Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls
Indian digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules will further undercut online privacy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 February 2021

Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls
  • Journalists warn new rules are attempt to regulate online news portals
  • Tech giants are obliged to assist law enforcement in cybercrime, “unlawful” cases

NEW DELHI: Indian journalists and digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules announced on Thursday will further undercut online privacy and freedom of expression in the country.
The new controls give the government more power to police content shared on social media and digital streaming platforms.
It means that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other services are more accountable to requests for removal of content and the identification of users who are deemed to have committed illegal acts by authorities.
Under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, social media platforms have to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order and assist law enforcers in probing cybersecurity-related incidents within 72 hours of receiving a request.
The new rules, which Indian Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described as a “soft-touch oversight” mechanism, come two weeks after Twitter denied a government order to remove content on the farmer protests in New Delhi from its platform.
“The way these rules have come out, they will have a negative impact on privacy, freedom of speech, on creativity and the freedom of the press in India,” Nikhil Pahwa of India’s top Internet policy website MediaNama told Arab News, adding that the new controls are “the worst series of regulations on the Internet.”
He said: “It is very regressive and to my mind it is not backed by law. The rules need to be challenged in court, and if they are, the Indian government will probably lose.”
Social media giants enjoy a large presence in India, with the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform being used by 530 million people, YouTube by 448 million, Facebook by 41 million, Instagram by 21 million and Twitter by 10.7 million, according to Indian government data.
But none of the platforms have given detailed comments on the new regulations.
“The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” Facebook said in a written response to a request for comment.
“We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizens’ fundamental rights and reinforces online freedoms,” Twitter said in a statement.
However, because the new rules have been introduced as changes to the IT Act, which also regulates online media, journalists fear that the changes are an attempt to regulate news portals.
“We do know that the government is rattled by the work the digital media space does. Whether the only intention of these rules is for the government to have an overarching control over us, we will know only in time,” said Dhanya Rajendran, editor of news portal News Minute and chairperson of Digipub Foundation of India, which represents digital media organizations.
“Yes, we do have our suspicions and we are concerned that this could be the government’s motive,” she told Arab News.
Delhi-based journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who writes for News Click, a popular news portal known for independent journalism that had its offices raided by police last week, said the new regulations are “the government’s strategy to not just curb dissenting voices, but also to clamp down or curb their activities.”
He added: “The whole purpose or agenda is to clamp down on digital news media, which has been showing greater resilience and playing the role of adversaries against the government in power.”

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’
Updated 16 April 2021

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’
  • Interior minister apologizes for the suspension which was part of a crackdown against a religious political party that held violent nationwide protests this week
  • Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department says it has initiated action against individuals who ‘used social media to incite violence’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has restored access to multiple social media apps which it temporarily blocked on security grounds on Friday, the country’s telecommunications authority said.

The suspension of social media services was part of a crackdown against a religious political party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), that held violent nationwide protests this week.

Pakistani internet users had difficulty accessing apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter starting on Friday morning.

“Access to social media applications have been restored,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has since apologized for the suspension of social media services.

“I as interior minister apologize that we blocked social media for three hours,” he said in a video statement.

“They (TLP) were planning to come out on the streets after Friday prayer. We will not do this in the future. They did not come out. It was all peaceful. Today those who wanted to spread chaos, anarchy and terrorism in the country through social media have been defeated.”

The internet blockade came as Pakistan said this week it would outlaw the TLP after the arrest of its leader, Saad Rizvi, on Monday sparked major nationwide protests.

“We have banned them (TLP), will go for their dissolution, freeze their bank accounts, cancel their passports, block their identity cards and will not allow terrorism in the country at any cost,” Ahmed said.

Rizvi and his supporters are calling on the government to expel the French ambassador over cartoons published in France depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Anti-French sentiment has been building for months in Pakistan since French President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for Charlie Hebdo’s right to republish the cartoons, deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

On Thursday, the French embassy in Pakistan advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country amid the violent anti-France protests.

Meanwhile, the country’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) said it had “initiated action against individuals who used social media to incite violence, spread hate and glorified the assaults on law enforcement personnel.”

According to the CTD statement: “A list of TLP-related social media accounts have been identified and a complaint lodged with the Federal Investigation Agency cybercrime wing.”

Earlier in the day, PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran told Arab News that the suspension of social media apps was “in order to maintain public order and safety.”

Internet, cable TV and phone service provider Nayatel, based in Islamabad, sent text messages to users saying: “On directions by PTA, below mentioned social media platforms have been blocked. Twitter. Facebook. WhatsApp. YouTube. TikTok. Telegram. Inconvenience is regretted.”

