of user data.

Most recently, the New York Times reported that the social media giant is under criminal investigation. Federal prosecutors are looking into its data deals with other major technology companies.

Clearly, Facebook has not been having the best time lately.

And it all kicked off with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg declared at the time, Facebook suffered “a huge breach of trust”.

So, as we approach the one-year anniversary, what better time to look back and take stock of what has been an eventful year for Facebook?

Let’s get the party started. 🎉

Facebook Deceived You and Millions of Others. What Now?

This is what Mark Zuckerberg said after the Cambridge Analytica scandal:

We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
 

He promised that the company would investigate all third-party apps that had access to large amounts of data before 2014 (when Facebook prevented app developers accessing data from the friends of users).

He added that the site will ban any app developers that don’t comply with a full audit and inform their users if a violation is found.

The question is: Can you believe him? In fact, can you trust any of Zuckerberg’s statements?

During an interview in 2009, he serenely stated that: “We’re not going to share people’s information except for with the people they’ve asked for it to be shared.”

We all know the opposite has happened.

A Brief Timeline of Facebook’s 2018 Drama

02/20/18
Facebook’s role was revealed in the Russian troll scandal. Fake personas were created by 13 employees of Russia’s Internet Research Agency in order to provoke Americans to turn against each other in the buildup to the 2016 Presidential election.
03/12/18
The company is criticized by the United Nations for enabling the spread of fake news about Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. False rape claims were allowed to spread on the site, which led to nationwide riots that left nearly 200 dead and a further 140,000 without homes.
03/17/18
Cambridge Analytica scandal hits the headlines. The political data firm exploited the data of up to 87 million Facebook users. The information was used to influence key political events such as the 2016 American Presidential elections and the UK’s Brexit vote.
06/03/18
Facebook comes under fire for its data deals with device manufacturers like Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry. The New York Times broke the story about how data sharing partnerships were made with at least 60 companies that involved “deep access” to vast amounts of user data and personal information.
07/10/18
Facebook admits special data arrangements that gave companies extended access to users’ friends data despite officially cutting off access in 2015. One of the companies that received this special treatment was Russian internet giant Mail.ru, whose main investor had ties with President Vladimir Putin.
07/25/18
The company’s stock plummeted with a drop of 24% as Facebook predicted revenue growth would slow down until the end of 2019.
07/31/18
32 fake accounts are shut down, as well as pages with ties to the original batch of Russian trolls that were discovered.
08/21/18
A network of 652 fake accounts, groups and pages linked to Iranian state media are removed from the site.
08/28/18
Facebook’s internal values came under scrutiny after a leaked memo revealed the company’s “intolerant liberal culture.”
09/28/18
An attack on Facebook’s computer network exposed the personal information of nearly 50 million users. The breach exploited a feature of Facebook’s code and gained access to millions of accounts.
10/17/18
Facebook is hit with a class action lawsuit for inflating video metrics, something that had been revealed back in 2016. But the allegation said the company knew about the miscalculation for over a year before admitting it.
11/14/18
The New York Times publishes allegations that Facebook covered up the Russia scandal and worked with Definers Public Affairs, a public relations firm, in order to undermine anti-Facebook groups by linking them to George Soros.
12/14/18
A software bug exposed the photos of up to 6.8 million users, including pictures they had not even posted on the social media site. The announcement was ironically made one day after the site hosted a pop-up privacy experience called ‘It’s Your Facebook.’

The Effects of Political Advertising on Facebook

We’re not sure when it happened.

We’re not sure how it happened.

But at some point, it seems like we all just got used to the idea that we are targeted by online advertisers any time we visit a website.

The idea may have been creepy, weird, and kind of dystopian in the past. But now it’s here. It happens. It’s part of life. And we accept it.

As a result, it probably wasn’t that difficult for Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University, to lure around 270,000 people to take part in a survey.

An important note here is that before 2015, Facebook’s privacy rules allowed apps to collect data on the friends of users without their explicit consent.

That meant users who installed the survey app, shared information about both themselves and their friends. Kogan offered the collected data to Cambridge Analytica, which in turn used it to influence Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

Traditional messaging for a political campaign may be largely based on party affiliation alone. Perhaps with one or two other pieces of general demographic information.

What this data set allowed Cambridge Analytica to do was sell the idea of ‘psychographic modeling’ to the political sphere. This ends up with voters being targeted with extremely specific content that directly appeals to them or motivates a reaction from them.

With political advertising, we notice it more when we disagree with its message. Negative campaigning works because we tend to believe negative things about others. If Facebook apps harvest, via quizzes, psychographic profiles of users then their fears can be played too. […] How such a campaign might work through digital microtargeting is scary.

The survey was able to achieve this by using what’s known as the Ocean model, which aims to group personality traits into distinctions that hold across cultures and across time.

For example, a woman who describes herself as ‘quiet’ is likely to also describe herself as ‘shy’. If she agrees with that description this year, she’s probably going to agree with it next year too.

The group of people who describe themselves as ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’ is likely to become apparent no matter what language the test is taken in. And if a person says they are ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’, there are likely to be big differences between them and people who say they are ‘loud’ and ‘outgoing’.

I mean, we kind of knew that Facebook advertisers attempt to manipulate our thoughts.

But it’s just ads, right?

There’s no way that the constant stream of posts we see social media platforms would ever be able to influence our political views and affect our electoral decisions.

Well, um, yeah it kind of did.

Facebook’s Explanation: It’s Not A Bug, It’s A Feature

Sure. I mean, whatever you say, Zuck.

But, like:

The Cambridge Analytica breach is a known bug in two senses. Aleksandr Kogan … didn’t break into Facebook’s servers and steal data. He used the Facebook Graph API, … which allowed people to build apps that harvested data both from people who chose to use the app, and from their Facebook friends. As the media scholar Jonathan Albright put it: ‘… the vast majority of problems that have arisen as a result of this integration were meant to be features, not bugs.’

This Facebook ‘feature’ is closely linked to its privacy policy. Now be honest; did you read Facebook’s privacy policy before you made an account?

Help yourself to some free internet points if you did.

For those who got distracted or fell asleep after the first few sections, don’t worry. It’s totally understandable. Very few people have the time or patience to read a 4,519* word legal document.

*Yes, I counted.

Facebook’s Never-Ending Privacy Policy Changes

You know what else doesn’t help? The fact that by the time you finish reading the whole policy, Facebook has probably amended it again.

Over the years, the world’s favorite data mining company has continually changed its privacy policies. Sometimes giving users the illusion that they have more control over what they post on the platform.

Data privacy rules and practices are not set in stone at Facebook (and the same applies to many other companies). Since privacy policies are always changing, you always have to keep yourself updated.

Not to mention, you’ll also have to overcome the trust factor. A social media platform, with a business model based on selling user data, that constantly changes its mind about how your personal data is handled?

Sounds legit.

Here is just a short overview of the privacy policies changes that occurred before Aleksandr Kogan’s survey was launched:

2009

The good: Facebook allowed you to define the privacy of your content for each post.

The bad: Publicly available information could have been seen by all Facebook users with an active account.

2013

The good: If your friends post about your location or whom you’re with, you can ask Facebook to remove your name from those posts.

The bad: The option to stop anyone finding you on Facebook by searching your name (if you had it checked when you created an account) had been removed.

2014

The good: Facebook tried to make privacy policies clearer and gave you more details about why you’re seeing certain ads.

The bad: Facebook introduced the real-name policy, which didn’t allow you to create an account with a fake name or pseudonym.

And the problem with Facebook’s privacy policies weren’t just the constant changes, but their lack of clarity.

A trend that continues to this day.

