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This Week in Internet News: India Bans 118 Apps From Chinese Companies

Eyes on you: A U.S. appeals court has ruled that a National Security Agency program that collected call data from millions of U.S. residents was illegal, The Hill reports. The call metadata collection program, exposed by Edward Snowden, was suspended in 2015. The court ruled that the bulk collection of phone records violated laws requiring agencies to seek court orders when collecting investigation-related information from private businesses.

Ban hammer strikes again: The Indian government has banned 118 apps from Chinese companies, including the popular PUBG Mobile shooter game, Indian Express says. The Indian IT ministry says the blocked apps are potential security threats. “In view of the emergent nature of threats [the ministry] has decided to block 118 mobile apps since in view of the information available they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state and public order,” the ministry said.

Privacy delayed: Apple has delayed a release of anti-tracking software in an iPhone operating system update after app developers raised concerns that the tool would destroy their ability to deliver targeted advertising, the Los Angeles Times reports. The new tool would have automatically blocked tracking and would have required apps that wanted to track users to ask for their permission.

Hacking the vote: Russian hackers have attempted to breach two voter registration databases in the U.S., NBC News reports. In one case, the hackers were able to steal 200,000 voter records in Illinois, U.S officials told NBC. U.S. officials accused Russian intelligence agencies of being behind the attacks. It’s unclear what the Russians want to do with the voter information.

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The Week in Internet News: U.S. Moves Closer to Banning Chinese Apps

Shopping for video: As U.S. President Donald Trump pushes for a ban of TikTok unless it’s sold by its Chinese owner, Walmart has joined Microsoft in a bid for the short-video sharing app, CNBC reports. TikTok is reportedly nearing an agreement to sell its U.S., Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand operations for $20 billion to $30 billion.

Boycotting an app ban: Another Chinese app that’s been targeted by Trump is WeChat, but the Chinese foreign ministry has suggested that consumers in the country could boycott Apple if the U.S. takes action against WeChat, The Straits Times says. Apple, as a large U.S. company, seems to be a convenient target for Chinese consumers.

An East/West split: As others have warned, an official with the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre has suggested that the Internet may split into a Western version and a Chinese-led Eastern version if Trump moves forward with a ban of Chinese apps, the Independent reports. A split could raise concerns about Western technology keeping up with the East, the official says.

Spy vs. hacker: New Zealand’s government has turned to its intelligence agency to thwart a sustained, multi-day cyberattack on the NZX stock exchange, Bloomberg reports. Security intelligence firm Akamai has warned that extortionists claiming to be the Russian-linked hacking group Fancy Bear have been sending ransom letters to finance, travel, and e-commerce companies in the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S., and the U.K. These letters demand payments to stop attacks.

Troubled by tracking: Some Google engineers were “troubled” by the way the company secretly tracked the movements of people who didn’t want to be followed before a 2018 Associated Press investigation uncovered the surveillance, reports the Associated Press at Inquirer.net. The concerns were detailed in unsealed documents in a consumer fraud case filed by Arizona’s attorney general. “Location off should mean location off, not except for this case or that case,” one engineer wrote in an internal document.

More Internet for schools: An educational startup founded by a Harvard student is focused on bringing Internet access to students in countries where services are sparse, Bizjournals.com reports. Harvard student Shawn Shivdat was inspired to bring educational resources to his father’s home country of Guyana, in South America.

Read the Internet Society’s statement on the U.S. Clean Network Program.

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The Week in Internet News: Facebook Bans Conspiracy Accounts

Ban hammer: Facebook has banned banned about 900 pages and groups and 1,500 ads tied to the conspiracy theory QAnon, NBC News reports. QAnon followers believe an anonymous, supposed government insider has warned them about a massive group of satanic cannibals and pedophiles inside the U.S. government. QAnon, militia movements, and violent movements tied to protests will no longer be allowed to buy ads on Facebook, the social media giant said.

That’s really fast: Researchers from University College London have been able to transmit data at 178 terabits per second, The Independent says. That speed is double the speed of any current system being used, and about 20 percent faster than the previous record. With that speed, an Internet user could download the entire Netflix library in just one second.

