Stories from Abroad

Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.

Remarks of Rachael Bender at the 33rd Annual Conference of the Caribbean Association of Network Telecommunications Organizations

[I]t is particularly important that the United States and Caribbean nations collaborate. Our countries share many common interests and significant cultural and economic ties. The U.S. is the leading trading partner for the Caribbean, and we have benefitted greatly from the contributions of the Caribbean diaspora community in the United States. Unlike baseball, this is not a game where there is only one winner. When we expand opportunity and enhance security in one nation, the benefits can flow throughout the region. Recognizing these benefits, Congress last year made it the official policy of the United States to increase engagement with government leaders, the private sector, and civil society groups in the Caribbean region. I am proud to be here in the spirit of this law and want you to know that Chairman Pai is committed to enhancing the FCC’s engagement with the Caribbean region.

EU Court to Rule on ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Outside Europe

The European Union’s top court is set to decide whether the bloc’s “right to be forgotten” policy stretches beyond Europe’s borders, a test of how far national laws can—or should—stretch when regulating cyberspace. The case stems from France, where the highest administrative court on July 19 asked the EU’s Court of Justice to weigh in on a dispute between Alphabet's Google and France’s privacy regulator over how broadly to apply the right, which allows EU residents to ask search engines to remove some links from searches for their own names.

At issue: Can France force Google to apply it not just to searches in Europe, but anywhere in the world? The case will set a precedent for how far EU regulators can go in enforcing the bloc’s strict new privacy law. It will also help define Europe’s position on clashes between governments over how to regulate everything that happens on the internet—from political debate to online commerce. France’s regulator says enforcement of some fundamental rights—like personal privacy—is too easily circumvented on the borderless internet, and so must be implemented everywhere. Google argues that allowing any one country to apply its rules globally risks upsetting international law and, when it comes to content, creates a global censorship race among autocrats.

China’s Censors Can Now Erase Images Mid-Transmission

China’s already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength—the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them. The ability is part of a broader technology push by Beijing’s censors to step up surveillance and get ahead of activists and others communicating online in China. Displays of this new image-filtering capability kicked into high gear recently as Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo lay dying from liver cancer and politically minded Chinese tried to pay tribute to him, according to activists and a new research report.

Wu Yangwei, a friend of the long-jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said he used popular messaging app WeChat to send friends a photo of a haggard Liu embracing his wife. Wu believed the transmissions were successful, but he said his friends never saw them. “Sometimes you can get around censors by rotating the photo,” said Wu, a writer better known by his pen name, Ye Du. “But that doesn’t always work."

Net Neutrality Challenges in the World: Zero-Rating in the European Union

According to our preliminary research, there is some form of zero-rating in 20 out of 28 European nations. Zero-rating spans European Union economies of all sizes, from the United Kingdom to Romania, Germany, and Spain. This finding is consistent with Digital Fuel Monitor’s reports: in 2014, European Internet Service Providers offered at least 75 zero-rated apps; in 2015, they offered at least 35 zero-rated apps; and in 2016, they offered at least 62 zero-rated apps. Our preliminary research has found that today, in 2017, there exists at least 73 zero-rated apps across the continent.

Spreading fake news becomes standard practice for governments across the world

Campaigns to manipulate public opinion through false or misleading social media postings have become standard political practice across much of the world, with information ministries, specialized military units and political operatives shaping the flow of information in dozens of countries, said researchers from Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project.

These propaganda efforts exploit every social media platform — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond — and rely on human users and computerized “bots” that can dramatically amplify the power of disinformation campaigns by automating the process of preparing and delivering posts. Bots interact with human users and also with other bots. Though most social media platforms are designed and run by corporations based the United States, the platforms are infiltrated almost immediately upon their release to the public by a range of international actors skilled at using information to advance political agendas, within their own countries and beyond, said the researchers.

Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said

The June 3, 2016, e-mail sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton. The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s eldest son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication. He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Four days later, after a flurry of e-mails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.” Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

Legacy media diverge from digital natives in fight against Facebook, Google

If Congress grants an exception to legacy news publishers to pressure Google and Facebook, it might lead to the kind of concessions publishers have won in Europe. In the US, pressure on Facebook and Google has been successful in helping publishers gain traction, but the culture of European publishing and the vigor of its regulatory environment is totally different from the free-market roots of the US news industry.

Whatever the outcome, a larger question remains about the right relationship between journalism and the most powerful companies in the world. This is a long-term issue, which is unlikely to be settled by one group or cartel gaining regulatory concessions but, rather, by a more profound change in the regulatory and commercial environment.

Fake news might be harder to spot than most people believe

[Commentary] Fake news has been dominating real news since 2016’s US presidential election. Its effect has been debated and politicized, and in the process, the term itself has lost its original meaning and become something of a partisan insult. But an underlying question still needs answering: Can people distinguish legitimate sources of information from fake ones?

A majority of Americans are confident that they can, according to surveys. But it might be more difficult than it seems in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, with countless information sources tailored to every ideological taste. To find out how well-informed people can tell true from false, I conducted a study on a sample of about 700 undergraduates at the University of British Columbia. These were primarily political science students interested in current events, who said they frequently read and watch news, on and offline. I thought that they would easily spot fake news websites. I was wrong.

[Dominik Stecula is a PhD candidate in political science and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia.]

China Tells Carriers to Block Access to Personal VPNs by February

Apparently, China’s government has told telecommunications carriers to block individuals’ access to virtual private networks by Feb. 1, thereby shutting a major window to the global internet. Beijing has ordered state-run telecommunications firms, which include China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, to bar people from using VPNs, services that skirt censorship restrictions by routing web traffic abroad. The clampdown will shutter one of the main ways in which people both local and foreign still manage to access the global, unfiltered web on a daily basis.

In keeping with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “cyber sovereignty” campaign, the government now appears to be cracking down on loopholes around the Great Firewall, a system that blocks information sources from Twitter and Facebook to news websites such as the New York Times and others.

Spyware Sold to Mexican Government Targeted International Officials

A team of international investigators brought to Mexico to unravel one of the nation’s gravest human rights atrocities was targeted with sophisticated surveillance technology sold to the Mexican government to spy on criminals and terrorists. The spying took place during what the investigators call a broad campaign of harassment and interference that prevented them from solving the haunting case of 43 students who disappeared after clashing with the police nearly three years ago.