#IMweekly: September 3, 2013

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Nakhchivan, an Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, has ordered Internet cafes throughout the area to shut down. Human rights activists speculate that the order may be part of an attempt to curb online dissent in advance of Azerbaijan’s October 9 presidential elections. Bloggers and journalists throughout the country who are critical of the government have faced arrests, hacking, and blackmail attempts over the past year as part of a broad crackdown on online freedom of expression.

Recently passed legislation in Gambia amending the Information and Communication Act to include a prohibition against the spread of false news and the jail terms of up to 15 years. Speaking about the new legislation, Gambia’s head of Civil Service and Minister of Presidential Affairs warned, “If you cannot say anything good about the country, then you should keep quiet.”

As the conflict in Syria continues, the country’s Internet connectivity is experiencing a number of changes. Internet access in Aleppo, the country’s largest city, went completely dark on August 29. Renesys explored the country’s international service providers and noted that Aleppo appears to be served almost exclusively by Turk Telecom via a land-based cable link, while the rest of the country is served by a small handful of other providers via three undersea cables.

United States
Last week we reported on Internet.org, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s new venture to bring Internet access to the global masses. As it turns out, the previous owner of the Internet.org domain had no idea to whom he was selling it.

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.

Facebook Transparency Report: US and India lead in data requests

Earlier this week, Facebook joined Google, Twitter, and other tech companies in issuing a transparency report: in Facebook’s case, aggregated counts of the government data requests it received in the first six months of 2013.

The United States leads the world in requests, with 11,000-12,000 requests covering somewhere between 20,000 and 21,000 user accounts. The US is also the only country on Facebook’s list without exact figures; the company notes that it has “reported the numbers for all criminal and national security requests to the maximum extent permitted by law” and will published updated figures as soon it obtains legal authorization.

Trailing the United States, with 3245 total requests covering 4144 users, is India, a country that has also ranked high in Google’s Transparency Report. The UK, Germany, and Italy round out the top five.

In countries with more than 100 requests, Taiwan received the greatest compliance from Facebook, with 84 percent of requests resulting in at least some data. The United States followed closely behind, with Facebook complying or partially complying with 79 percent of requests.

The current transparency report reveals only numbers—unlike in the Google and Twitter reports, no information on the types or forms of data requests is provided. Without this information, it’s impossible to tell how many of these requests are related to criminal activity such as robberies or kidnappings (two examples provided by Facebook) and how many are related to broader surveillance programs.

“You look way prettier in person than through your webcam”: #NSAPickupLines

In this week’s #IMWeekly news roundup, we reported that at least ten NSA officers have used the agency’s surveillance power to spy on their romantic partners over the past decade—a practice deemed “LOVEINT” by the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story.

Yesterday, NPR reported that Twitter users have taken the story and run with it, posting satirical pick-up lines and love poems under the hashtags #NSAPickupLines and #NSALovePoems.

Some of the most amusing tweets we’ve seen so far:

Via @samir

#imweekly: August 26, 2013

Chinese mobile app WeChat has a growing international presence, making it the fifth most popular mobile app worldwide. Within the country, WeChat is heavily monitored, and users are blocked from sending messages containing prohibited keywords. TeaLeafNation reports that TenCent, which owns WeChat, is now offering two versions of the app: a censored version for Chinese users, and an uncensored version for international use. The problem: the lines between the two are unclear, as shown by the suspension last week of a US-based WeChat account belonging to ChinaGate, a Chinese-language web portal hosted outside of China.

The Finnish Supreme Administrative Court ruled today that the country’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was within its rights when it added an anti-censorship website to its secret list of blocked sites. The blocking took place under a 2006 law that enabled the NBI to maintain a secret blocklist of sites that distribute child pornography. The website lapsiporno.info (“childporn.info”) has been monitoring the bureau’s activities, criticizing the secrecy behind the blocklist and compiling a list of known blocked sites. When lapsiporno.info was blocked, operator Matt Nikki sued the NBI. The court ruled that even though Nikki’s site did not host any child porn, by listing blocked sites it was enabling users to find such sites, and therefore, the NBI’s blocking of lapsiporno.info was legal.

United States
Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that Facebook, along with a handful of tech companies, is launching an effort to bring Internet access to everyone on Earth. Zuckerberg told the New York Times that the project—Internet.org—is more about doing “something good for the world” than for profit, but many commentators disagree. The New Yorker’s Matt Buchanan notes that the project offers little in the way of infrastructure building, which is one of the biggest obstacles to Internet access. And The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal points out that the project heavily recuts a John F. Kennedy speech, stripping the original Cold War context and perhaps, Madrigal argues, changing the meaning entirely.

United States
The newest piece of the NSA surveillance scandal: LOVEINT. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that several NSA officers have used their power to spy on their romantic partners. Approximately ten cases of this type of abuse of NSA power have emerged over the past decade, and according to NSA officials, in each case, the employee responsible was punished and/or terminated. The LOVEINT discovery comes amidst the NSA’s admission last week that in the past year alone, the agency violated privacy regulations nearly 3000 times.

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.

Is Facebook the third most popular news source in the Middle East? It depends on where you are.

How do Internet users use Facebook to gather news and information? It varies widely depending on the country.

After Northwestern University published an eight-nation study surveying media use in the Middle East, publications grabbed hold of the headline that Facebook is the third most popular site for news in the Middle East. That’s not wrong, but the story is more nuanced than that. News gathering habits vary widely in different countries in the region and around the world.

For instance, although Facebook was mentioned as a top three media outlet by 52% of survey respondents in Tunisia, the social network didn’t see steady levels of popularity across the region. In many of the countries surveyed, Facebook didn’t rank in the top three outlets at all.

While Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Facebook were the most popular outlets on average in the region overall, below is a breakdown of what usage of each outlet looked like broken down by individual country.

Top news outlets by country

Top news outlets by country, according to Northwestern study. Image credit: Media Use in the Middle East

The situation is equally complex for how citizens in the surveyed region use media sources more generally. In each country, television remained the most dominant source for information on news and current events by far—an average of 83% of respondents across the region identified TV as a top news source. When respondents were asked if they used the Internet to gather this type of information, the answers were much more scattered, with a low of 22% of respondents using the Internet for news in Egypt versus a high of 85% in Bahrain. In a different survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in the United States, 78% of respondents said they use the Internet to get news.

Do news consumers seek out international coverage? That varies widely across different nations, too. Survey takers in Egypt were least likely to follow international news, with just 17% of respondents listing international news as a news topic they follow closely or very closely. However, nearby Saudi Arabia took the regional lead in terms of international news consumption, with 63% of respondents following international news closely or very closely.

Despite various communities lamenting the loss of international news media coverage in American news outlets, 56% of US-based news consumers surveyed by Pew still said they closely follow international news most of the time. In both the US and the Middle East, survey takers responded that they follow local and national news more frequently than international news.