Cracks in the ‘Net: U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign against Chinese services TikTok and WeChat could further fracture the Internet, the New York Times reports. “China and the United States once acted like opposites when it came to governing the internet … When President Donald Trump issued executive orders that could lead to a U.S. ban next month on two of the world’s most popular Chinese-made apps, TikTok and WeChat, the White House signaled a new willingness to adopt Beijing’s exclusionary tactics.”

Working around censorship: People in Belarus are using privacy apps to defeat a recent government Internet shutdown, DW.com reports. Many Belarusians turned to free anonymizing tools and virtual private networks like Telegram and Psiphon. Psiphon saw the number of regular daily users in Belarus go from 10,000 ahead of an Aug. 9 election to more than a million.

Don’t hide the details: The former chief security officer at Uber has been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly attempting to cover up a 2016 data breach that exposed the details of 57 million Uber drivers and passengers, the BBC reports. The executive is accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of taking “deliberate steps”  to stop the Federal Trade Commission from finding out about the breach.

Read the Internet Society Statement on the U.S. Clean Network Program.

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The Week in Internet News: Smart Phones for Online Education

More phones, more access: Chinese smartphone major Xiaomi has announced that its Indian subsidiary will distribute 2,500 phone handsets to support online education of students who are most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, India Times reports. Teach for India says one smart phone can support the education of up to seven children, if they use the device in shifts.

Tracking the pandemic: The U.K. has launched a limited trial of a COVID-19 tracking app, the BBC reports. The app, which will be available on the Apple and Google online stores, will include an alert system that informs users of the coronavirus risk level close to their home. It also has a QR barcode scanner, allowing users to check in when they visit a venue and be told if others there later tested positive.

Weird pandemic effects: Parent company Facebook is blaming COVID-19 for a lapse in its ability to moderate nudity and other content on Instagram, The Independent writes. Facebook sent content reviewers home in March due to COVID-19, and those employees didn’t have adequate work-from-home systems. Facebook relies “heavily” on human intervention to remove offending content, the company said.

Faking it: One guy decided he’s had too many Zoom meetings during the pandemic, and he prerecorded himself on a loop that made it appear he was attending the meetings in person. He writes about how he did it on CNet. “I wanted to see if I could appear as a fully engaged employee without actually being in the meeting at all. So I set out on an experiment to see if I could automate my presence in video meetings for an entire week without my co-workers or supervisors noticing.”

Access to the Internet has never been more importantLearn about our work to help close the global digital divide.

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The Week in Internet News: U.S Wants China-Free ‘Clean’ Internet

Scrubbing the Net: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he wants a “clean” Internet free of Chinese apps and network equipment, The Next Web reports. Pompeo also wants to keep U.S. cloud data away from Chinese companies and stop China from spying on traffic in undersea cables. Critics say Pompeo is trying to create a U.S. version of the Great Firewall of China. The Verge, meanwhile, says Pompeo’s announcement is “just bluster” for now.

NOTE: Please read the Internet Society’s statement on the U.S. Clean Network Program.

Trump vs. TikTok: In a related story, U.S. President Donald Trump has continued his fight against Chinese video app TikTok, recently issuing executive orders that would ban TikTok and fellow Chinese app WeChat in 45 days, CNet reports. Trump calls the use of these apps on U.S. devices a security problem, but he earlier gave TikTok time to sell to a more acceptable owner. Microsoft is interested in buying the video app.

Buy local: In yet another related story, the Economic Times reports that the use of locally made apps are surging after the Indian government took its own action against Chinese apps. In late June, the Indian government banned 59 Chinese apps over security concerns. Some Indian counterparts have gotten hundreds of thousands of downloads, and others have received new investments.

No law needed: An Australian spy agency and a federal police agency haven’t yet relied on a 2-year-old  law that requires companies to give them access to encrypted communications and devices, because they’ve gotten voluntary compliance, The Guardian says. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian federal police have “so far secured voluntary cooperation from tech and communications companies – even though there had been times when they had come close to issuing a compulsory notice.”

Cheaper Internet, please: The African Telecommunications Union is seeking cheaper Internet access in South Africa and other countries through better collaboration with over-the-top (OTT) communications service providers, Bizcommunity.com reports. The use of OTT services, typically referring to video services but may also include voice and other services, can reduce communications expenses for consumers and business users, the story says.

Join a global movement of people working to ensure governments don’t take away our strongest digital tools. Become an Internet Society member today.