In April 2018, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook rewrote its terms of service and data policies again. The company wanted to better explain what data it collects on users.

The policies include more details than previous versions, which is super nice and everything, but they also became much longer.

In 2010, I wrote a piece for The New York Times pointing out that Facebook’s privacy policy was so confusing that you had to navigate through 50 different settings with more than 170 options to make your information private. Back then, the company’s privacy statement was longer than the U.S. Constitution.

Now, Facebook is not the only platform or website with privacy policies that are hard to read or follow. However, as online surfers, we got used to this practice, and we also make a compromise each time we don’t have the time or patience to read a 2,000+ word privacy policy.

Ethan Zuckerman calls this a bargain:

[A bargain] in which people get content and services for free in exchange for having persuasive messages psychographically targeted to them, as the ‘original sin’ of the internet. It’s a dangerous and socially corrosive business model that puts internet users under constant surveillance and continually pulls our attention from the tasks we want to do online toward the people paying to hijack our attention. It’s a terrible model that survives only because we haven’t found another way to reliably support most internet content and services—including getting individuals to pay for the things they claim to value.

Online Manipulation Taken to the Next Level

Online surveillance is not a new thing. And we’ve been recently covering how seriously invasive it can become.

If you think about it, Facebook is the perfect tool to easily manipulate and monitor people as they willingly expose their life and activities online. Governments and companies are inevitably going to take advantage of this tool to fulfill their plans and maximize their profits.

It can’t be only political campaigners who used the likes of Cambridge Analytica to pickpocket our personal data; surely we’ll learn soon of the major corporations that similarly played on our online hopes and fears to sell us stuff. But we don’t have to have the full picture to know that we have to act. It could be regulation; it could be anti-trust legislation to break up those tech giants that act as virtual monopolies.

Facebook’s connection with Cambridge Analytica goes deeper too.

Ars Technica discovered that since 2015, many Android users who downloaded Facebook apps granted those apps permission to access their contacts, including call and message logs.

Of course, users had no idea about it. Facebook continued this practice until October 2017, when Google changed the way Androids store their data.

That didn’t stop Facebook from pursuing this strategy though.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal revealed that users who confess their most intimate secrets to apps on their smartphones are unwittingly feeding that data to Facebook.

Alarm bells also began to sound when Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to link together Whatsapp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. The glaring issue here is Facebook’s increased access to metadata as a result of this.

WhatsApp users require a telephone number to register, while Facebook users are asked to provide their true identities. By introducing cross-app messaging, Facebook will ultimately be even more effective at linking these identifiers in its pursuit of complete user profiles.

What Does Online Advertising on Facebook Imply?

Facebook, along with Google and Alibaba, are the three giants that will attract over 60 percent of global spending on digital advertising in 2019.

Marketers and advertisers run to these companies because they know their rate of success will be the highest possible. Not only can they reach billions of people around the world, but they know they can target the right audience with their advertisements.

Your data is the product that these companies sell. Protecting yourself from it being misused or stolen is one of the greatest challenges we face today.

Columnist James Ball makes the following analogy:

If data is the new oil, then the oil wells are in the hands of a few billionaires, and we’re being pumped through the pipes. To see the extent to which this is true, we need to look no further than the increase in American wealth held by the richest 0.1% (about 160,000 families) of US society. It has risen from 7% in 1978 to more than 20% today, according to Stanford University research, with the bulk of this increase happening in the dotcom era.

Facebook Has Altered Our Online Habits, and It’s Not Healthy

Facebook now has 2.3 billion monthly active users worldwide.

Research suggests that high levels of social media use can impact decision-making to a similar extent as drug or gambling addiction.

I’m going to make a wild guess here: that probably leads to a pretty big number of status updates, check-ins, likes, comments, and shares every day.

But why do we do it? What is it about Facebook that hooks so many people into regularly using the platform?

Well, cognitive science suggests that social media appeals to hard-wired mechanisms in the brain. These mechanisms help us to determine our social standing within groups.

Generally speaking, a person’s standing within a group is tied to their power (their control over resources) or their popularity (how well-liked they are). Social media very directly taps into this second category.

Not only does it allow you to keep up with the latest and greatest trends within the communities that matter most to you, but it also allows you to compete for likes and comments in order to establish your social standing online.

Have you ever posted a particularly funny joke? Maybe a really nice picture? It feels good when those likes flood in. Evolutionarily so, in fact. This is because of a little thing called dopamine.

Dopamine is a chemical released the brain that plays a super important role in motivating your behaviors. A small amount is released when you eat some delicious food. A slightly bigger amount is delivered when you have sex. You get a little hit after you exercise. And you also receive dopamine when you have successful social interactions.

It’s the brain’s way of rewarding you for beneficial behaviors in the hope that you repeat them. You want that good feeling again, right?

Social media apps play on this chemical structure in your brain.

There is even research that suggests a high level of Facebook use can lead to worse decision-making. It could have a comparable effect to drug or gambling addictions.

“With so many people around the world using social media, it’s critical for us to understand its use [and] there’s a dark side when people can’t pull themselves away. We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction.” said Kar Meshi, author of the paper.

It’s not healthy, folks.

How Much of What Facebook Did Is Legal?

Now, this is a sensitive topic. In just one week after the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged, Facebook has faced four lawsuits.

Interestingly, one of them came from a Facebook user who filed it on behalf of 50 million people whose data was used during the 2016 elections.

Remember: it’s on you to make use of what rights you have.

Mark Zuckerberg also testified in front of the American Congress in April last year.

Criminal investigations are underway regarding data deals Facebook has made with other tech companies. The deals in question were reported by the New York Times in June and December of last year.

Facebook gave multiple companies the ability to access user data long after it had stopped sharing data with most third-parties. The companies involved in such deals with Facebook include Netflix, Spotify, Microsoft, Sony, and Amazon.

Collecting people’s personal data for a different purpose than the one they gave their consent to is not only a trap; it is also not legal.

Hopefully, after everything the company has been through, Facebook will eventually begin to understand that.

The introduction of the GDPR means that EU citizens are now more protected, at least.

Based on the regulation, users have the right to request an account of the information a company has on them. That company would then have to provide a digital file containing the information at no cost to the user.

European users also have the right to erasure, which means they can withdraw consent at any time. This forces companies to get rid of all gathered data on them.

The state of California has also passed a similar law. It allows residents similar rights relating to the information that companies hold on them, including the rights to view and erase all data.

Regulation is one way to transfer some of the power away from global powers like Facebook, and back into the hands of the people whose data they exploit. But even if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that is covered by the GDPR or an equivalent regulation, remember one thing:

It’s still on you to make use of these new rights.

Your Privacy Is Your Responsibility

Facebook may try to change for the better. The company has publicly committed to a privacy-focused vision of the future.

However, past experience suggests that we should pay close attention to what Facebook actually does. Not what Mark Zuckerberg says.

There are countless examples of Zucky B saying one thing, only for Facebook to then do the exact opposite.

And with new scandals constantly coming to light, whether it’s user passwords being stored in plain text or 1.5 million email contacts uploaded without consent, it really does seem like you can’t trust Facebook these days.

Governments and organizations could (and probably should) work together to make technology companies and online tools safer for everyone. And this includes how personal data is harvested and exploited.

However, in this world, you simply cannot rely on others. If you want to properly take care of your online data, you must do it yourself.

Think twice about what you post and what data you submit online.

Be critical of sponsored posts and the ads you see.

Take care with how much time you spend on social media.

Or you can also decide to delete your Facebook account permanently.

 

Original post by Dana Vioreanu on 4 April 2018. Updated by Tom Bradbury.

