Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye

NetBlocks and some Twitter users have reported that users in Turkiye can still access the platforms through VPNs. (AFP/File)
NetBlocks and some Twitter users have reported that users in Turkiye can still access the platforms through VPNs. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 February 2023

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye
  • Platform has been widely used to seek help and establish personal contact
  • Turkish authorities have limited access to social media during previous national emergencies

LONDON: Twitter is facing restrictions in Turkiye as the country struggles to deal with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, sources reported.

Independent global internet monitor NetBlocks confirmed that the social media platform has been restricted on multiple network providers, including TTNet and Turkcell, on Wednesday.

“Real-time network data show Twitter has been restricted in Turkiye,” Netblocks said in a tweet.

“The filtering is applied on major internet providers and comes as the public come to rely on the service in the aftermath of a series of deadly earthquakes.”

Twitter is widely adopted in the country and its restriction disrupts critical communication for rescue efforts.

NetBlocks Director Alp Toker said that this is the first time the company detected social media restrictions during a natural disaster.

“Twitter has been in use extensively in the aftermath of the earthquakes, both to seek assistance and rescue equipment and by those trying to get back in touch with loved ones,” Toker said.

Turkish authorities have not given any formal explanations, but NetBlocks said that Turkiye often acts to prevent alleged disinformation during national emergencies.

In November, following a terrorist attack in central Istanbul that killed six people and injured more than 80, authorities imposed a 10-hour social media ban.

Some users also reported that TikTok might have been affected by the restrictions.

In a statement, the video-sharing app said it was aware of the technical difficulties and is “investigating the matter and hope access is restored as soon as possible as platforms like TikTok remain a critical way to stay in touch during crises.”

NetBlocks and some Twitter users have reported that users in Turkiye can still access the platforms through VPNs.


Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia

Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia
Updated 5 sec ago

Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia

Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia
  • The controversy came after private channel El Hiwar Ettounsi on Thursday evening broadcast the first episode of the soap opera "Fallujah"
  • Education Minister Mohamed Ali Boughdiri told local radio he had alerted Prime Minister Nalja Bouden

TUNIS: Tunisia’s education minister has lashed out at a Ramadan TV series accused of tarnishing the reputation of schools, while two lawyers launched a bid to take it off the air.
The controversy came after private channel El Hiwar Ettounsi on Thursday evening broadcast the first episode of the soap opera “Fallujah.”
Named after a city that became a symbol of Arab resistance for battling American occupation forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the series is a drama about a group of high school students, their behavior toward their teachers and their often difficult home lives.
In one scene, a new teacher is hit on by students in the classroom then finds her car tagged with “Welcome to Fallujah.”
In another, a drug dealer in the schoolyard hands out ecstasy tablets to students who then sell them on to classmates.
Education Minister Mohamed Ali Boughdiri told local radio he had alerted Prime Minister Nalja Bouden.
“We will take all necessary measures to take this farce off the air. It has offended families, undermines the entire education system and considerably harms the image of Tunisian schools,” he said.
Two lawyers also filed a request to a Tunis court to stop the broadcasts immediately.
“This series deliberately undermines (public) morals and the educational system by disseminating obscenities,” lawyers Saber Ben Ammar and Hssan Ezzedine Diab wrote.
Teacher’s union the Federation of Secondary Education said the series “seriously harms teachers” and urged the ministry of education to investigate how a private TV channel was able to film in it a public school.
Union chief Lassaad Yaacoubi said the ministry had approved the filming in exchange for giving the school some of the furniture used during the production.


France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister

France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister
Updated 24 March 2023

France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister

France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister
  • The French government will ban entertainment app to protect civil servants online

PARIS: France will ban the use of Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok on the work phones of civil servants, Civil Service Minister Stanislas Guerini said on his Twitter account.
"In order to guarantee the cybersecurity of our administrations and civil servants, the government has decided to ban recreational applications such as TikTok on the professional phones of civil servants," he said in a statement.


