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The Price of Digital Rights

Internet companies and telcos are not particularly good at disclosing policies on freedom of expression and privacy. On a long-term basis, this could dent their sales.
 
Last summer, as electoral debates were heating up in America, anti-Hillary voters in possession of iPhones could find a facetious method to vent their fury against the Democratic candidate for how negligently she handled her emails. HillAwry, a game developed by John Matze from Base10 company, was made available by Apple on its iPhones. The goal of the game was “to collect as much money through email donations as possible while maintaining a decent approval rating in the polls.”

Telcos and Internet Companies, Bad at Informing People About Their Rights

The world’s telecom and internet behemoths are far from being transparent when it comes to users’ privacy. It’s time for them to improve.
 
The world’s most powerful telecommunications, internet, and mobile companies are mostly failing at informing consumers about their rights, according to Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index
 

Monitoring and Killing Public Opinion Online: A Booming Industry in China

China has traditionally been a masterful manipulator of public opinion. It has finally perfected a system to weed out dissent on the internet, too.
 
Days before the inauguration of the American president-elect Donald Trump, bosses at Chinese media outlets received a list of instructions about how to cover this event. Journalists were ordered to use only reports written by the country’s central state media. The idea was to belittle the investiture of the boisterous American president, who has repeatedly pledged to abandon America’s “One China” policy, a promise that is irking the Chinese upper crust.
 
That is not unusual in a country where the media operates under the watchful eye of the state censorship machinery. Censorship is the norm in China. Directives on how to cover events and issues are common among China’s media and journalists.
 
In order to keep critics aligned, though, Chinese authorities have gone much further: they have turned monitoring of public opinion online into a round-the-clock industry. Its goal is to neuter the very object of monitoring: public opinion.
 

The Cuban Lesson: If You Want Free Access to Media, Use Hackers

Bad internet connections, pricey internet packages, censorship, suppressed freedom of expression and content blocking: this is Cuba. How come, then, Cubans are such a well-informed crowd? Hackers and offline social networking are the answer.
 
In the past, it was illegal to own a computer in Cuba; and it was hard to buy one. Because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, imports of technology were blocked. But in a landmark decision in 2008 when Raul Castro took over the government from his brother Fidel, he allowed Cubans to have computers and cellphones.
 
Eight years later, Cuba boasts a vibrant media content-sharing culture. But these exchanges take place mostly offline. Content from international media, which are fully blocked by Cuba’s government, is feverishly shared through pen drives passed from one to another across the country. The government has turned a blind eye to this growing system of information distribution.
 
But how do these half-secret, real-life social networks of content distribution really work? The offline world is the answer.

The Middle East: Have You Been Watching?

As online video consumption skyrockets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, power holders are desperately looking for smart blocking tools. But the audiences they fight against are hard to stop unless internet giants agree to play the censorship game.
 
Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, made headlines last December when she traveled to Silicon Valley to meet with executives from Google to negotiate ways to block videos posted by Palestinians on YouTube, the video sharing platform owned by Google. The visit followed complaints by the Israeli government that some of these videos incite Palestinians to carry out attacks on Israelis. 
 
Ms Hotovely claimed that she was victorious. After the meeting, she said that Google joined Israel in the fight “against incitement”, something that Google denied. But whatever the real agreement was, the Israel-Google meeting speaks volumes about the growing interest and anxiety politicians and governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been showing when it comes to online videos.
 
The reason? A massive increase in online video consumption in the region, particularly on YouTube.

Ranking Telcos: Name and Shame Them and They Will Improve

There are several initiatives out there that measure and rank companies. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are ranked according to how they ensure access to medicines and major foodstuffs producers are ranked according to their impact on communities. Now, we have the Corporate Accountability Index that measures how internet companies and telcos fare in their general commitment to digital rights and practices related to freedom of expression and privacy.
 
However, is this merely a game of name and shame?
 

Though it seems like one, the ultimate goal is to actually improve companies. Rebecca MacKinnon, the director of the Corporate Accountability Index, an initiative supported by a dozen of funders and several research centers, says that the main goal of this initiative and the kind of impact the index is craving is to force companies to improve their policies, because that will ultimately have positive repercussions on consumers.

A New Corporate Accountability Index on Digital Rights Reveals: No Winners But Many Losers

Internet and telecommunications companies influence our world significantly, be it our personal interactions or political engagement. A new index has been developed to see how they fare in their general commitment to digital rights, as well as in terms of their practices regarding freedom of expression and privacy.
 
The Ranking Digital Rights, a project supported an impressive list of funders, research institutes and experts, launched the inaugural Corporate Accountability Index early November. In this first phase, the project has assessed 16 internet and telecommunications companies according to 31 specific indicators.
 
So who’s doing well?
 

Digital Amnesiacs or What Smart Gadgets Are Doing to Us

Many people are aware that they depend heavily on gadgets and the internet. But a new survey shows that an increasing number of people blindly rely on machines to remember for them. And they like it.

In almost in every discussion we have with friends, relatives or colleagues someone pulls out a mobile phone or a tablet every minute (or second) to check a name or somebody’s date of birth or to see how a weasel (or rabbit or whatever) looks like. “I just saw Nicole Kidman in this play in London. She looks like 45, but I think she’s older,” somebody said the other day during a chat with friends. Somebody else immediately pulled out an iPhone and in less than five seconds blurted out: “She is 48.”