Welcome to the Privacy Hub! What a Critical Time to Be Here.

Privacy is at a tipping point

There are at least 5 billion reasons why you should be worried about your digital privacy and security right now. This is how many data records were compromised in 2018 alone.

For the past years, data breaches have been on the rise. As a result, data is turning into gold.

But we’re more polarized than ever in our public debates about privacy issues.

For instance, Apple promotes the idea that “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” However, since almost every day marks the beginning of yet another privacy controversy, things are not rosy. Governments are trying to weaken the anonymity of encrypted communication. Countries are banning VPNs. And Facebook is still making headlines for all the wrong security reasons, almost one year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Privacy is a fundamental human right. And at CyberGhost VPN we’re fighting to protect it every single day.

Our educational initiative: The Privacy Hub

Today we’re launching The Privacy Hub, our latest educational initiative. It’s dedicated to you, your privacy and digital security. It’s time to tip the scale in your favor and learn how to keep your data away from all prying eyes.

Privacy is a fundamental right. Unfortunately, it’s being tarnished every single day. Governments, state organizations and corporate conglomerates take advantage of the ever increasing ignorance to exploit data you are (un)willingly generating and sharing on the internet. This Privacy Hub is an essential element in CyberGhost VPN’s mission to protect your right to an open internet and reclaim your right to privacy. All through education. We see education as a crucial tool for changing the world. Therefore, we’re going to show you how and why you need to have a digital life that’s fully under your control. Help us fight the privacy status quo. Change is needed, and you’re part of it!
Alin Vlad, Chief Marketing Officer, CyberGhost VPN

The digital world is full of mutating and multiplying threats. And they’re all aimed at your privacy and anonymity. As a result, we’re here to help you safely navigate the ever-changing world of privacy and cybersecurity.

The future is full of privacy challenges, but we’re in it together.

What you’ll find here

We aim to turn the Privacy Hub into your go-to place for reliable, high-quality educational resources all about why and how to best protect your privacy.

As a team, we’re not just dedicated to building the VPN your digital life needs. We know information is power; the exact kind of power you need. And you can get it right here.

The Privacy Hub is the place where you can learn about:

  • Privacy & security
  • Internet privacy
  • Online security
  • Digital freedom
  • Accessing restricted web content

In each of these areas, we’ll provide you with well-documented articles, guides, tutorials, and give you plenty of insights. We’ll let you know when anything big goes down. And to keep you updated, we’ll also throw in some CyberGhost VPN news.

You can already start reading. Here’s what’s waiting for you:

We really hope you’ll become a frequent reader of our Privacy Hub. We’ll be here, pushing fresh, new content for you. 😉

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

Are VPNs Legal in Your Country? Here Are 10 That Ban Them.

We live online. And that comes with a few expectations.

You expect to access whatever you want, whenever you want.

That one actor’s name who played Steve Urkel? You should know it in just a few seconds.

(It’s Jaleel, btw.)

And you expect to be able to do all this with at least a tiny bit of privacy so people won’t judge your bad taste in 90s sitcoms.

For most people in most places, that’s no problem. You can browse, research, stream, and download completely unencumbered.

There are 196 countries that completely support VPNs (despite what their aggressive governments are doing to circumvent them.)

However, that’s not the case with the ten countries listed below. Each takes an opposing view of online privacy. And each is doing everything they can to prevent you from anonymously Googling the entire Family Matters cast. (Monsters, right?)

Here are why some countries believe VPNs should be banned, along with the ten authoritarian regimes leading the charge to destroy your right to privacy.

Why Do Countries Ban VPNs?

Social media was the spark that lit the Arab Spring protests between 2010 and 2012.

This massive series of events saw oppressed young people rise up to challenge (and in some cases, overthrow) the governments of Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain.

All starting with a few tweets and online posts.

Shortly after these skirmishes, other Middle East countries started tightening the screws, banning VPN services outright in most cases.

The web offers hope, freedom, and organization to disenfranchised people all over the world.

And the anonymity that a VPN software provides can be used to circumvent internet censorship efforts and deepen dissension among oppressed populations.

Virtual Private Networks use a tunneling protocol, combined with bank-grade encryption, to create a lock-down on your internet activity, masking it from not just hackers, but even your ISP and government, too.

The best VPNs won’t log your data either, meaning that no court order could force them to produce exactly what their users were doing while connected.

To understand why these ten nations below ban VPNs, you first have to understand why they are considered such a threat.

1. China

The communist Chinese government is an internet censorship aficionado.

We’re talking expert-level connoisseur. Like, your insufferable wine-snob friend who can’t shut up about the tannins in their Cabernet. Like, Epic-level Dungeons and Dragons. (Had to Google that reference.)

In March of 2018, China raised its already high stakes by expanding censorship efforts to ban the use of VPNs that were not approved by the government.

What, exactly, does that mean?

Some VPNs are allowed to operate within China. However, these VPN providers must agree to a number of terms that the Chinese government requires.

One such provision is the logging of user activity, which flies directly in the face of what a VPN is supposed to do in the first place. If your activity is being monitored and stored by the VPN company, that’s no different than falling under the eyes of your ISP or the Chinese government.

Just before they enacted the ban into law, Zhang Feng, the Chief Engineer of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said, “We want to regulate VPNs which unlawfully conduct cross-border operational activities. Any foreign companies that want to set up a cross-border operation for private use will need to set up a dedicated line for that purpose. They will be able to lease such a line or network legally from the telecommunications import and export bureau.”

Essentially, you know, giving the government a backdoor to see exactly what VPN users are doing.

This action is in keeping with China’s long history of stifling the internet use of its 1.4 billion citizens.

The Great Firewall of China is a system that cuts off access to a number of blacklisted websites and limits the speed of cross-border traffic. Some of the sites blocked by The Great Firewall include:

  • Google
  • Gmail
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Wikipedia
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Dropbox
  • The New York Times

China consistently focuses on stifling dissenting voices and promoting loyalty to the regime. VPNs represent an all-too-convenient opportunity for dissenters to get around that.

One plan to promote government loyalty is China’s new social credit rating system. They are applying this to every citizen between now and 2020. The government has stated that this is meant to gauge the “trustworthiness” of every Chinese citizen. A poor score could keep you from purchasing an airline ticket, accessing certain websites, and organizing public events.

This system was launched in 2014 and has slowly been advancing ever since. Enrollment will be mandatory by 2020, according to the Chinese government. They keep track of a citizen’s score by looking into their financial records, social behavior, and government data.

Talk about a surveillance state.

Many see this as yet another way the Chinese government seeks to consolidate its power over citizens. By incentivizing a person’s trustworthiness, the government has effectively guaranteed mandatory loyalty (otherwise, those fundamental rights start getting stripped away).

VPNs were (emphasis on past tense) an effective way to circumvent government oversight and The Great Firewall for a long time. However, this new law changes that and imposes a penalty of up to $2,000 for unauthorized use, all but guaranteeing truly anonymous VPNs go bye-bye.

2. Russia

If banning VPNs was like Rocky (stick with me here for a second), China would be Apollo Creed while Russia would be like Rocky. See the irony?

No matter how many times Apollo ups the ante, Rocky just can’t be knocked down, matching him toe-to-toe in a battle of wills.

Apollo’s days are numbered, and Rocky will eventually come out on top as the World’s Undisputed Champion (of Censorship).

Bad metaphors aside, Russia’s exploits are terrifyingly effective.

Any cybersecurity conversation inevitably leads to a mention of Russia. From suspected hacking of the US presidential election of 2016 to accounts of spreading misinformation through social media sites, Russia has been alleged to be Ground Zero to many cyber threats circulating the globe.

