Netizen Report: Search Edition

By Flickr user Halilgokdal (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Tom Risen, James Losey, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Rayna St, Sarah Myers, and Rebecca MacKinnon.

In our latest Netizen Report we focus on the busy week Google is having as the world’s biggest search engine seeks to manage concerns from governments, businesses and users. Google’s decision to punish copyright violators by lowering their rankings on the search engine’s algorithm is a reminder of the how search results have far-reaching effects. The move to decrease the page rankings of sites that have repeatedly received DMCA “takedown” notices of copyright infringement is a nod to Hollywood’s concern over content piracy, but some technologists argue it will do little to stem illegal downloads because the links on Google will merely be harder to find. Privacy advocates say the move threatens the reliability of search results.

Another search engine change Google announced is a beta test of a tool that will include results from Gmail in search requests when a user is logged in to their account. This announcement is arousing privacy concerns similar to when Google used its users’ personal data in 2010 to create the now-defunct Google Buzz chat network. As a result of the 2010 Google Buzz concerns the United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) required Google to undergo privacy audits for 20 years. The FTC also announced last week that Google will pay a $22.5 million settlement for violating that privacy settlement with the agency by placing behavioral tracking cookies in Apple’s Safari Web browser. The settlement is the largest ever filed with the FTC, but it is reportedly equal to the amount Google makes in five hours. More government pressure on Google comes from India, which just launched an anti-trust investigation of the company over alleged anti-competitive practices on Monday. When questioned on the investigation Google replied to Reuters, “We're confident that our products are compliant with competition law in India.”

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

In more Google news, the company is being sued for defamation by the chairman of the Hong Kong-based Emperor Group of companies, Albert Yeung Sau-shing, who claims the search engine links to defaming articles when his name is entered. Albert Yeung has presumed links with triad criminal activity, and has been convicted of crimes in the past, such as a conviction in 1986 for “illegal bookmaking” and in the 1998 for “insider trading,” Global Voices Advocacy reports.

Craigslist, the US-based classified advertisement website, illustrated the business importance of search engines by briefly laying copyright claims to posts by their users and banning their inclusion on search engines. Craigslist later retracted the ban.

The beta version of the upcoming Apple iO 6 operating system for iPads and iPhones does not include an app for Google’s YouTube, prompting analysis of chilled relations between Google and Apple for the mobile market.

Facebook and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have filed amicus briefs with the 4th US Court of Appeals to support five plaintiffs who lost cases at the US District Court of Eastern Virginia in April, in which a judge ruled that pressing “like” on a political candidate’s Facebook pages is not protected by US Constitution. Facebook and ACLU argue “likes” are within the scope of free speech in this case.

Privacy

The FTC announced that Facebook has agreed to make all future privacy settings to be “opt-in.” The company will also undergo biennial privacy audits for the next 20 years led by an independent third party.

Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 10 will have “Do Not Track” features turned on by default, meaning behavioral tracking will be denied to third party advertisers and websites. Other web browsers such as Firefox and Safari offer Do Not Track for users as an opt-in feature, while IE 10 users will have to opt-out in their settings.

Patrick Ball, one of the designers of encrypted human rights bulletin Martus, published an op-ed in Wired that argues for more skepticism about secure communications tools. A debate about how to promote encryption software began on Wired following an article published presenting the encrypted chat service CryptoCat.

Copyright

TechDirt reported the removal of a video of the Curiosity rover on Mars due to an erroneous copyright claim. NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, Bob Jacobs, said they spend a significant amount of time on administrative processes due to needless copyright claims and called for YouTube to build more ‘common sense’ into its processes.

The US “Six Strikes” anti-piracy bill has been delayed for later this year. According to a Center for Copyright Information Advisory Board member, the reasons are the language to be used for the warnings and the fine-tuning of the alert emails to be sent to pirating subscribers.

The popular BitTorrent tracker Demonoid has been shut down by Ukrainian authorities after a police raid in the data center Colocall where Demonoid’s servers were hosted. Meanwhile, it was reported that Mexican police have arrested several people and seized assets related to Demonoid. Demonoid domains have already gone up in the market for sale.

BitTorrent announced the availability of more than 1,000,000 files of freely downloadable music, movies and books. Those have been released by the Internet Archive, a non-profit online library promoting “universal access to knowledge”.

Censorship

Jordan’s Telecommunication Regulation Commission ordered Internet service providers there to block pornography. Jordan’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ar) also announced it would work with an unnamed Australian company to develop systems to filter pornographic websites.

