from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Cyber Week in Review: May 5, 2017

A picture illustration shows a WeChat app icon in Beijing, December 5, 2013. Petar Kujundzic/Reuters

This week: new rules for online publishers in China, a ban on social media in Kashmir, phishing Gmail users, and UK MPs wagging their fingers at Facebook.

May 5, 2017

A picture illustration shows a WeChat app icon in Beijing, December 5, 2013. Petar Kujundzic/Reuters
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Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:

1. Comrade, how is my WeChat post? China’s internet gatekeeper, the Cyber Administration of China (CAC), issued new regulations this week requiring content on all online news portals to be licensed and regulated by government-sanctioned staff. The rules, which take effect June 1, are an even tighter version of the already strict Chinese internet laws and will mainly affect the so-called “new media” (新媒体) which has so far evaded serious oversight. As part of the new regulations, all online outlets (including public WeChat accounts, blogs, and forums) will need an editorial staff approved by the government in order to publish online. The new CAC regulations underscore how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is limiting and guiding online discussion under the pretense of protecting China’s “cyber sovereignty.” Construction is even underway on the Chinese version of Wikipedia, with one slight tweak from the original: all information will be CCP-approved and the public cannot edit it. However, Chinese companies are discovering that other countries asserting their “cyber sovereignty” can be bad for business. On Friday, Russia blocked WeChat, China’s most popular social media app. The app’s developer, Tencent, which has global ambitions for WeChat, expressed regret over the decision and promised to openly communicate with Russian authorities.

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2. Indian state bans social networks for a month. The state of Jammu and Kashmir in India ordered internet service providers to block access to social media networks. Kashmir, a disputed region claimed by both India and Pakistan since the partition of India in 1947, has seen a recent escalation ofviolent public demonstrations, with senior officials pointing to platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp as the main organizational tool used by protesters. Social media networks will remain offline in Kashmir for one month (or until further orders) to buy the government time to “manage the situation.” State governments in India have often resorted to shutting off internet access as a method to stop the spread of communal violence. According to one civil society group, there have been 73 internet shutdowns in India since 2012, with 31 occurring in Jammu and Kashmir. This most recent ban is novel in that it only cuts access to social media applications, not the internet as a whole.

3. Here phishy, phishy, phishyA phishing campaign infected the inboxes of a wide swath of Gmail users on Wednesday. An email impersonating a request to collaborate on Google Docs was sent to Gmail users, who were prompted to give an app masquerading as Google Docs access to their account, allowing hackers to spam the targeted user's address book. Google responded quickly, first by warnings users and ultimately stopping the campaign's spread. Despite causing a mild panic on Twitter, there is no evidence the campaign did much harm, other than causing 1 million users to change their passwords--a cinch if you have a password manager. You do have a password manager, right?

4. UK MPs warn U.S. tech platforms to scrub their ecosystem, or else. Google, Facebook, and Twitter might soon face fines in the United Kingdom for failing to remove objectionable content fast enough. UK members of parliament issued a report sharply criticizing U.S. tech giants for their lack of diligence in addressing “dangerous content” online, and proposed that social media companies be obliged to routinely police their sites for “hate and abuse,” or else UK law enforcement would do it and send Google, Facebook and Twitter the bill. The report echoes recent draft German legislation proposing similar measures against social media platforms.

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