Usama Khilji, a director at the digital advocacy group Bolo Bhi, said the suspension was “against the constitution to suspend people’s access to information by blocking social media just because of a group and in the name of law and order.

“Also, this is not a wise security strategy to suspend the internet because this will not send protesters home. Instead, it will project a bad image of our country abroad,” he told Arab News.

Nighat Dad of the Digital Rights Foundation said: “What kind of national emergency are we dealing with that the government had to temporarily ban social media? These arbitrary decisions of blocking and banning have never done any good except opening up ways to blanket bans.”

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’
Updated 16 April 2021

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’
  • The Interior Ministry requested a “complete blocking” of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram
  • Political parties frequently use social media to rally supporters

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Friday ordered an hours-long shutdown of social media and instant messaging platforms after days of violent anti-France protests.
It comes a day after French nationals and companies in Pakistan were advised by their embassy to temporarily leave in the wake of rallies led by an extremist party that paralyzed large parts of the country and left two police officers dead.
In a notice to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the Interior Ministry requested a “complete blocking” of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram until the middle of the afternoon.
The PTA said it was to “maintain public order and safety.”
Political parties frequently use social media to rally supporters, and the announcement came just before Friday prayers, which usually draw huge crowds to mosques where firebrand sermons have in the past catalyzed protests.
Pakistan authorities have used strategic social media bans and cuts to mobile service in the past in an attempt to head off major protests.
Thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supporters spilled onto the streets in cities across the country on Monday after their leader was detained following his calls for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
More than 200 were arrested during days of clashes that followed, police sources told AFP.
“These past few days have been chaotic,” said Mariam Jamal, who works at a digital marketing company in Lahore.
“First we couldn’t get to work on time because of the traffic jams and road blocks, and now we can’t really do much because social media is blocked.”
The social media ban affected many Pakistanis already suffering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar, Eqtedar Ahmad told AFP his work as a doctor at a private hospital had been disrupted.
“We use WhatsApp for routine business — including sending lab reports to patients — and this current suspension has affected us severely,” he said.
Wamiq Haris, a 30-year-old who depends on social media to run his food delivery service in Karachi, the country’s largest city and economic hub, said orders had plummeted.
“Every day we face a new challenge for our business,” he told AFP.

Protests had been cleared from most cities by Friday, but in Lahore hundreds of TLP supporters continued a sit-in at a religious school — and party headquarters — despite the circulation of a handwritten plea from leader Saad Rizvi to leave the streets.
Anti-French sentiment has been festering for months in Pakistan since President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind a satirical magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad — an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has struggled to bring TLP to heel over the years, but this week announced an outright ban against the group, effectively labelling it an extremist outfit.
The TLP is notorious for holding days-long, violent road protests over blasphemy issues, causing major disruption to the country.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty to be used on anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.
Francophobia erupted in autumn last year when the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Macron’s subsequent defense of free speech triggered anger across the Muslim world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighboring Iran and other Muslim countries flooding the streets and organizing anti-French boycotts.
At the time, TLP supporters brought the capital Islamabad to a standstill.
Extra security personnel have been deployed to the French embassy — inside a guarded diplomatic enclave closed to the public — and shipping containers were placed as fortifications around its outer wall.

Visit the Pakistan edition of Arab News for more details.

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage
Updated 15 April 2021

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage
  • According to BBC's fortnightly complaints bulletin, 109,741 complaints over the coverage of Philip's death were made by Thursday
  • BBC said it "acknowledged some viewers were unhappy" over the impact to planned schedules

LONDON: BBC coverage following the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip led to nearly 110,000 complaints about canceled programs and cleared schedules, the corporation said on Thursday.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s death at the age of 99 last Friday prompted the publicly-funded broadcaster to scrap its entire schedule on its main BBC One and BBC Two television channels to simultaneously broadcast the same coverage of his life.
Popular soap opera “EastEnders” and the cooking competition “Masterchef” were canceled and the BBC Four channel was taken completely off air.
BBC radio stations also changed their programming following the prince’s death, either broadcasting news programs or abruptly switching to play the national anthem when the news was announced.
According to the BBC’s fortnightly complaints bulletin, 109,741 complaints over the coverage of Philip’s death were made by Thursday.
Of those, 104,010 were made in the first three days after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
Many of the complaints were made via an online form on the BBC website.
In response, the BBC said in a statement it “acknowledged some viewers were unhappy” over the impact to planned schedules.
“We do not make such changes without careful consideration and the decisions made reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance,” it added.
The amount of criticism over the coverage is believed to be the largest ever received by the BBC.
But a spokesman told AFP: “We are proud of our coverage and the role we play during moments of national significance.”
The broadcaster reported it had received 63,000 complaints in 2005 when it broadcast the controversial musical “Jerry Springer: The Opera” about the 1990s US talk-show host.
The BBC has received criticism for its inclusion of Prince Andrew in its coverage because of the Queen and Philip’s second son’s association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the tone of its programming.
Other British networks also changed their schedules following Philip’s death.
Commercial Channel 4 came under fire for largely keeping to its schedule, with the exception of airing some documentaries about the duke’s life.
Viewing figures across the channels fell because of the wall-to-wall coverage.
“Gogglebox,” a television program about people watching television programs, was the most-watched show of the day last Friday.

