from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Cyber Week in Review: September 29, 2017

This week: Russia's absence in Germany's election, Twitter under fire, China's cybersecurity law at the WTO, and Brazil's fight with Amazon over .amazon.

September 29, 2017

People hold placards while waiting for Christian Democratic Union CDU party leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to react on first exit polls in the German general election (Bundestagswahl) in Berlin, Germany. Pawel Kopczynski/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. Vladimir, where art thou? Given suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. and French elections, it was almost a given that Moscow was going to do the same for Germany's parliamentary election that took place on Sunday. Much to everyone's surprise, Russian trolls were noticeably absent. One reason may be the fact that Facebook, accused of not doing enough to prevent the spread of false and polarizing information during the U.S. election, worked overtime to take down misleading posts and fake accounts. Another might be that Moscow determined that meddling in the German election was too risky given the attention its methods had already garnered in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even if Russian trolls had been more active, it is unclear whether they would have been successful. According to the New York Times, Germans still overwhelmingly trust traditional media outlets and are largely skeptical of what they read on Twitter of Facebook.

2. A different kind of tweet-storm. Twitter has admitted that three accounts associated with RT, the Kremlin-owned network that pushes Russian propaganda, spent $274,100 on advertising in the United States in 2016. Twitter has not yet disclosed who the ads targeted and how many people saw them. Much like Facebook did a few weeks ago, Twitter representatives met with Senate intelligence committee staffers behind closed doors to discuss Russian influence operations. Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner was unimpressed, saying that Twitter’s understanding of the issue was “deeply disappointing” and “inadequate on almost every level.” Twitter might get a chance to redeem itself when it testifies along with Google and Facebook in open session at a hearing scheduled for November.

3. Your cybersecurity law is bad, and you should feel bad. The United States is taking its opposition to China's new cybersecurity law to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The law, passed in June, requires information technology firms to submit to security checks, including source code review, and store user data within the country. The United States wants to put the law on the WTO agenda, arguing that it amounts a trade barrier by hampering the flow of data across borders. The new law is emblematic of China’s notion of cyber sovereignty, where the state exercises control over the internet within its borders. For its part, China is likely to argue that its new law is a national security matter, not a trade one, and therefore not subject to WTO review.

4. A rumble about the jungle. The Brazilian government wrote to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) expressing its continued opposition to Amazon’s acquisition of the .amazon domain name. Brazil and other South American countries like Peru are home to the Amazon rain forest and have steadfastly opposed Amazon’s application for the top-level domain name, claiming it would prevent the use of .amazon for public purposes like promoting the protection of the Amazon biome. The ICANN board had actually blocked the delegation of .amazon to Amazon, but an independent review panel concluded in July that the board did so in violation of ICANN's by-laws. That led Brazil to argue that ICANN is inherently biased, favoring U.S. interests over those of governments that have objected to the move. The debate remains unsettled and will likely be discussed at length at the ICANN’s upcoming meeting in Abu Dhabi.

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