Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
- Surprise, surprise: China and Russia are reading the emails of top U.S. officials. NBC reported this week that Chinese spies have been accessing the private email accounts of senior administration officials since at least 2010. It’s not clear which officials (or how many) had their email accounts hacked, but the period of the attacks overlaps with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State. A separate incident affected the unclassified e-mail system of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, affecting upwards of 4,000 personnel. Unnamed DOD officials said that Russia is suspected in that incident. In response to questions about the breaches, John Kerry said this week that he writes all his emails with the awareness that “it’s very possible” that foreign governments are reading them. That upset Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), who said that Kerry “is focused on downplaying emerging threats and convincing the American people that weakness is the new normal.”
- Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor briefly banned Reddit, one of the world’s most popular websites. Roskomnadzor used it’s VK page--Russia’s equivalent of Facebook--to request Reddit administrators remove a post about magic mushrooms on grounds that it violated Russian drug laws. Reddit did not reply to the request prompting the regulator to ban the entire website as Reddit’s use of secure connections prevented Roskomnadzor from only censoring the offending post. Less than twenty-four hours later, the regulator unblocked Reddit, stating that it had received a message from Reddit’s administrators confirming that Russians "no longer have access to the illegal content." While the blocking of content based on local laws isn’t new, it’s interesting that the episode unfolded in public. Generally, regulators looking to remove content from the Internet try to do so quietly or obfuscate the reasons why information has been censored.
- Twitter released its transparency report for the first half of this year. During that time, requests for account information rose fifty-two percent, affecting just over 12,000 accounts--a drop in the bucket of Twitter’s user base, which totals 316 million. The United States was by far the most frequent requester for information with over two thousand requests, eighty percent of which resulted in information being handed over to authorities. Japan came in second with 425 requests and Turkey was third with 419. Requests for user data generally originate with law enforcement or intelligence agencies looking to acquire more information about a Twitter user to pursue a lead.
- If you’re in New York City between now and January, you might want to check out the How Cats Took Over the Internet exhibition at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image. The exhibition explores our fascination with feline-related videos and gifs, and why cats have become the dominant animal on the web.