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The Week in Internet News: U.S. Lawmakers Skewer Big Tech Firms

Attacking the big guys: During an antitrust hearing, U.S. lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – heaped criticism on Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google about their market power, the Washington Post reports. “Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy,” said Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat. Republicans complained about alleged anti-conservative bias in online services, while many Democrats talked about how the companies’ market power was being used against competitors, NPR says.

Encryption laws vs. the economy: Laws in Australia creating law enforcement access to encrypted communications are hurting the tech sector in the country, tech giant Atlassian told lawmakers there, the Guardian reports. The anti-encryption laws have discouraged talent from working in Australia and may limit economic growth during the post-COVID-19 recovery, the company said.

Paying for news: Also in Australia, the government there has released the world’s first draft law to force Google and Facebook to pay traditional news media to publish their material, Al Jazeera reports. Under the plan, the tech companies would have to negotiate with Australian media companies to use their content.

Jailed for TikToking: An Egyptian court has ordered two-year jail sentences for five women who made supposed “indecent” videos on TikTok, the BBC reports. Two of the women are social media influencers Haneen Hossam and Mowada al-Adham. Adham was arrested in May after posting satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram, where she has at least 2 million followers.

Expensive breaches: The average data breach during the past year cost victim companies about $4 million, says Compliance Week, quoting an IBM study. More than half of the breaches studied were caused by malicious attacks, with a quarter caused by system glitches, and 23 percent by human error.

Join a global movement of people working to ensure governments don’t take away our strongest digital tools. Become an Internet Society member today.

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The Week in Internet News: Looking for a Broadband Miracle in Rural Canada

Creating a miracle: Residents of rural British Columbia, Canada, are pushing for better Internet access, with one resident saying getting access to good connectivity is like “hoping for a miracle,” the CBC reports. Local government leaders are working with community leaders and businesses to improve Internet services. Local leaders are researching options to establish a broadband Internet service in Clearwater, British Columbia, including the possibility of building new mobile towers.

Building their own: Meanwhile, a few hundred miles south in Klamath, California, Yurok tribal officials have announced a new project that they hope will significantly boost Internet speeds and expand coverage on their reservation, KRCR News reports. The$2.1 million project is funded by the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. One of the goals is to better allow students to participate in distance learning.

No distance learning for you: In a related story, a study from Future Ready Schools finds that 16.9 million U.S. students lack home Internet access, Education Dive says. In addition, 3.6 million U.S. households lack a computer, impacting 7.3 million students, according to the study. About a third of Native American, Latino, and African-American students in the U.S. lack home Internet access.

Money for creators: Chinese video app TikTok has announced a $200 million fund to support creators in the U.S. as it faces scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers, the South China Morning Post reports. A U.S. Senate committee has proposed banning TikTok on devices used by government employees, due to security concerns. India, Pakistan, and Australia have also moved to limit TikTok access.

Pandemic exposures: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light security and privacy concerns related to technology tools and the Internet, writes Dr. Moonyati Mohd Yatid, senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia in the New Straits Times. “With most people working from home during the lockdown, the lack of cybersecurity measures resulted in an all-time high of online attacks,” Yatid writes. “Many gullible Malaysians fell into the trap of phishing emails and scams, showing their lack of awareness of cyberattacks.”

Tribal communities in the United States have until August 3 to apply for a license that will help bring Internet access to where they live. Learn how to apply.

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The Week in Internet News: Hackers Target COVID-19 Research

Hacking the research: Intelligence agencies from the U.S., U.K., and Canada have accused a Russian hacking group of targeting organizations conducting COVID-19 research, the Washington Post reports. The so-called Cozy Bear hacking group is trying to steal vaccine research specifically, the intelligence groups say.

Hacking the tweets: Meanwhile, 130 of Twitter’s most high-profile accounts were targeted by hackers recently, with a few of them compromised, in an apparent bitcoin scam, the New York Post writes. Among the accounts targeted were Kanye West, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, and Warren Buffett. The hackers reportedly paid a Twitter employee to help them with the attack.

No data collection, please: The government of China is cracking down on apps that collect what it considers too much personal data, the South China Morning Post says. The government has ordered several tech companies, including Alibaba Group and Tencent, to remove non-compliant apps as soon as possible.