That’s why it’s somewhat odd that Vladimir Putin’s government is so strict on its own citizens’ internet use.

Since November of 2017, the Kremlin has banned the use of VPNs, except for those approved by the government. This law was signed into creation by Putin himself and cited the spread of “extremist materials” and “unlawful content” as justification.

Russian ISPs play a key role in enforcing the ban, as they are ordered to block access to websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services.

Approved VPN companies receive a list of banned websites as identified by the Russian government. They are then required to act “within the legal framework.”

Russia created an internet blacklist in 2012 (following the Arab Spring) to block access to websites that promoted certain topics. Among these are drug abuse, suicide, and child pornography. While these intentions are seemingly noble on the surface, the US-based advocacy group Freedom House reports that the Russian government routinely uses it to silence platforms that criticize Putin’s regime.

Obviously, given their harsh censorship crackdown, the Russian government wants to limit the ability of its people to access blocked content through the use of a VPN. As such, they have some of the most specific penalties imposed on violators.

Any citizen caught using an unauthorized VPN service is subject to a fine of up to $5,100. VPN providers that are found to be in violation of Russian law can be fined up to $12,000. Enforcing this law has proved easier said than done, as the censor administration has no real ability to track unauthorized usage unless they’re spying directly on an individual.

3. Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a relative newcomer to the censorship game, blocking VPNs since only 2013. They allow the use of government-approved VPNs and impose harsh penalties on offenders.

It has been reported that the use of these government-sanctioned VPNs has led to the surveillance of private user data, thus defeating the entire point of having a VPN in the first place.

Iran blocked free access to VPNs just before their 2013 elections, citing a desire to “prosecute users who are violating state laws,” and “take offenders to national courts under the supervision of judiciary service.”

Iran has a history of internet oppression, blocking over half of the world’s top 500 websites. These include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

During the Arab Spring protests, the government would repeatedly throttle the internet speed of its citizens, hoping to frustrate them away from using the service.

Recently, the Iranian government blocked a number of social apps and cut off internet access to specific areas during a series of anti-government protests throughout 2017 and 2018.

Anyone caught using a VPN to get around this country’s harsh censorship laws could face up to a year in prison.

4. United Arab Emirates

This absolute monarchy blocked VPN use in 2012, during the Arab Spring. This ban is only in place for private individuals, however. Corporate entities and banks may continue to use VPNs with no restrictions (cause, you know, 💰💰💰).

They cite telecommunications violations as the main reason for the ban. UAE citizens were using VPNs to access Voice Over IP services like Skype, thus cutting out the major telecom companies.

They have blocked most VoIP services in the UAE, which proved problematic for the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants.

More than 85% of the people living in the UAE are not locals. They’re mostly expatriates who relied on VoIP services to communicate with family and business contacts in their country of origin.

Two state-sanctioned VoIP services were made available, but they (unsurprisingly) come at a high price point.

The UAE also blocks any Israeli domain sites, which is another reason that they don’t want their populace using a VPN.

Their anti-VPN law reads:

Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dhs 500,000 and not exceeding Dhs 2,000,000, or either of these two penalties.

In USD, those fines range from $136,130 to $544,521. Yikes.

5. Oman

The Sultanate of Oman blocks all VPNs except for those specifically sanctioned by the government, originally starting in 2010.

This law applies only to institutions. Private, personal use of a VPN is illegal. Any business entity can appeal to the government for VPN access, but it is at the discretion of the governing body whether or not they grant it.

Oman’s Telecom Regulation Authority were the authors of this law. They sought to stop Oman’s citizens from bypassing censorship efforts and utilizing VoIP services. But this edict does not stop at Oman’s locals. Visiting authorities and members of the press also fall under its jurisdiction.

Oman’s internet censorship efforts are very broad. They deny their people access to any pornographic content, anything depicting LGBTQ, anything concerning illegal drugs, and all content that is critical of the Islamic faith.

Their laws restrict free online expression and heavily encourage self-censorship.

Anyone caught attempting to work around these strict laws is subject to a fine of over $1,000.

6. Turkey

The Republic of Turkey has been restricting access to VPNs and the TOR network since 2016.

The government typically uses security-related justifications to issue crackdowns on internet services like VPNs and social media websites. In the case of VPNs, the country stated that it was restricting them in an effort to “fight terrorism.”

It should be noted that Turkey’s attempts at fighting terrorism have led to the arrest and imprisonment of many protestors and journalists over the years.

Turkey blocked many specific VPNs. Other VPNs still have some success working within Turkey’s borders, but it is risky. CyberGhost VPN works on mobile, but desktop apps can be hit or miss.

There is a WatchDog group within Turkey called Turkey Blocks which reports and maps censorship activities undertaken by the Turkish government in real time. According to them, the government has routinely blocked access to social media sites when they feature information on them that they don’t like.

That reportedly includes all Manchester United games due to the government’s stance that watching them play is about as exciting as watching paint dry. (*Citation pending.)

According to Turkey Blocks, the government has throttled speeds on sites like Twitter and Facebook, making them virtually unusable. They’ve also blocked access to instant messaging services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Telegram.

Turkey also blocked access to some Western sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia, as well as file sharing apps like Dropbox and Google Drive.

7. Iraq

The Republic of Iraq has issued a full ban on all VPNs since 2014. No individual or corporate entity may use them with zero exceptions.

The democratically-elected Iraqi government says that it bans the use of Virtual Private Networks to help fight back against the Islamic State terrorist organization. ISIS agents routinely use social media to manipulate the public with falsified propaganda. (Sound familiar?)

So, this government’s hesitation is somewhat justified. When terror threats are present, the Iraqi government occasionally blocks out internet access to certain parts of the country.

But sometimes, government officials take it too far, like a case in 2016 where the country temporarily shut down the entire internet to prevent sixth-grade students from cheating on exams. Yes, that happened.

This move was decried by many, including the United Nations who stressed the continued need for the “promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet.”

While ISIS is a continuous threat to the people of Iraq, it’s a shame that the government feels that it has to take away services like VPNs and internet features for the whole country in order to combat them.

8. Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan has fully banned VPN use since 2015, which is interesting considering I didn’t even know it existed before 2018.

The government took anonymous browsing away from its citizens to prevent the spread of foreign media.

Turkmenistan’s internet activity is overseen by only one government-controlled ISP, nicknamed Turkmenet. (Seems fitting.)

This is a heavily-censored service featuring strict filtering of viewpoints that oppose the Turkmen government. YouTube, for instance, has been blocked since 2009 to prevent the Turkmen people from blogging or getting information to the outside world. They also keep popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter out of the hands of the Turkmen people.

They see VPNs as a means through which citizens can overcome the espionage efforts undertaken by the government. The use of the internet is not widespread, and the ruling body closely monitors all activity.

The internet is barely ten years old in Turkmenistan. Individual access did not come to the country until 2008. The government keeps the rates extraordinarily high so that they restrict ‘commoners’ to browsing the web in internet cafes, which they can monitor more easily. A monthly internet subscription within Turkmenistan costs $213.16. The average monthly salary within the country is only $200.

We should also note that this cost covers speeds of 64 Kbits per second. So no Netflix & chill happening in Turkmenistan.

Anyone caught trying to use a VPN in Turkmenistan is fined an unnamed amount and summoned before the Ministry of National Security to have a “preventative conversation.” This is nothing more than an intimidation tactic used to frighten citizens into adherence to these strict laws.

9. Belarus

Belarus has been blocking VPN use entirely since 2015. The country blocks most foreign websites along with access to VPNs and the TOR network.