British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices

British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices
Updated 23 March 2023

British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices

British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices
  • Britain last week banned the Chinese-owned video app on government phones
  • The United States, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission have already banned the app from official devices

LONDON: Britain’s parliament will block TikTok on all devices on its network following a similar ban on government devices, becoming the latest Western institution to bar the Chinese-owned video app over security concerns.
“Following the government’s decision to ban TikTok from government devices, the commissions of both the House of Commons and Lords have decided that TikTok will be blocked from all parliamentary devices and the wider parliamentary network,” a parliament spokesperson said.
Britain last week banned the Chinese-owned video app on government phones.
“Cyber security is a top priority for parliament,” the spokesperson added.
The United States, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission have already banned the app from official devices.
TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny due to fears that user data from the app owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests.
The British parliament’s ban was announced as TikTok’s chief executive
faced questions
from US lawmakers who are convinced the app should be barred for being a potential national security threat to the United States.


OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google

OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google
Updated 23 March 2023

OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google

OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google
  • Page visits on Bing have risen 15.8 percent since Microsoft unveiled its artificial intelligence-powered version
  • BingAI represents a rare opportunity for Microsoft to take on Google Search near-market dominance

LONDON: The integration of OpenAI’s technology into Microsoft-owned Bing has driven people to the little-used search engine and helped it compete better with market leader Google in page visits growth, according to data from analytics firm Similarweb.
Page visits on Bing have risen 15.8 percent since Microsoft Corp. unveiled its artificial intelligence-powered version on Feb. 7, compared with a near 1 percent decline for the Alphabet Inc-owned search engine, data till March 20 showed.


The figures are an early sign of the lead the Windows maker has taken in its fast-moving race with Google for generative AI dominance, thanks to the technology behind ChatGPT, the viral chatbot that many experts have called AI’s “iPhone moment.”
They also underscore a rare opportunity for Microsoft to make inroads in the over $120 billion search market, where Google has been the dominant player for decades with a share of more than 80 percent.
Gil Luria, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co, said that he expects Bing to gain market share in search over the next coming months, especially if Google continues to delay the integration of generative AI into its product.
While Bing AI has been available to most users around the world since February, Google began the public release of its chatbot Bard only on Tuesday.
“Bing has less than a tenth of Google’s market share, so even if it converts 1 percent or 2 percent of users it will be materially beneficial to Bing and Microsoft,” Luria said.
App downloads for Bing have also jumped eight times globally after AI integration, according to app research firm Data.ai. Downloads for the Google search app fell 2 percent in the same period, the data showed.


Still, some analysts said that Google, which in the early 2000s unseated then leader Yahoo to become the dominant search player, could overcome the early setbacks to maintain its lead.
“Google’s ranking algorithm can have a competitive edge over that of competitors,” Yongjei Jeong, an analyst at Mirae Asset Securities in South Korea said, referring to how Google’s algorithm helped it beat Yahoo Search.


TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers

TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers
Updated 24 March 2023

TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers

TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers
  • CEO Shou Zi Chew said TikTok is at pivotal moment as he prepares to testify before Congress to address platform security concerns
  • US could demand TikTok's Chinese owners to divest their stakes or face a potential ban

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers on Thursday battered TikTok’s CEO about potential Chinese influence over the platform and said its short videos were damaging children’s mental health, reflecting bipartisan concerns about the app’s power over Americans.
CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony before Congress did little to assuage US worries over TikTok’s China-based parent company ByteDance and added fresh momentum to lawmakers’ calls to ban the platform nationwide.
Over five hours of testimony, Chew repeatedly denied the app shares data or has connections with the Chinese Communist Party and argued the platform was doing everything to ensure safety for its 150 million American users.
Chew said TikTok for more than two years has been “building what amounts to a firewall to seal off protected US user data from unauthorized foreign access. The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel,” Chew said.
But not a single lawmaker offered support for TikTok, as they deemed Chew’s answers on China evasive and aired concerns over the power the app holds over US children.
Others accused TikTok of promoting content that encourages eating disorders among children, illegal drug sales and sexual exploitation.
“TikTok could be designed to minimize the harm to kids, but a decision was made to aggressively addict kids in the name of profits,” said Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat, at the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce committee hearing.
Chew responded to many pointed questions by saying the issues were “complex” and not unique to TikTok.
The company says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on data security efforts under the name “Project Texas” which currently has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and is contracted with Oracle Corp. to store TikTok’s US user data.
But critics were not appeased as the company failed to announce any new efforts to safeguard privacy.
Chew, who began his testimony by referring to his Singaporean roots, said: “We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government.”
He added: “It is our commitment to this committee and all our users that we will keep (TikTok) free from any manipulation by any government.” He said the app strictly screens content that could harm children.
It is not clear how lawmakers will proceed after the hearing or how quickly they might move to pass legislation to strengthen the Biden administration’s legal powers to ban TikTok.

