TechBrain

Big Brother Building in Romania Phase Two

The companies chosen to build the EU-funded data collection system for Romania’s intelligence agency are hardly the cleanest.
 
In late May 2017, the Romanian Information Service (SRI), Romania’s intelligence agency, selected the companies that will run the controversial SII Analytics project, which IT and surveillance experts described as a Big Brother-like data hoarding system. The winner of the contract is a consortium with Siveco Romania in the driver’s seat, Nova Tech Integrated Solutions as partner, and Romsoft International and BAE Systems as subcontractors, according to information from the SRI.
 

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.”
 

Where Internet Grows Fast

Fast growth in connectivity and use of the internet in nations such as Myanmar, Malaysia and Algeria is all good news for independent journalism; and bad news for autocratic, corrupt governments.
 
St Kitts and Nevis is a small duo of islands in the Caribbean with a population of a mite under 55,000. That doesn’t include tourists, whose number is always higher than the local populace. The country rarely features in international news. When it does, it’s mostly the topic of travel articles and tourism fairs. The local bromide is “Rush Slowly.” That’s what visitors are advised at all times during their holiday in the islands.
 
But life on the islands is not that slack. Political brawls and politicians evicted from parliament, suspicious deals with money from the local treasury and the role of the country in a controversial citizen-by-investment program were just a few of the peppery stories that made it into the local media this year.
 

Internet Is Censored in Two-Thirds of the World

Many believe the Internet equals freedom of information. Recently, that has been less and less the case.
 
Maung Saung Kha, a 23-year old poet from Myanmar, was relieved last May to hear that he would be released from prison. On 24 May 2016, Mr Saung Kha was sentenced to six months in jail for defaming Myanmar’s former president Thein Sein, but because he had already spent six months behind bars, he was freed the same day.
 
His crime: posting a poem on Facebook in which a newlywed was baffled to see a tattoo featuring Myanmar’s former president on her husband’s genitals. The husband in the poem was Mr Saung Kha. In other parts of the world, such a poem would trigger a smile. But in Myanmar, authorities took this seriously. Using provisions on defamation from the telecommunications law, they justified imprisonment of the young bard in the Insein jail near Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city.
 

TV News Stations Are Now Old News

As massive batches of viewers, particularly young ones, give up watching traditional TV, the broadcasting business is rapidly crumbling. For television news stations, that is a very bad omen.
 
When direct-broadcast satellite provider Dish Network launched  Sling TV in February last year, it was eying those swathes of viewers able and willing to pay for television, but not the fat bill that pay-TV companies send their subscribers at the end of the month. For a monthly fee of US$20, Americans can access a bouquet of TV channels anywhere and on any device through Sling TV, including mobile devices and computers. They don’t have to install a hulking antenna or satellite dish on the roof of their house.
 
In mid-April 2016, Dish Network threatened that it would cut its viewers’ access to the cable channels operated by Viacom. Dish Network was reportedly irked by requests from Viacom for an unreasonable increase (“millions of dollars,” according to Dish Network) in fees for carrying Viacom-owned channels such as MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon in spite of the decreasing audiences of these channels. In the end, they reached a deal.
 
The Sling TV venture and Dish-Viacom tussle are more than business as usual. They epitomize the jouncy ride the television business is having these days; not only in rich markets like the U.S., but increasingly, everywhere. The reason: consumers, particularly ballooning young audiences, have stopped watching the television diet fed to them on TV sets.
 
That is good news for some of the fast-growing online video providers. But for the television news industry, it practically means its demise.

Big Brother is Getting Smart

In George Orwell’s 1984, telescreens could capture any sound “above the level of a very low whisper.” Today, that gadget exists. For independent journalism, smart TV is not necessarily bad news: provided it’s not found its way into the wrong hands. 
 
Imagine this: you and your wife sitting comfortably in your living room watching the primetime newscast, followed maybe by an evening series and then a late night political talkshow to learn more about who’s fighting in the upcoming mayoral elections. You might loudly curse a politician you see on one of these programs, go to the loo during a commercial break and frown when you learn from the TV that the government is imposing yet another tax on your income. 
 
These days, if you have a smart TV, which is increasingly common in many countries, you will not be alone in your room. Not only all the words coming out of your mouth, but also your angry face and the short trip to the john are likely to morph into data parcels that are shipped instantly to companies listening and watching at the other end of the pipe, which at the moment are mostly marketers and ad shops. Smart TVs, in some technologists’ view, are the final frontier for real-time interactivity. But how are they going to change journalism, news consumption and delivery? 
 
The impact there is going to be massive and come in totally unanticipated forms.
 

The Most and Least Affordable Internet: From the U.K. to the Central African Republic

Journalists are now able to reach billions of people all over the world. But for many people in the global south, consuming their products is an extremely costly venture.
 
There has been no major journalism or media event in recent years without the word “digital” on the agenda. Digital gurus evangelize journalists about how easily they now can reach people anywhere in the world.
 
There is no doubt that journalistic content, bad or good, in today's age makes it to unknown corners of the world and reaches larger swathes of readership than ever before. And there is no doubt that the internet has hobbled vast parts of media industries.
 
But how many people can, in fact, surf the internet ad infinitum is a different story. The most connected people today are in places where journalism is facing the fewest problems (although it still goes through painful changes), and, ironically, they pay the least for their internet connection.
 
Elsewhere, the internet remains a significant cost for its users and in many countries in the global south it’s a luxury.
 

Costa Rica: The Biggest Leap in Technology Use in the World

Costa Rica sported the highest growth in technology use worldwide during the past five years. Other, once sluggish, technology markets such as Bahrain, Lebanon and Ghana have since followed. However, the gap between the most and least digitally connected nations is widening.
 
Last November, the Costa Rican telecommunications regulator, SUTEL, raised eyebrows when it hired a PR agency to handle a campaign that would convince customers to accept a new method of charging for internet connections. Even some lawmakers slammed SUTEL’s move, claiming that the regulator was spending taxpayers’ money to push the same taxpayers to accept higher internet connection fees. SUTEL wanted to start charging Ticos according to the amount of transferred data and scrap the fixed fee that they were paying for a certain connection speed. 
 

Only 5% of the World’s Languages Are on the Internet

Many laud the internet for opening up the space for everybody to communicate. But how linguistically diverse is this space? A new report shows it’s not at all: only a sprinkling of languages are present online.

The internet looks to many to be the answer to everything. You instantly find all you need by just browsing through sites and networks online. But is this space equally friendly to anybody?

The answer is not at all.

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.”