This ban came as a part of a procedure outlined by the Belarusian president to improve telecommunications throughout the country. One of the guidelines outlined within was the banning of all anonymity software.

What’s interesting to note is that the Belarusian constitution actually outlaws censorship. 🤷

However, that appears to be more for show, since they don’t actually practice it.

Belarus has many laws that punish expressions of free speech. For example, criticizing the Belarusian government while abroad carries a sentence of two years in prison. Meanwhile, insulting the Belarusian president can land a citizen in prison for five years!

Using a VPN is not as egregious of an offense as insulting the president, however. Anyone caught using such a service against the government’s wishes will have to pay an unnamed fine.

10. North Korea

It is difficult to get any kind of concrete facts about the People’s Republic of North Korea and how it governs internet activity. What is known for sure is that they have completely outlawed the use of Virtual Private Networks within the nation.

One interesting tidbit about the country’s VPN ban is that it only applies to locals. Tourists are allowed to use the internet freely within North Korea, and can even legally use a VPN service.

A much different reality is in place for the citizens of this closed-off nation, as North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un allows no foreign media to fall into the hands of the public.

Internet use in North Korea is not common, and most North Koreans have no actual concept of the internet. They mostly grant use of the internet to government officials, scientists, and elite students.

Even for those North Koreans who can use the internet, it is heavily monitored and restricted. They block websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and all South Korean news sites. That’s no surprise, as North Korea is notorious for controlling all media consumed by the public. All television, radio, and print materials are controlled by the state, with a heavy bias toward the glorification of North Korea and Kim Jong-un.

In 2006, the media group Reporters Without Borders declared North Korea the world’s worst internet black hole. This was during the reign of Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il.

It’s impossible to know exactly what would happen to a North Korean caught using a VPN. Reports vary, ranging from a civil fine to execution.

Fighting for Internet Freedom

A world without the internet is no world we want to be a part of.

Unfortunately, that unthinkable scenario is the reality for the people in these ten countries.

Virtual Private Network services, like CyberGhost VPN, exist to preserve our internet freedom. They mask our online activities from authoritarian regimes whose only goal is to tighten control over their people to keep themselves in power.

And most importantly, they exist to create a safe harbor for citizens looking to escape, speak out, or reveal the daily atrocities they experience to the rest of the world.

These Countries Have Outlawed Social Media

 

Experts believe that by 2019 there will be 2.77 billion people connected to social media, worldwide.

It is through services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat that we’re able to keep up with old friends, make new like-minded connections, and organize social events.

And creep on exes to see how miserable they are without us.

Social media has become so ingrained in our daily lives that we take it for granted. There’s a freedom in such open information and the ability to communicate so broadly. But social media is about more than just freedom. It’s a powerful tool that has destabilized oppressive governments and saved lives.

Now, imagine for a moment that all of that was suddenly taken away. Losing your right to free speech or the ability to communicate in chaotic times could isolate an entire population and threaten their lives.

Because that’s precisely what some governments around the world are looking to do by banning social media services within their borders.

While it may be difficult for the average American to wrap their mind around, there are people all over the world who have their data consumption, media, and internet access strictly monitored and censored by the government.

But how do they do this? Why? And what countries are blocking social media websites?

What the Telegram Backlash Can Teach You About Social Censorship

Telegram is the messaging platform created after Edward Snowden dropped his mixtape in 2013.

The former CIA operative released thousands of classified documents showcasing the US government’s massive espionage efforts both domestically and abroad.

After that, ‘privacy’ became cool overnight.

That’s where Telegram comes in. This service played to the public’s newly cemented distrust of governments.

While Telegram uses end-to-end encryption like most messaging apps, it allows messages to be sent anywhere in the world using an even more secure messaging-encryption protocol called MTPronto. This makes it one of the most secure and private methods of communication known to man.

It was created by Pavel Durov, a man once dubbed the Mark Zuckerberg of Russia.

Since then, many countries have come out against this service, and it was quickly banned by both Iran and China on the basis of national security. Russia blocked access to Telegram in 2018 when it refused to give the Federal Security Service backdoor access to its encryption keys. The Russian government then took its war against Telegram a step further, banning all VPN services that continued to provide access to it.

Despite the backlash it has gotten from these governments, Telegram stands firm in its convictions of giving users a platform that is safe from government oversight. Today it remains one of the most secure messaging systems on the planet.

How Does a Country Block All Social Media?

The internet is everywhere. We live in a wireless world. So how do these countries actively block certain websites?

There are a few different methods most oppressive nations use to block not only social media but any site that has a position that criticizes the national governmental regime or religion.

The simplest way to block a website for an entire country is to ask the internet service providers within that nation to block them. This can come in the form of a polite request for cooperation or, in some cases, a not so veiled strong-arming attempt.

It also isn’t that difficult when the government has direct control.

When the infrastructure of the internet is government owned, as it is in many oppressive nations, it ain’t hard to coerce ISPs into doing the government’s dirty work for them. Like in Russia, where the System of Operational-Investigatory Measures requires telecommunications companies to install “security” programs on their systems. This allows the government to spy on user activity without a warrant.

In countries that have not banned VPN use, this is fairly simple to get around. Using a VPN service, users can tunnel their signal to servers in another country, hide their IP and use foreign internet connections to unblock social media websites.

Unfortunately, a lot of the countries that ban social media also limit the use of VPNs specifically for that reason.

Governments can also block access to social sites through an autonomous system number. Each ISP has an ASN assigned to it. In order to use such a service to block access to a particular website, the government can create a smaller ASN with an IP range that includes the website it wants to block.

Routers will then go to the government’s version of that site rather than the actual website itself. The government essentially fools your router into thinking that an IP address is hosted in a different geographic area.

Technically speaking, it’s a lot easier to block social access for all than you’d think. But why? What’s the underlying motivation to hit these extremes?

Why Would a Country Censor Social Media?

Countries that censor social media websites are typically conservative authoritarian regimes.

Big surprise to no one.

Most of these nations seek to curb the voice of ‘dissenters’ who oppose their government. That includes anyone from other political parties, simple detractors, or even free press.

But another underlying issue often comes down to religion.

News flash again.

Many Islamic countries throughout the world seek to ban or censor messages that are anti-religion. Voices that rise up against the faith, or push ideals outside of its values, are silenced through blocking or censorship.

In the beginning, social media was not seen as a huge threat to these countries. That all changed when the “Arab Spring” occurred in 2010.

Between December 2010 and December 2012, a series of protests organized through social media saw young people rise up in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. The oppressive regimes of these nations were either shaken up or completely overthrown as a result of this movement.

The rest of the world bore witness to these events and a great many similar regimes panicked. A number of them cracked down immediately on internet use in their countries, hoping to stop the spread of these “radical” youth-based ideals from spreading into their lands.

Instead of calling it what it was — control, power, and riches — they cited religious conflict. And with that polarizing threat, they were able to block the flow of information to ensure people couldn’t gather and oppose them.

Many tried to use virtual private networks to circumvent government bans on not just social media but a number of websites.

But these regimes took a play out of the Evil Dude Playbook, turning around and just banning VPNs outright. Or, forcing them to give a ‘backdoor’ to the government so they could still access their data (like in China and Russia).

When the time came to start banning websites, social media were some of the first to go. This makes sense, as it was the launching platform for the Arab Spring.

Here are seven examples of how other countries have tightened the reins on social media in the last few years.

1. China

Where else would this story begin, but with China?

The of Tiger Woods of Censorship. Just when you thought he was done…

This communist nation has a long and storied history of throwing its weight around to basically force its citizens to live in 1980.

