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.”


Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?
Updated 17 September 2021

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?
  • YouGov’s latest research sheds light on streamers’ content consumption and habits 

DUBAI: The last two years have seen an unprecedented rise in the popularity of streaming services, and Saudi Arabia is no exception.

The latest research from analytics firm YouGov shows that Generation Z audiences are the most regular users of streaming services in KSA, with 72 percent claiming to use any catch-up or streaming service on a regular basis.

The study found that there is an inverse relationship between age and on-demand streaming, which means that younger audiences stream the most content. After Gen Z, millennials are the most regular consumers of streaming services (69 percent), followed by Generation X (61 percent) and baby boomers (45 percent).

Despite the growth of regional streaming services, Netflix appears to be the most popular streaming service in Saudi Arabia, with 37 percent of residents using it.

The global streaming giant is widely favored by younger audiences. Compared to the overall online population in the country, nearly three in five (59 percent) Gen Z streamers claim to use Netflix, followed by 56 percent of millennials.

Consumption of other streaming platforms is also much higher among these young adults. Compared to the overall online population, millennial streamers are heavier consumers of Amazon Prime (19 percent) and Shahid (24 percent).

When looking closely at the attitudes of streamers, the study found that streaming has massively affected how these audiences consume TV.

Fifty percent of Gen Z streamers and 46 percent of millennials agree with the statement, “Live TV is a thing of the past,” while 48 percent of millennial streamers said that streaming services have changed TV watching for them, versus 43 percent of Gen Z streamers. The latter, however, have been raised in the digital age, with streaming more native to them than TV watching.

Nearly half of Gen Z streamers (49 percent) claim people reach out to them regarding suggestions for new music, movies and TV shows. When it comes to attitudes toward watching films, nearly a quarter of Gen Z streamers say they prefer to watch movies via pay-to-own or pay-to-view streaming services, even though watching films in cinemas or theatres is their top preference.

It is fairly evident that the younger generation is used to having media “on-demand,” suggested the report, presenting a huge opportunity for streaming services in the Kingdom.


Reporter refused entry to Lebanon’s presidential palace to cover cabinet meeting

Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
Updated 17 September 2021

Reporter refused entry to Lebanon’s presidential palace to cover cabinet meeting

Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
  • Layal Saad said she was barred because of a previous incident in which she was verbally abused for referring to the president as ‘Aoun’ and not ‘his excellency President Aoun’
  • Al-Jadeed TV said it will take legal action because Baabda Palace is ‘the people’s palace’ and ‘the law doesn’t prohibit any citizen from entering any public facility’

BEIRUT: A Lebanese journalist was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover a cabinet meeting on Thursday because of an incident that happened there last month.

In a live report, Al-Jadeed TV reporter Layal Saad said she was told by a representative of the palace’s press office that she could not enter the building. She added that she “was not allowed to do her journalistic duty” because of the previous confrontation.

Saad, who has covered events at the palace for five years, was reportedly subjected to verbal abuse by a security officer on Aug. 21. At the time she said that while the podium was being prepared for speeches, the officer overheard her asking colleagues, in reference to President Michel Aoun, ‘Is Aoun giving a speech?’ The man came up to her, she added, stood very close and spoke to her angrily and abusively, telling her: “You address him by saying ‘his excellency the president, General Michel Aoun,’ and not just ‘Aoun.’”

Saad said this incident was the reason why she was denied entry to the palace on Thursday. In a live broadcast she said: “Some of the palace’s staff and presidential advisors called me after August’s incident and apologized, saying it was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.”

She added that was told the officer should not have spoken to her because only press office staff should deal with journalists.

“The employee (who refused to let Saad into the palace on Thursday) told me that the previous incident remains unresolved,” she said. “The president’s media advisor, Rafic Chlala, is the one who asked him to notify me that I could not enter the palace to cover the meeting … they didn’t want anyone from the security staff to speak to me.”

Saad added that she was told to ask her employers to send another correspondent.

Al-Jadeed TV responded to the palace by firmly stating it “will not assign any colleague to replace Layal Saad. It is not a matter of alternatives anymore but rather it has become about the core of freedoms and the transformation of Baabda palace into a tool of suppressing words and existence.”

Saying “Layal Saad or nobody,” it added: “Facing this ban, the channel finds itself compelled to file a lawsuit against the pertinent authorities at Baabda Palace, which is the people’s palace. The law doesn’t prohibit any citizen from entering any public facility.”

Saad told Arab News that palace staff must not be allowed to treat the building as “their own private house because it’s a public facility and any citizen can enter.”

She added that although she is not personally taking legal action against palace authorities, her employers intend to.

“The lawsuit will be lodged against any staff and advisors involved in issuing the ban and I am not sure if that includes the presidency … that’s up to the lawyers to talk about it,” she said.

The president’s press office said the management of Al-Jadeed had been asked to replace Saad with another reporter, and that other journalists had been assigned to cover the palace recently without any problems.

It added that Al-Jadeed was reminded that the same restriction continued to apply as a result of the incident in August, but this time the channel sent Saad anyway to cover the cabinet session and she was asked to leave.


Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities
  • The move could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements

LONDON: Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities on its platform, using the same strategy its security teams take against campaigns using fake accounts, the company told Reuters.
The new approach, reported here for the first time, uses the tactics usually taken by Facebook’s security teams for wholesale shutdowns of networks engaged in influence operations that use false accounts to manipulate public debate, such as Russian troll farms.
It could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements breaking its rules, at a time when Facebook’s approach to abuses on its platforms is under heavy scrutiny from global lawmakers and civil society groups.
Facebook said it now plans to take this same network-level approach with groups of coordinated real accounts that systemically break its rules, through mass reporting, where many users falsely report a target’s content or account to get it shut down, or brigading, a type of online harassment where users might coordinate to target an individual through mass posts or comments.
The expansion, which a spokeswoman said was in its early stages, means Facebook’s security teams could identify core movements driving such behavior and take more sweeping actions than the company removing posts or individual accounts as it otherwise might.
In April, BuzzFeed News published a leaked Facebook internal report about the company’s role in the Jan. 6 riot on the US Capitol and its challenges in curbing the fast-growing ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, where one of the findings was Facebook had “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”
Facebook’s security experts, who are separate from the company’s content moderators and handle threats from adversaries trying to evade its rules, started cracking down on influence operations using fake accounts in 2017, following the 2016 US election in which US intelligence officials concluded Russia had used social media platforms as part of a cyber-influence campaign — a claim Moscow has denied.
Facebook dubbed this banned activity by the groups of fake accounts “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB), and its security teams started announcing sweeping takedowns in monthly reports. The security teams also handle some specific threats that may not use fake accounts, such as fraud or cyber-espionage networks or overt influence operations like some state media campaigns.
Sources said teams at the company had long debated how it should intervene at a network level for large movements of real user accounts systemically breaking its rules.
In July, Reuters reported on the Vietnam army’s online information warfare unit, who engaged in actions including mass reporting of accounts to Facebook but also often used their real names.
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. Others have criticized the company over allegations of censorship, anti-conservative bias or inconsistent enforcement.
An expansion of Facebook’s network disruption models to affect authentic accounts raises further questions about how changes might impact types of public debate, online movements and campaign tactics across the political spectrum.
High-profile instances of coordinated activity around last year’s US election, from teens and K-pop fans claiming they used TikTok to sabotage a rally for former President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to political campaigns paying online meme-makers, have also sparked debates on how platforms should define and approach coordinated campaigns.


Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
  • Facebook rolls out new feature that allows businesses to find and chat with potential customers on the app
  • The new features will help Facebook offer personalized shopping experiences to its users

LONDON: Facebook Inc. is rolling out new ways for businesses to find and chat with potential customers on its apps, the social media company said Thursday, as it seeks to become an online shopping destination.
The new features will help Facebook, already a leader in digital advertising, offer personalized shopping experiences to its users, said Karandeep Anand, vice president of business products at Facebook.
Businesses will now be able to add a button on their Instagram profiles to let people send a WhatsApp message to the company with one click.
Integrating WhatsApp is particularly important for customers in countries such as India and Brazil, where the Facebook-owned messaging app is widely used, Anand said.
Facebook said it will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite, a feature that lets businesses manage their presence across the social media site’s apps, in order to simplify how companies reach customers.
It will also test new work accounts to let employees manage business pages without needing to log in with their personal accounts.
The new business tools come a day after WhatsApp began testing a new feature in São Paulo, Brazil, to let users find shops and services through a directory in the app for the first time, part of an effort to bolster ecommerce on the service.


Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
  • Facebook removes almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany under new policy to halt the spread of misinformation

LONDON: Facebook removed almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany, the company announced Thursday, under a new policy focused on groups that spread misinformation or incite violence but who don’t fit into the platform’s existing categories of bad actors.
The accounts on Facebook and Instagram spread content linked to the so-called Querdenken movement, a disparate group that has protested lockdown measures in Germany and includes vaccine and mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and some far-right extremists.
Posts from the accounts included one making the debunked claim that vaccines create viral variants and another that wished death upon police officers who broke up violent anti-lockdown protests in Berlin.
The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm,” which company officials said is an attempt to address content from social media users who work together to spread harmful content and evade platform rules.
Under its long-standing guidelines, Facebook has removed accounts that use false personas or spread hate speech or make threats of violence. The new policy is intended to catch groups that work together in an attempt to get around the rules, while still spreading harmful content.
In the case of the Querdenken network, Facebook said multiple account holders used both individual and duplicate accounts to spread content that violated Facebook’s rules on COVID-19 misinformation, hate speech, bullying and incitement of violence.
It was that coordinated effort to deceive, along with the harmful content and a history of past violations, that prompted Facebook’s action, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy.
“Simply sharing a belief or affinity with a particular movement or group wouldn’t be enough” to warrant a similar response, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put some Querdenker adherents under surveillance as the movement has become increasingly radicalized and its protests have attracted neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists.