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The Chinese government ordered the “Great Firewall”, a sophisticated system of technology and people to block foreign websites, to resume online chats and punish stray people.
I spoke to my colleague, Paul Mozur, who has written for many years about technology and politics in China, about what he calls “small and big firewalls” by governments in Myanmar, Russia. , Uganda and other countries are also trying to control online activities.
Shira: Let’s first explain about China’s internet control system.
Paul: It’s a combination of blocking any foreign website you can think of and providing an information environment that reinforces what the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party have to say about the world.
The controls are comprehensive. A huge government apparatus oversees online activity and an army of volunteers reporting content that needs moderation and helping to spread positive messages about government initiatives. Companies were tasked with extracting documents from the internet, and engineering teams were dispatched to build artificial intelligence tools to help. Contractors provide the manpower to moderate the industrial scale.
The latest phenomenon is the internet police, arresting or investigating people if they are found routinely doing things like mocking the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, on the internet or raising sensitive political topics. cold.
Does the firewall work?
It’s correct. It comes at the cost of government energy and money and the persistent anger of part of the population, but it is extremely effective at shaping what many people think.
Most people don’t have time to escape the information environment they live in, so it informs them of their view of the world – especially in crises. The online manipulation during the early coronavirus outbreak is perhaps the largest censorship event in history.
How does an attempt to block certain websites or control the internet in other countries compare to the Great Firewall?
Iran and North Korea also have almost complete control over the Internet, and Myanmar and Cambodia are likely trying to do something similar.
But it is difficult for any country to permanently block major social networking sites and censor what people say online – as our colleague Anton Troianovski reported from Russia. It risks angering people and isolating the economy, and the government risks missing out on its other priorities. It’s also hard to keep track of everyone’s attempts to control the internet.
How does Myanmar try to control people’s online activities?
When the coup started last month, the military used brute force tactics to temporarily turn off the internet. In some cases, they did it with guns. Now they are slowly cutting access.
Every morning, people wake up to find new websites they can’t access. Right now, it’s pretty easy for people to pass through those blocks. It’s worrisome that new technology from China could make the blocks more mature, although we don’t see any evidence so far of Chinese involvement.
How would you explain that in Myanmar, people were subjected to too little the restriction of the Internet and too much? First, the military Sowing online hatred against the Rohingya of the country minority groups, and now they’re cutting off the Internet.
When major democratic institutions are weak and there are challenges to a country’s future, powerful actors will both cut the flow of information appropriate to them and deploy the internet to spread information for the benefit of the country. surname. China can do both, and so can Myanmar. While it may seem contradictory, censorship and misinformation go hand in hand.
The concern is that China will make it easier for the technology and engineering of its internet manipulation system to adapt to other authoritarian states. Myanmar is important to watch out for because if generals control the internet without undermining the economy, it could serve as a model for other authoritarian regimes.
Tips of the week
Three cheap and useful technology gadgets
Flying cars are great, but sometimes finding technology that solves small problems can make you feel great. The New York Times personal technology column Brian X. Chen There are three inexpensive tech helpers for us to try.
Sometimes the most useful technologies are cheap technologies combined with human ingenuity. Here are three examples in the $ 15 to $ 30 range.
Bluetooth tracker like Tile ($ 25): These little cards are meant to be attached to things you frequently lose, like your house keys and wallet, so you can use your phone to identify them. But with a bit of imagination, a Bluetooth tracker can do a lot more than that.
I attach a Tile to my obnoxious thin Apple TV remote, which frequently disappears between couch cushions. I left a Tile in my checked baggage to help me find it at the airport. And a friend who left a Tile in her car was able to track the thieves stole it and share that information with law enforcement.
We have written extensively about the dangers of allowing third parties to track our location, but privacy experts have found no major concerns about Tile practices.
MyQ smart garage door opener ($ 27): The hub, when installed next to your existing garage door opener and connected to the home internet, allows anyone to control the garage door with a phone app.
I found this gizmo surprisingly useful. Once, when I wasn’t home, my neighbor locked himself out of our building and I was able to let him in using the app to remotely open the garage door. It’s great my wife and I don’t need a separate remote as we pull our bikes out of the garage to go.
Internet connection plugs such as TP-Link Kasa ($ 17): I use a smart plug to program a bunch of small tasks. I set a timer to turn off the home vegetable lights after 16 o’clock and set an electric kettle to boil water in the morning to make coffee.
Before we go …
A technological regulatory intermediary may have: Kashmir Hill writes about Massachusetts, where a civil libertarian activist and elected officials balance between banning facial recognition technology used by law enforcement and giving police complete freedom. control.
The Internet never forgets: Liat Kaplan, who wrote a previously unknown celebrity blog in 2010, has second thoughts about “acting shame in public for revenge in disguise as social criticism”. Related, from internet culture writer Ryan Broderick: “We can’t control what percentage of our lives are almost forever online, but we can learn to decide what’s worth dissecting and what’s not.”
Sea turtles have been rescued from recent icy weather in Texas was released back to the Gulf of Mexico. Had a sea turtle slide!
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