The Great Firewall of China was created for the explicit reason to keep blacklisted websites away from the eyes of its people. This list includes most social and streaming services we’ve all come to expect. They shut down the “big three” social channels as far back as 2009, more than a year before the Arab Spring. Prescient.

China also bans VPNs, except for those that conform to wishes of the government. The idea of using a VPN that logs information to turn over to the government at a moment’s notice defeats the entire purpose of using a VPN in the first place.

The social blocking coincided with the Xinjiang riots, which were carried out by the Uyghurs, China’s Muslim minority group. What started as a protest, changed into a series of violent attacks. Much like the Arab Spring, these activists used Facebook as part of their communication network to self-organize.

After the riots were quelled, the Chinese government sought to silence the means why which citizens could communicate and spread first-hand accounts about what transpired.

Banning social media helps keep China in a metaphorical bubble, keeping a lid on all political and national events, and allowing the Chinese government to control the spin on how events are relayed to the global public.

However, China does have a national social media site called Weibo, where locals are allowed to fraternize under the watchful eyes of the government. Localizing the country’s social media allowed China to monopolize its own burgeoning domestic tech industry.

There are some locations within China where Facebook is unblocked. It can be accessed throughout a few districts in Shanghai, for instance. It should also be noted that these services are completely unblocked in Hong Kong, which essentially governs itself.

As recently as September 2018, China has banned the Twitch game-streaming service, following a recent bump in the service’s popularity.

2. Turkey

Turkey & Twitter go way back.

No, that’s not the name of your new favorite farm-to-table hipster hangout.

We’re talkin’ literally, dating back to a vicious feud that kicked off in 2014.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, banned the service after audio recordings were shared along the platform that incriminated his government on allegations of corruption.

Tayyip claimed that this action was undertaken by his political enemies and represented an attempt to undermine his regime. His solution?

Take his ball and go home. Completely blocking access to Twitter.

I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.
Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s President

“I don’t care what the international community says,”  “Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”

Erdogan claimed that his enemies were abusing Twitter as a system and went as far as to vow to “wipe out Twitter,” during this 2014 incident. The ban only lasted for two weeks, until it was temporarily blocked again in 2015. This time, Facebook and YouTube were also shut down, too.

This was in an attempt to stop images from circulating of Mehmet Selim Kiraz, a state prosecutor who was being held hostage by far-left militants. Kiraz dies hours after the ban from bullet wounds that he received when security forces stormed the Istanbul courthouse where he was being held.

Since 2015, bans have been lifted, but Turkey continues to be a thorn in the side of Twitter. The country has submitted a large number of tweet removal requests. They had the highest number of requests in 2014, 2015, and 2016. According to Twitter, half of all tweet removal requests come out of Turkey.

3. Vietnam

The Vietnamese government is like a contestant on the Bachelor. They can’t quite decide how they feel about social media. Or any real-time, uncensored news for that matter.

It started in 2009 when the country blocked access to Facebook for one week. Though they never officially acknowledged the ban, it still took place as a way to keep citizens from criticizing the government.

Today, Vietnam continues randomly blocks access to social media sites, despite the government’s insistence that it does not censor social media. It went on to ban LinkedIn in June of 2016. The government attempted to deny the action, but this was later proven to be a lie.

4. Iran

The Iranian Presidential Election of 2009 kicked off a tailspin of online censorship.

The incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was running against three challengers. His closest rival was CCRF candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Ahmadinejad was declared the victor with 62% of the tallied votes, despite only about two-thirds of the total votes cast so far.

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with a large faction of Iranians. Massive protests from millions began to sprout up all throughout the country, once more using social media as a communication tool.

In response, the government banned Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to squash out dissenting ideas.

What’s interesting to note is that while the country censors social media for its people, the government maintains a social media presence.

For example, the president of Iran has a Twitter account and uses it for ‘administrative duties.’ He actually maintains two accounts, one in English and the other in Farsi where he tweets about foreign and domestic affairs.

The Iranian Grand Ayatollah is also active on social media, where he has shared more than 800 photos of himself speaking at events and meetings throughout the world. He has more than 183,000 followers.

Iran’s social media ban has since been lifted, but it uses what it calls “smart filtering” to block certain content on the Web. They censor content that they find objectionable, blocking access to anything that stands against the government or the Islamic faith.

While a permanent social media ban has not existed in Iran for some time, the government does periodically block access during periods of political upheaval. For example, they blocked access to Instagram and Telegram in 2017 and 2018 in an attempt to stop a series of protests.

In fact, they’ve gone as far as to block access to the internet completely for certain parts of the country during particularly tumultuous times, cutting off the flow of information completely.

5. Bangladesh

In 2015, the Bangladesh Supreme Court decided to uphold the death sentence of two convicted war criminals.

And the outcry ‘forced’ them to completely sever internet access for everyone.

When the internet came back, following this brief outage, a number of services remained blocked. This included social media sites like Facebook and popular messaging apps like WhatsApp.

At first, the government said that it was a mistake. Except, that wasn’t true.

They eventually amended their statement, citing safety concerns as to the reasoning for the block.

Facebook access was down for over a month. Twitter and several chat apps remained banned for a much longer period of time.

6. North Korea

North Korea censors everything.

Well, basically.

Their censorship extends far beyond the realm of social media. Most of the population is banned from using the internet at all, let alone Western social platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

Internet access is exclusively reserved for high ranking government officials, scientists, and elite students. But even these rare individuals have their access tightly monitored.

This oversight applies to North Korean officials stationed abroad, too. All internet connections that these people have access to are monitored by North Korean staff members.

The country aims to control all forms of media that its people consume, from radio to state-sponsored television, to a government-sanctioned intranet.

The government intranet can access very few websites, though. It blocks most Western sites and all South Korean sites. It is possible that there is a social media site made specifically for the North Korean people. Recent rumors would support this, but it’s impossible for us to know for sure.

In 2013, North Korea started allowing foreign visitors to access 3G mobile networks. So, visitors to North Korea can use the internet and social media at will to buffer a 30-second video over the course of three hours. But North Koreans themselves are still banned.

Most North Koreans have no real sense of what the internet truly is and what it can do.

VPNs are outlawed as well, with the penalties for their use remaining unclear. While some say violations are met with a simple fine, others have hinted that North Koreans caught using a VPN are put to death.

A life without the internet? Unimaginable.

What’s interesting about North Korea is that the people may not know that they are being oppressed. Since they never had true internet or social media, to begin with, they have no way to know what it is that they’re missing. That’s the sad reality of North Korean life.

7. Uganda

This African nation is testing a new fad that political analysts describe as dictatorship light.

The sitting president has been in power since 1986 but has just recently started dabbling in social media censorship.

Rather than ban these services outright, Uganda is trying to place a tax on social media apps.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The controversial tax would charge 200 Ugandan shillings (which equates to $0.05 in USD) per day for 60 different mobile apps. Among them are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Critics of the tax have accused the Ugandan president of trying to stifle to the voice of the poorest citizens and take away their right to free expression.

Internet use can sometimes be for educational purposes and research. However, using the internet to access social media for chatting, recreation, malice, subversion, inciting murder, is definitely a luxury.
Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s President

“The primary motivation behind the social media tax is to silence speech, to reduce the spaces where people can exchange information, and to really be able to control, with the recognition that online platforms have become the more commonly used way for sharing information,” said Joan Nyanyuki, the Amnesty International Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lengths.

Uganda justified the tax when it was first announced by saying that it was meant to discourage the “spread of gossip,” and to earn some revenue from the popularity of foreign-controlled apps. The proposed tax has not been received well by the public, but the Ugandan president defended it by referring to the use of social media as a luxury item. He compared it in a blog post to beer, tobacco, and perfume.