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data
Updated 16 April 2021

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data
  • Google is considering an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court
  • Competition commission seeking court orders and financial penalties against company

CANBERRA: Google broke Australian law by misleading users about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices, a judge found Friday.
The Federal Court decision was a partial win for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the nation’s fair trade watchdog, which has been prosecuting Google for broader alleged breaches of consumer law since October 2019.
Justice Thomas Thawley found that Google misled Android mobile device users about personal location data collected between January 2017 and December 2018.
“This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers,” Commission Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.
“We are extremely pleased with the outcome in this world-first case,” he added.
Google is considering an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court.
“The court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims,” a Google statement said.
“We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal,” Google added.
The judge ruled that when users created a new Google account during the initial set-up process of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the “Location History” setting was the only Google account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location.
But another Google account setting titled “Web & App Activity” also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.
The judge also found that when users later accessed the “Location History” setting on their Android device during the same time period to turn that setting off, they were also misled because Google did not inform them that by leaving the “Web & App Activity” setting switched on, Google would continue to collect, store and use their personally identifiable location data.
Similarly, between March 2017 and Nov. 29, 2018, when users later accessed the “Web & App Activity” setting on their Android device, they were misled because Google did not inform them that the setting was relevant to the collection of personal location data.
Google said the digital platform provides “robust controls for location data and are always looking to do more.”
The commission is seeking court orders and financial penalties against Google to be determined later.
The Australia Institute Center for Responsible Technology, a Canberra-based think tank, said the case “highlights the complexity of Big Tech terms and conditions.”
“The reality is most people have little to no idea on how much of their data is being used by Google and online platforms,” the Center’s Director Peter Lewis said in a statement.
Lewis said reading most terms and conditions takes an average of 74 minutes and requires a university education, according to the institute’s research, and more comprehensive consumer data protection was needed.

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan
Updated 15 April 2021

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat launches new shows for Ramadan
  • New line-up of 60 shows on Discover covers a variety of topics including comedy, lifestyle and cooking

DUBAI: Snapchat has announced its new slate of shows for Ramadan 2021, which will bring more content from Discover partners to the app.

Snapchatters will have access to 60 new shows curated in partnership with broadcasters, digital publishers, and creators in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Discover partners have created shows such as “Robe’3 Nejmeh” from Rotana Group; “Azma bel 3azba” from Dubai Media; and creators’ shows including “Noor Stars” and “Banen Stars” from Diwan Group; “La Tagoolha” from the Saudi Broadcasting Authority; “Lovin Saudi Ramadan Eats” from Augustus; “Anasala Family” from Alfan; and “Cosmo Mukbang” from ITP.

“People are spending more time on social and communication platforms nowadays, and are becoming more engaged with mobile content. A large number of our audience in the region are using Snapchat every day,” said Fahad Alkhamisi, Head of Digital Media at Saudi Broadcasting Authority.

“Therefore, we are leveraging our successful partnership with Snapchat to provide them with new and exciting content this Ramadan, and we look forward to extending this collaboration that will give them an enjoyable screening experience in the future.”

Snapchatters in the region claim that they will spend 30 percent more time on their social and communication apps this Ramadan compared to last year, leading to these platforms creating more content for the holy month.

Snapchat currently has a monthly addressable reach of 67 million in MENA and 18 million in Saudi Arabia alone.

In Ramadan 2020, Snapchatters in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, spent 77 minutes daily on the app on average. In Saudi Arabia, more people watch content on Discover than on any of the other top 10 TV channels.

“People want to consume content on their mobile phones and at their own convenience. Snapchat’s Discover is the new digital majlis for Snapchatters during Ramadan and is the natural evolution of the story format, with shows that are made by the region’s top media publishers, editorially selected, brand-safe, and made just for Snapchat,” said Sara Abu Zahra, head of Strategic Media Partnerships, MENA & India, at Snap.