China now has seminars to teach other countries how to censor free speech as its ‘techno-dystopia’ spreads, a worrying report has found.
Governments worldwide are stepping up use of online tools to suppress dissent and tighten their grip on power, a human rights watchdog study found.
Chinese officials have held sessions on controlling information with 36 of the 65 countries assessed, and provided telecom and surveillance equipment to a number of foreign governments, researchers said.
India led the world in the number of internet shutdowns, with over 100 reported incidents in 2018 so far, claiming that the moves were needed to halt the flow of disinformation and incitement to violence.
Many governments, including Saudi Arabia, are employing ‘troll armies’ to manipulate social media and in many cases drown out the voices of dissidents.
Governments worldwide are stepping up use of online tools to suppress dissent and tighten their grip on power, a human rights watchdog study found
The annual Freedom House study of 65 countries found global internet freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year in 2018.
The Freedom on the Net 2018 report also found online propaganda and disinformation have increasingly ‘poisoned’ the digital space, while the unbridled collection of personal data is infringing on privacy.
‘Democracies are struggling in the digital age, while China is exporting its model of censorship and surveillance to control information both inside and outside its borders,’ said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.
‘This pattern poses a threat to the open internet and endangers prospects for greater democracy worldwide.’
The accusations made by Freedom House are ‘without basis, unprofessional, irresponsible, and have ulterior motives,’ said Chinese foreign ministry official spokesman Lu Kang at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.
Cyberspace is complex, he added, and requires ‘the global community, including governments, businesses, think tanks and media to adopt a constructive attitude to maintain it.’
The report found 17 governments approved or proposed laws restricting online media in the name of fighting ‘fake news,’ while 18 countries increased surveillance or weakened encryption protection to more closely monitor their citizenry.
According to the researchers, internet freedom declined in 26 countries from June 2017 to May 2018. Gains were seen in 19 countries, most of them minor.
One of the greatest threats, Freedom House said, is efforts by China to remake the digital world in its ‘techno-dystopian’ image.
It cited a sweeping Chinese cybersecurity requirement that local and foreign companies ‘immediately stop transmission’ of banned content, and compels them to ensure that data on Chinese users is hosted within the country.
One of the greatest threats, Freedom House said, is efforts by China to remake the digital world in its ‘techno-dystopian’ image (stock image)
This has been followed by ‘hundreds’ of new directives on what people can and cannot do online, and tighter controls on the use of VPNs to evade detection.
The report said leaked documents and other evidence suggest as many as a million Muslims may be held in internment camps in Xinjiang, many as a result of nonviolent online activities.
China appears to be using its big tech firms involved in telecom infrastructure to extend its dominance and gain an edge in surveillance, according to Freedom House.
Companies such as Huawei – largely banned from contracts in the US and Australia – are building infrastructure in many parts of the world including Africa and Latin America, according to Freedom House board chairman Michael Chertoff, a former US secretary of homeland security.
‘This opens up a potential for exploiting information in these countries by having technological backdoors that can be used by the Chinese government to collect intelligence,’ Chertoff said.
The researchers said online freedom is facing threats in democratic and authoritarian states.
There have been a number of internet shut downs in India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
‘Cutting off internet service is a draconian response, particularly at a time when citizens may need it the most, whether to dispel rumors, check in with loved ones, or avoid dangerous areas,’ Freedom House researcher Adrian Shahbaz said.
‘While deliberately falsified content is a genuine problem, some governments are increasingly using ‘fake news’ as a pretense to consolidate their control over information and suppress dissent.’
‘It has now become a tool of authoritarian diplomacy to deploy an army of electronic trolls,’ he said.
The researchers said online freedom also declined in the United States in part due to the rollback of ‘net neutrality’ rules which ensured that all data be treated equally, without ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ lanes for commercial or other reasons.
It said online freedom also faces threats in the US as a result of the reauthorization of a surveillance law and a ‘hyperpartisan’ environment in social media marked by large disinformation efforts.
HOW CAN YOU FIND AND DELETE WHERE GOOGLE KNOWS YOU’VE BEEN?
Even if you have ‘Location History’ off, Google often stores your precise location.
Here’s how to delete those markers and some best-effort practices that keep your location as private as possible.
But there’s no panacea, because simply connecting to the internet on any device flags an IP address that can be geographically mapped.
Smartphones also connect to cell towers, so your carrier knows your general location at all times.
To disable tracking on any device
Fire up your browser and go to myactivity.google.com. You’ll need to be logged into Google.
On the upper left drop-down menu, go to ‘Activity Controls.’ Turn off both ‘Web & App Activity’ and ‘Location History.’
That should prevent precise location markers from being stored to your Google account.
Google will warn you that some of its services won’t work as well with these settings off.
In particular, neither the Google Assistant, a digital concierge, nor the Google Home smart speaker will be particularly useful.
If you use Google Maps, adjust your location setting to ‘While Using’ the app. This will prevent the app from accessing your location when it’s not active.
Go to Settings Privacy Location Services and from there select Google Maps to make the adjustment.
In the Safari web browser, consider using a search engine other than Google.
Under Settings Safari Search Engine, you can find other options like Bing or DuckDuckGo.
You can turn location off while browsing by going to Settings Privacy Location Services Safari Websites, and turn this to ‘Never.’
This still won’t prevent advertisers from knowing your rough location based on IP address on any website.
You can also turn Location Services off to the device almost completely from Settings Privacy Location Services.
Both Google Maps and Apple Maps will still work, but they won’t know where you are on the map and won’t be able to give you directions.
Emergency responders will still be able to find you if the need arises.
Under the main settings icon click on ‘Security & location.’ Scroll down to the ‘Privacy’ heading. Tap ‘Location.’ You can toggle it off for the entire device.
Use ‘App-level permissions’ to turn off access to various apps.
Unlike the iPhone, there is no setting for ‘While Using.’
You cannot turn off Google Play services, which supplies your location to other apps if you leave that service on.
Sign in as a ‘guest’ on your Android device by swiping down from top and tapping the downward-facing cursor, then again on the torso icon.
Be aware of which services you sign in on, like Chrome. You can also change search engines even in Chrome.
To delete past location tracking on any device
On the page myactivity.google.com, look for any entry that has a location pin icon beside the word ‘details.’
Clicking on that pops up a window that includes a link that sometimes says ‘From your current location.’
Clicking on it will open Google Maps, which will display where you were at the time.
You can delete it from this popup by clicking on the navigation icon with the three stacked dots and then ‘Delete.’
Some items will be grouped in unexpected places, such as topic names, google.com, Search, or Maps.
You have to delete them item by item. You can wholesale delete all items in date ranges or by service, but will end up taking out more than just location markers.