China’s popular microblog Sina Weibo [zh] experienced “limited” service during the murder trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of a former Communist Party member, who is charged with murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has asked the country’s Internet service providers to block web links that direct to sites containing scandalous materials, including an audio recording of two parliament members engaged in a “sensual” conversation.

The Israeli Communication Minister has required Internet service providers to provide customers with free tools to filter obscene content.

A Brazilian judge ordered [es] Facebook to be blocked in the country for 24 hours because the company violated a previous ruling which asked Facebook to take down a page defaming a politician who is running for re-election. The judge later suspended [pt] the order after Facebook agreed to cooperate.

Also in Brazil, the Justice of the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court Gilmar Mendes has ordered police to investigate Wikipedia because the online encyclopedia has published a post which contains information the Justice has deemed distorted and ideological.

Netizen Activism

Malaysian websites, netizens and advocacy groups organized a Web blackout day on Aug. 14 to protest the recently-passed Section 114A amendment of the Evidence Act of 1950, which would place the presumption of guilt for defamatory online posts against coffee shop owners and others who administer, operate or provide spaces for blogging activity. The blackout, launched by Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism, was modeled after the website strike on Jan. 18, 2012, to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Cybersecurity

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab also revealed that state-sponsored malware named “Gauss” may have connections with other similar espionage software such as Stuxnet and Flame. Gauss can extract information from computers and has affected thousands of machines mainly located in the Middle East.

A group of researchers scanned the Internet and found that many public keys, which are issued along with certificates by websites to establish secure online connections, are not generated randomly enough and are easily decoded by malicious users. The researchers said that  the vulnerable public keys were mostly for firewalls and VPN servers.

Apple has temporarily held its over-the-phone password reset service after Wired.com journalist Mat Honan was hacked and lost his data stored in iPad, iPhone, Macbook as well as Gmail. The hackers obtained the last four digits of Honan’s credit card, then used it to call Apple’s customer support to change the password of his AppleID account, thus gained access to all his accounts.

Wikileaks’ main website and its mirror sites experienced a prolonged distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack last week. The organization speculated that the attack may be related to the Olympic Games or the release of Stratfor and Syria documents.

Surveillance

Public Intelligence analyzes TrapWire, a global surveillance system allegedly used worldwide. The data about this software originates from hacked emails from the privately held intelligence company Stratfor and published by WikiLeaks.

A researcher at computer security company Rapid7 found that Finfisher, surveillance software created by the British company Gamma International, is running at computers based in many countries including Australia, Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates,  Ethiopia, Estonia, and Mongolia.

Thuggery

On August 8, The independent Hong Kong news website inmediahk.net [zh] was raided by masked men who pretended to offer donations to the organization and ravaged computer equipment in the office.

Dinh Dang Dinh, a former Vietnamese military officer and now a blogger advocating democratic reform in Vietnam, has been sentenced to 6 years in jail for criticizing the Vietnamese Communist Party and the government online.

Authorities in Ethiopia arrested and charged Temesgen Desalegn with defamation and “spreading false rumors,” 12 days after the government shut down Feteh, the newspaper he edits. The newspaper’s last issue featured article about Muslim protests and the poor health of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has ruled since 1995. Free speech advocates fear the Telecom Fraud Offences Law could lead to restrictions against Facebook.

Since August, 20 Omani netizens have been sentenced to jail and fined for criticizing the Sultan of Oman on the Internet and for “illegal assembly”.  

Internet Governance

Representatives from Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, and European Police Office (Europol), will meet in September to discuss the Clean IT project, which aims to develop a flagging system encouraging Internet Service Providers to take down terrorist content. The project has ignited debate over where the governments should draw the line on online speech.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has extended its comment period on applications for generic top-level domains (gTLD's), reportedly in response to pressure from the US government and intellectual property interests.

Net Neutrality

Measurement Lab, a Google-backed platform empowering Internet connection research, has updated data on how ISPs in different countries throttle traffic of peer-to-peer file sharing platform BitTorrent.  

Cool Things

The Internet Society is seeking applicants for its Community Grants Programme. The criteria include: “fostering an open, innovative, and trusted Internet worldwide” and “empowering people to achieve human potential through unencumbered Internet use.”

A documentary by Al Jazeera English called “Controlling the Web” looks into the fight for control of the Internet and the US anti-piracy legislation threatening Internet freedom.

Cyberwar plays a role in the upcoming movie “Red Dawn,” as indicated in the trailer for the remake of the 1984 film, in which invading forces cause a massive blackout using an electromagnetic pulse or hacking device.

Publications and Studies

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

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