’NOT ABOUT THE OWNERSHIP’
Some 20 US senators — 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans — have backed bipartisan legislation giving President Joe Biden’s administration a path to ban TikTok, and the app’s fate has added a new element to tensions between Washington and Beijing.
TikTok last week said the Biden administration demanded its Chinese owners divest their stakes or face a potential ban.
When asked about a potential divestiture, Chew said the issue was “not about the ownership” and argued US concerns could be addressed by moving data to its US storage centers.
China’s commerce ministry said forcing TikTok’s sale “will seriously damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including China, to invest in the United States,” and that China would oppose any sale.
Some lawmakers cited China’s comments to reject TikTok’s contention that it is separate from the Chinese government.
At Thursday’s House hearing, Representative Neal Dunn asked Chew if ByteDance has spied on Americans at Beijing’s request. Chew answered, “No.”
Republican Dunn then asked about US media reports that a China-based team at ByteDance planned to use TikTok to monitor the location of specific US citizens, and repeated his question about whether ByteDance was spying.
“I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it,” Chew said. He went on to describe the reports as involving an “internal investigation,” but was cut off by Dunn, who called TikTok’s widespread use “a cancer.”
Shares of US social media companies that compete with TikTok for advertising rose on Thursday, with Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. closing 2.2 percent higher and Snap Inc. up 3.1 percent.
“SNAP and META are up on idea that the CEO didn’t do well and TikTok may be banned,” said Thomas Hayes, chairman and managing member of Great Hill Capital. “I think the rumors of TikTok’s demise may be greatly exaggerated.”

’SAVE OUR CHILDREN’
Democratic lawmaker Tony Cardenas said Chew was a “good dancer with words” and accused him of avoiding tough questions on evidence that the app has harmed children’s mental health.
Chew said the company was investing in content moderation and artificial intelligence to limit such content.
Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat, said TikTok’s efforts to prevent the spread of misinformation on the platform were not working.
“You gave me only generalized statements that you’re investing, that you’re concerned, that you’re doing work. That’s not enough for me. That’s not enough for the parents of America,” DeGette said.
Representative Gus Bilirakis showed the committee a collection of short TikTok videos that appeared to glorify self-harm and suicide, or outright tell viewers to kill themselves.
“Your technology is literally leading to death,” Bilirakis said. “We must save our children from big tech companies like yours, who continue to abuse and manipulate them for your own gain.”
Chew told Bilirakis that TikTok takes the issue of suicide and self-harm “very, very seriously.”
TikTok is not available in China, where ByteDance offers a Chinese equivalent Douyin. Still, the hearing was closely watched in the country, with related news posts gathering millions of views on microblogging site Weibo where many users expressed sympathy for Shou and criticized US “hostility.”
Hu Xijin, a former editor-in-chief of state-run tabloid Global Times, said in a tweet on Thursday: “The US is robbing TikTok this time, but it is hypocritically going through the process of a hearing.”
On Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry at a regular news briefing said it had never asked companies to collect or provide data from abroad to the Chinese government in a way that violated local laws, and that the US was presuming TikTok’s guilt and “unreasonably suppressing” the company.
ByteDance did not reply to a request for comment.