Is Social Media a Right?

A number of countries throughout the world have taken extraordinary steps to block access of their people to social media websites.

Doing so creates a censored environment free from the eyes of the rest of the world.

But in 2018, has social media become a become a basic human right? Is it intrinsically tied to personal freedoms? Will we see a day where everyone in the world is free to tweet?

That’s the expectation. That’s the hope. And that’s what we’re trying to make possible.

Internet Privacy in the Age of Surveillance

 

Pew Research Center reports that “91% of adults agree or strongly agree that consumers have lost control of how personal information is collected.”

That incredibly-high statistic must describe victims under authoritarian governments like China, Russia, or North Korea, right?

Wrong.

That study was about US citizens. You know, the land of the free.

91%
That’s the percentage of adults living in the US who agree that consumers have lost control of how personal information is collected and used by companies.

The sad truth is that governments of every shape and size are ramping up mass surveillance with little-to-no objection.

We live on the internet. But does that interconnection work in their favor, providing more opportunities to pierce our online privacy?

The simplest way to settle that score is to compare how the espionage efforts of the United States and their allies compare to other oppressive regimes.

How do we measure up to our closest friends and worst enemies? Let’s find out.

State Surveillance and the Right to Privacy in Foreign Countries

China

The Chinese government has an annual domestic security budget of more than $197 billion.

That’s 13% higher than their allocated budget for external defense.

What does this mean?

China is more concerned with threats coming from inside its borders than with those coming from external forces.

The Chinese government is notorious for limiting what websites its people can access through the use of what has come to be known as the Great Firewall of China. (Which also sounds like a new Michael Bay film.)

The Great Firewall blocks a large number of foreign websites, including everyday Western platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and also banned VPN providers. China also routinely blocks any content that contradicts the stance of its communist government.

Communists have thin skin, apparently.

You heard it here first.

China ups-the-spying ante by actively encouraging civilian-to-civilian surveillance. They utilize government-controlled whistleblower phone applications that allow citizens to report on any violations that they see. Buzzkill.

The state is also developing a social credit system which assigns a grade to each citizen based on the government’s assessment of their trustworthiness. No, this is not a joke.

It creates this ranking based on social behaviors, government data, and financial information. At the moment, this program is not nation-wide, but enrollment will be mandatory by 2020 for all of China’s 1.379 billion people.

This is nothing, though.

The Chinese government will also impose strict control over entire geographic areas. For example, in the region of Tibet, mobile phone and internet users must identify themselves by name.

The Chinese government cites an attempt to “curb the spread of detrimental information” as the primary catalyst behind this decision.

One group of Chinese citizens have security cameras installed within their homes.

Uh huh.

In response to this mandate, more than 100 Tibetans have chosen to self-immolate themselves (a fancy way for saying 🔥), while others opt to live completely “unplugged” to avoid government oversight.

These dissidents continue to demand more freedom, more rights, and the return of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who has been living in permanent exile since 1959.

In Xinjiang, the Chinese government forces the Uyghurs, a Muslim Turkic ethnic group, to install an application on their phone that monitors all of its content. The government is well known for its poor treatment of this group, going so far as to install security cameras in the homes of these citizens.

When the government feels that it has gathered sufficient evidence of wrongdoing on the part of an Uhgyur, they take them to re-education camps that work to change their political and religious beliefs, effectively erasing their identities.

Nope. Still not making this up.

Throughout the rest of the country, the Chinese government employs the use of more than 20 million security cameras to keep an eye on its citizens. It is the government’s goal to build a massive surveillance network spanning the entirety of China by 2020.

This network would use both public cameras and private ones to accomplish its goals.

The Chinese government proudly touts its success at using mass surveillance techniques to curb the spread of crime throughout the country.

While critics of the government have decried these practices, claiming that it is nothing more than a heavy-handed way to snuff out political foes.

You be the judge.

Russia

Can you believe that Russia spies on their own people?

Said no one ever.

The System of Operational-Investigatory Measures (SORM) is a division of the Russian government created, for the most part, to literally just spy on their own people.

Telecom companies throughout the country have been forced by SORM to install hardware designed by the Federal Security Service throughout its systems. This is done to monitor all metadata and content pertaining to communication throughout Russia.

ISPs who refuse to install SORM spying software can be poisoned get in serious legal trouble with the Russian government.

The government collects everything from email correspondence to web browsing activities, and telephone calls.

Take this as a friendly reminder to wipe that browser history from last night real quick.

The Federal Security Service, also known as the FSB, requires a post-collection court warrant to access the records of ordinary citizens, but they can begin surveillance efforts before they request the warrant.

It’s also important to note that the agency does not need a court order to comb through metadata. It is only necessary to access the collected communications information.

SORM has been a regular target of the European Court for Human Rights. This group has declared the Russian agency to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, but this has not halted domestic espionage in the least. They heard the case in 2015 before the European Convention in Zakharov v. Russia.

The international court unanimously agreed that Russia’s surveillance legislation was in stark violation of the convention. However, on that same day, the Russian government passed a law which allows them to overrule any rulings set down by an international court. They cited a need to “protect the interests of Russia” in the event that such orders contradicted the Russian constitution.

They’re nothing if not crafty.

The Russian government can access citizens’ communication records at any time without a court order.

The FSB saw to the upgrading of SORM equipment within Sochi before the start of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. This upgrade ensured that the government could capture all internet traffic within that location throughout the event when many foreign visitors and dignitaries were in attendance.

Another problematic surveillance law within Russia is what has come to be known as “Bloggers Law.” This 2014 law states that all bloggers who have more than 3,000 daily readers cannot be anonymous.

The government must confirm their identities. Any organization that provides a platform to these bloggers has to maintain six months of computer records. These platforms include Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype, among other heavy hitters.

As it turns out, 2014 was a rough year for internet surveillance, as that was the year in which the government also decreed that anyone connecting to a public wi-fi network had to do so using their official government ID. They then stored that information for up to six months.

There are no signs of things slowing down either.

In 2016 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Yarovaya Law into existence. This law requires telecom companies and ISPs throughout Russia to keep a record of all user communications for up to three years.

At any time, the government can demand access to these records without a court order.

And as recently as July 2018, the government demanded that all messaging, social media, and email services that use encryption to protect its data must give the government access on demand without a court order.

North Korea

If you like having any fun online, you should definitely not vacation in North Korea anytime soon.

That’s because every aspect of a North Korean’s existence is monitored by the oppressive government of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

For starters, outdoor microphones are used to monitor conversations on the street. Someone is always listening when you’re out in public.

Computers, for those lucky enough to have them, must be registered with the government and are subject to random monitoring by the authorities.

Most North Korean computers are only able to access a national intranet called the Kwangmyong. They restrict external sources of the internet to government officials, elite students, and military leaders.

Internet surveillance in North Korea extends beyond the country’s borders. Officials that are stationed abroad have their internet access monitored by staff members.

North Korea is another country that encourages its people to spy on other citizens. The country has even incentivized the process, rewarding informants with gifts.

Freedom is not one of them.

All telephone conversations in North Korea are subject to monitoring by the Ministry of Public Service, one of three major surveillance organizations within the government. The other two are the State Security Department and the Military Security Command.

United Kingdom

Ah, the UK.

Home of good football and terrible food.

It turns out, your late night run to that awful kebab shop down the street wasn’t quite as secretive as you thought.

Because despite being a relatively small area, they have over 1.5 million CCTV cameras that watch your every move.

That’s not even the worst part, though.

Many different legislations outline the legal framework for what the UK considers ‘lawful interception of communications data’ and how they store it.

This is all spelled out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000, and then crystallized in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act of 2014, which allows security services to access phone and internet records of private citizens.

The act swept through parliament at breakneck speed, drawing criticism from some. It cleared the lower chamber in just one day, which was described as “entirely improper” by Conservative MP David Davis.

The UK is a part of the Five Eyes Surveillance Alliance, which is an agreement between the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to pool their collective intelligence information.

These five nations agree to share espionage data collected, so if one government has information on you, it is accessible to the other four (and possibly ten more).

The UK government has the ability to intercept targeted communications. It can collect this data in bulk and store it. A judge is required to review any warrants signed by a minister as it pertains to the interception of information.

In 2016, the government passed the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016, which shone some light on the mass surveillance techniques it once kept secret. It also created an Investigatory Powers Commission that oversees the use of all investigations which utilize mass surveillance tactics.

This commission is made up of serving and former senior judges.

The 2016 act also gave police and intelligence agencies the right to engage in targeted equipment interference, which boils down to hacking into devices remotely to collect data.

When it’s a matter of a ‘foreign investigation,’ police can use bulk equipment interference.

The UK maintains a long list of authorities that are allowed to access internet connection records without first obtaining a warrant. These records show what websites a person visited, but not the particular pages they saw or the full browsing history.

The 2016 act mandated that all communication service providers keep this information for one year.

In 2019 the Digital Economy Act 2017 has been approved, sanctioning the beginning of the porn ban in UK.

Mass Surveillance in the United States

The September 11th terrorist attacks unfortunately opened the floodgates of mass surveillance in the US.

After that horrific event, the federal government began tracking the calls of hundreds of millions of Americans, spying on international calls, text messages, email correspondence, and web browsing activity.

All of this was made possible thanks to a number of key laws, including the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the Patriot Act, and Executive Order 12,333.

FISA passed through the US House of Representatives in 2008 with a vote of 293 to 129. It was momentarily delayed in the Senate thanks to a filibuster by Senators Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd.

Feingold stated that the bill threatened civil liberties, while Dodd argued against a provision that granted retroactive immunity, stating that it would undermine the rule of law.

Dodd requested that they strike the immunity provision, but the Senate soundly rejected him. The bill cleared the Senate with a vote of 69 to 28. It was subsequently signed into law by President George W. Bush on July 10, 2008.

Originally, FISA was set to expire in 2012, but the House and Senate voted to extend the law for another five years. That passed approval from President Barack Obama on December 30, 2012.

In January of 2018, the Senate approved another six-year extension from FISA Section 702, which gives intelligence organizations the right to monitor the communications of non-US citizens abroad.

This decision has come under fire as it can also be used to eavesdrop on the private communications of American citizens.

The phrase “warrantless wiretapping” became a household term in 2005, thanks to an article published by the New York Times. The piece shed light on the government’s actions, including the unwarranted spying on phone communications of American citizens. They supposedly discontinued the practice in 2007.

Yup. Suuuuuuuure.

Following the Times article, more than 40 Americans attempted to fight back against telecom companies, claiming that the Bush administration was illegally monitoring their calls and emails.

The largest single revelation regarding mass surveillance by the US government came from former CIA employee Edward Snowden who leaked classified information detailing the surveillance programs run by the NSA in 2013.

Snowden released over 1.7 million US intelligence files, and thousands from Australian and British agencies as well, which he obtained through the Five Eyes Surveillance Alliance.

Snowden’s revelation detailed an advanced spying program undertaken by the NSA that monitors internet and telephone conversations from over a billion people throughout the world.

We also learned that an automated program for suspicious keywords scans just about every email that is sent from the US overseas.

 
“They (the NSA) can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer. I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on that degree of privacy that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,’ would be aghast.”
Edward Snowden

You’d think after the Snowden leak that US intelligence agencies would lie low for a while.

Unfortunately, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Since then, the US has lightened the intensity of its data collection efforts. In 2015, the USA Freedom Act ended the bulk collection of phone metadata by the NSA but called for the retention of data by phone companies, which the government could obtain on a case by case basis if need be.

The frightening thing about US mass surveillance is how incredibly advanced it is.

I bet you laughed earlier at North Korea, rolling old school with a bunch of microphones everywhere.

Well, you’ll wish a junky Radio Shack mic was the worst thing to watch out for.

Speech to text programs allow computers to monitor phone correspondence instead of human beings, which allows for a far higher volume.

Facial recognition software can identify an individual through their facial features and their walking gait.

Magic Lantern and CIPV systems can be used to remotely monitor a person’s computer activity.

Like, real James Bond crap.

They even use social networks in their espionage efforts. Facebook alone has turned over the private information of almost 19,000 users to law enforcement.

This doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. By 2020, it is expected that there will be 300,000 unmanned drones deployed throughout the US for the purposes of surveillance.

Mass Surveillance on a City Level

Not all mass surveillance comes from large, shadowy government organizations.

The birth of “smart cities” throughout the world opens us up to more threats against our right to privacy.

In a smart city, governments can monitor citizens using a series of sensors. Data gathered there can then be transmitted and analyzed by law enforcement of government agencies. This leads to a rise in what’s known as predictive policing, wherein crime prevention information is analyzed to make a police force more effective.

Also, the cheesy plot to Minority Report.

Data collected within a smart city can have other uses as well, such as management of traffic issues, use of energy, and the reduction of waste products.

But all of this data transmission has people worried that “big brother” is getting a lot bigger.

City governments are continuing to use advanced technology to gather intel on citizens. Take an instance in Memphis TN, for example. The Memphis Police Department was creating fictitious social media accounts to spy on the whereabouts and private posts of noted Black Lives Matter activists.

The California DMV, without a doubt the least likely place for any tech innovation, is unveiling digital Driver’s Licenses and digital license plates. You couldn’t think of a better GPS to track your whereabouts.

And this is not a uniquely American issue, either.

Smart city advances in Amsterdam compile vast amounts of data. With more than 70 smart city projects collecting information throughout the city, the local government has a massive collection of data stored on its common IP infrastructure.

While this data is being used to improve city life, many are worried that it could also be a threat to their personal privacy. That’s why many Canadian citizens are opposing Google plans to build a smart city in Toronto.

But this question ultimately boils down to the trade-off.

The Big Question
Do the benefits of such advanced technology outweigh the potential for privacy invasion?

One example on US soil dates back to 1996 in Montgomery County, Maryland. At that time, they were looking to integrate their health and human services departments by sharing data between them. This would make the departments far more efficient, as patients would no longer have to waste time writing out the same information from scratch.

Despite privacy laws initially preventing them from sharing this data, they were eventually able to find a solution by basing their goals on four criteria to preserve the privacy of citizens.

  1. The use of shared data was for the purposes of treatment only.
  2. The use of data was limited to only what is necessary for treatment.
  3. Only specific people could access shared data.
  4. No one involved could be asked to violate their rules of professional ethics.

Whether or not that happens on a large scale is up for debate. And unfortunately, the signs aren’t encouraging.

Conclusion

Our interconnected world is both good and bad.

It only takes a few keystrokes to holler at ‘Ye.

But those same tweets are being gathered and compiled by just about every big corporation and government, every single day.

The only thing we do know about mass surveillance, based on where the last few years have been trending, is that it’s only going to get worse.

A lot worse.

When governments and corporations are actively working against you, doing everything in their power to steal your private data, you can only trust yourself.

And that starts by locking down your internet connection before they ever get a chance, and it is always recommended the use of a Virtual Private Network to protect your digital privacy.