Broadband is fundamental: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has called broadband a “fundamental right” in an interview with CNN. Many rural areas in the U.S. still lack broadband, and that needs to change, he said. “If you think about the rural community today, they are going to thrive if the entire community is able to get the education, the upskilling, the health and … ecommerce and other facilities directly reaching them where they are,” he added.

Open to all: In a related story, the city of West Des Moines, Iowa, has announced that it is building an open-access fiber network. The network will allow ISPs to lease space on it, and Google Fiber is the first provider to sign up. Commenting on the move, TechDirt wrote: Community is “a helpful niche solution that not only result in better connectivity, but drive incumbents to try a little bit harder, an alien concept in a country where regulatory capture and a lack of competition have been the norm for the better part of thirty years.”

Ghosting the VPN: Some VPN providers in Hong Kong have shut down their servers in Hong Kong over concerns about a new national security law targeting the Chinese province, CNBC.com writes. Under the new law, people found guilty of secession or subversion can be punished with life in prison. Law enforcement agencies are also allowed in some cases to search electronic devices without a warrant.

Access to the Internet has never been more importantLearn about our work to help close the global digital divide.

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The Week in Internet News: Balloon-Based Internet Comes to Kenya

Up, up and away: Google’s Project Loon, focused on providing Internet access with balloons floating in the stratosphere, has begun providing service in Kenya, CNN reports. The project will use about 35 balloons floating 20 kilometers above the ground to provide 4G LTE service covering 50,000 square kilometers in central and western Kenya.

Reach the sky: A broadband cooperative in rural Pennsylvania has built its own wireless network to provider faster Internet service, The Philadelphia Inquirer says. The Rural Broadband Cooperative, made up mostly of retirees, uses a 120-foot, former HAM radio tower that they erected on Stone Mountain. The service, with about 40 paying customers, offers speeds of up to 25 megabits per second.

The great divide: The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the seriousness of the digital divide in Pakistan, The Diplomat says. While the country has moved to online school, many areas lack broadband service, and in some areas, mobile services are shut down by the government because of security concerns. “Students across the country, from the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas to Balochistan, have been protesting against online classes, not only on social media but in front of various press clubs, universities, and on roads. They have observed token hunger strikes, rallies, and demonstrations. But the government has not paid much heed to their demands.”

TikTok no more: Video-based social media company TikTok has halted service to Hong Kong after China passed a sweeping security law targeting the city, the BBC reports. TikTok parent company ByteDance, based in Beijing, says it will refuse to share TikTok user data with Chinese authorities.

Drones to the rescue: Drones are being used to deliver COVID-19 tests to remote islands off the west coast of Scotland, The Independent writes. Drones can cut delivery times between Oban and the Isle of Mull to around 15 minutes, as opposed to a 45-minute ferry crossing.

Defeating encryption: Cybersecurity experts are trashing new legislation in the U.S. Senate that would require tech companies to give police access to encrypted communications and devices if ordered to do so by a court, CPO Magazine reports. “Once again, some Washington policymakers are proposing uninformed technology policy with potentially catastrophic consequences,” said Amit Yoran, CEO of Tenable. “In one of the worst tech policy concepts of recent years, this proposal would strike a critical blow to privacy, cybersecurity and the competitiveness of U.S. technology companies …”

The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act threatens the security of millions. Read the Internet Society’s open letter.

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The Week in Internet News: Facebook Faces Advertising Boycott

Voting with their dollars: Hundreds of companies have pulled their advertising from Facebook because of the social media giant’s lax policing of misinformation and hate speech, CNN reports. Still, most of the company’s biggest advertisers haven’t joined the boycott, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly predicted “these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”

Driving as a service: German car maker BMW is exploring ways to offer common features, like heated seats and cruise control, in a subscription-based, as-a-service model, The Independent reports. The Next Web called the subscription model “anti-consumer rubbish.” Video game maker Brianna Wu also tweeted her disappointment: “Sorry, but if this catches on, I will never buy another new car. Never.”

Networked threats: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has designated Chinese networking companies Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, Al Jazeera says. This follows long-term concerns about the companies’ relationship with the Chinese Communist Party and the possibility of surveillance through their equipment. The FCC has proposed that rural telecom carriers be required to replace equipment from the two vendors.

Paying for speed: The Japanese government plans to subsidize local 5G companies as a way to catch up with Chinese companies, Japan Times reports. Companies such as NEC and Fujitsu are likely to receive funds to develop devices to be used at base stations for high-speed, next-generation networks.

Eye in the sky: The Saudi Arabian construction industry will turn to drones to restart business after the COVID-19 pandemic, Arabian Business says. Drones will increasingly be used to monitor construction project and look for problems, according to one drone vendor.

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The Week in Internet News: Google to Pay Some News Publishers

News isn’t free: Google has announced it will pay some news publishers in a “new news experience” it is rolling out later this year, TechCrunch reports. News outlets in Germany, Australia, and Brazil are among the first group of publishers that have signed on. The goal is to “help participating publishers monetize their content through an enhanced storytelling experience that lets people go deeper into more complex stories, stay informed and be exposed to a world of different issues and interests,” Google says.

AI in HR: Japanese companies are turning to artificial intelligence to help hire employees, Japan Times says. SoftBank says it has cut labor time by 75 percent by using AI to sift through tens of thousands of resumes. Still, some companies are concerned about AI giving them inappropriate or discriminatory decisions.

Attacking encryption: Three U.S. Senators have introduced legislation that would require tech companies to help law enforcement agencies defeat end-to-end encryption, PCMag reports. The Republican bill would allow courts to order companies to bypass encryption when police agencies request it.

More broadband for all: In the meantime, a group of U.S. representatives has introduced legislation to spend $100 billion to deploy fiber-based broadband across the country, Ars Technica says. The bill would also repeal state laws that prohibit or limit municipal broadband projects. Finally, the bill requires federally funded Internet providers to offer speeds of at least 100Mbps for both downloads and uploads.

Hacking from home: Russian hackers are targeting people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Times reports. Leaders of a Russian hacking group, calling itself Evil Corp., were indicted in December, and now the group is pushing ransomware at U.S. companies with employees working from home.

Super-fast: The fastest Internet service provider in the U.S. is the Cedar Falls, Iowa community network, PC Mag says. Cedar Falls Utilities offers download speeds of about 1,200 Mbps, about nine times faster than the fastest large ISP in the U.S., Verizon FiOS. Community-owned broadband offers “cheaper, faster service than many incumbents,” says TechDirt.

Join a global movement of people working to ensure governments don’t take away our strongest digital tools. Become an Internet Society member today.

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The Week in Internet News: U.S. DOJ Wants to Hold Website Liable for User Comments

Legal landmines: The U.S. Department of Justice has proposed ending a 24-year-old provision that protections websites and social media outlets from lawsuits for comments and other content posted by users, the Washington Post reports. While some Republicans have complained about social media sites allegedly burying conservative voices, the proposal would actually force sites into heavy moderation as a way to avoid lawsuits. The DOJ proposal would also end legal protections for tech companies that fail to allow law enforcement access to encrypted communications.

Taxing the Internet: The European Union is considering a digital goods tax, but it may have to do so without an agreement from the U.S. government, Al Jazeera reports. The U.S. government has announced it is withdrawing from negotiations with European countries over new international tax rules on digital goods. Nearly 140 countries have been involved in the negotiations.

Internet in space: SpaceX is opening up its Starlink low-earth orbit Internet service to beta testers, ZDNet says. SpaceX now has 540 satellites deployed, allowing for “minor” coverage. The company plans to eventually launch as many as 30,000 Starlink satellites.

The café society: Operators of Internet cafés and gaming centers in Thailand are pushing for the government there to allow them to reopen after a three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Xinhuanet says. The restrictions now in place are depriving customers of the ability to study, sell products online, and contact friends and relatives, the operators say.

Don’t talk about it: The Russian government has cracked down on what it calls fake news about COVID-19 in recent months, the Irish Times reports.  Russia “has sought to keep information about the pandemic under equally tight control.” The government coronavirus task force has a special “fake news” division, and the Investigative Committee, a law enforcement agency, tracks coronavirus information on messaging apps.

Your spying browser: Extensions for Google’s Chrome browser have been delivering spyware to users’ computers, Reuters reports. The spying extensions were downloaded 32 million times before Google removed more than 70 of the malicious add-ons from the Chrome Web Store after being alerted by researchers.

Read “Making Intermediaries Liable for Encrypted Content Breaks Trust and Security