Ankara launches fresh probe into controversial new WhatsApp privacy rules

WhatsApp has asked all its users to agree to sharing more personal data or be kicked off the site. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2021
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Ankara launches fresh probe into controversial new WhatsApp privacy rules

  • The Turkish watchdog is expected to re-evaluate the situation on Feb. 8 – the deadline set by WhatsApp for users to accept the new terms of service

ANKARA: Turkey has stepped up its ongoing row with mobile messaging service WhatsApp over controversial privacy rules.

The country’s Personal Data Protection Authority on Tuesday followed in the footsteps of the Turkish Competition Authority by launching an investigation into the Facebook-owned platform over its new data-sharing practices.

WhatsApp has asked all its users to agree to sharing more personal data or be kicked off the site.

The Competition Authority on Monday opened a probe into WhatsApp and Facebook while suspending the app’s new data collection rules in Turkey. Meanwhile, rival WhatsApp messaging apps such as Telegram, Signal, and BiP have seen a surge in users joining up.

The Turkish watchdog is expected to re-evaluate the situation on Feb. 8 – the deadline set by WhatsApp for users to accept the new terms of service.

The latest saga comes in the wake of a recent clampdown by Turkey on social media platforms operating in the country. Legislation introduced in July has applied strict oversight of foreign social media companies with those having more than 1 million daily users forced to set up offices in Turkey or face gradual fines and reductions in internet bandwidth.

Cyber rights’ activists claim the law, which obliges social media firms to host Turkey-based users’ data in the country, could allow the government to tighten its grip on online content with tools such as access blocking or content removal.

In November and December, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok faced fines totaling $4 million each for refusing to comply with the legislation.

Erkan Saka, communications professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, told Arab News the reason behind the Turkish probe into WhatsApp was probably due to Facebook not appointing a representative in Turkey as the government had requested.

“This might have angered government circles. If the government were really interested in data protection it would not use WhatsApp until a few days ago for its own communication purposes,” he said.

Saka added that data privacy issues related to Facebook had been known for some time.

“The Turkish government is also acting in a very ambiguous way. The governmental authorities pushed for BiP, which is a disaster privacy-wise, and then Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself opened up a channel at Telegram, and now I see today that many pro-government trolls and columnists are also announcing their Telegram channels,” he said.

Erdogan’s media office announced on Monday that the presidency would move all its WhatsApp groups to encrypted messaging app BiP, developed by the country’s mobile network company Turkcell. BiP gained more than 1.12 million users in just 24 hours after the announcement.

However, as the Erdogan-headed sovereign wealth fund owns a majority stake in Turkcell, many Turkish users are concerned as to what extent their personal information will be protected as BiP also collects user data including contacts, location, call, and message information.

A transparency report from Twitter for the first half of 2020 revealed that Turkey was still a world leader in terms of censoring social media content, having the highest number of third-party takedown requests and withheld accounts and tweets.

Ussal Sahbaz, a technology expert, said: “Countries like Israel and New Zealand are considered by the EU as third countries which have an adequate level of data protection. Such a labeling increases the countries’ leverages against international companies.”

Sahbaz added that although Turkey was a founding member of the Council of Europe, Ankara had hesitated in implementing the Convention of the Council about the automatic processing of personal data and supervising of transborder data flows.


Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Updated 21 June 2024
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Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

  • Maha Hussaini accuses International Women’s Media Foundation of bowing to pressure she says is typical of the systematic attacks Palestinian journalists face
  • Foundation’s decision follows a report by a conservative publication that accused Hussaini of support for Hamas and antisemitic comments

LONDON: A group that represents women in journalism has rescinded a Courage in Journalism award it presented this month to Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini.

The decision by the International Women’s Media Foundation follows a report this week by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication in the US, that alleged the freelance writer, who is based in Gaza, had posted messages on social media several years ago in which she praised terrorist actions by Hamas on at least two occasions and shared antisemitic cartoons.

The foundation said the comments in the posts “contradict the values of our organization,” adding: “Both the Courage Awards and the IWMF’s mission are based on integrity and opposition to intolerance. We do not, and will not, condone or support views or statements that do not adhere to those principles.”

Hussaini was named on June 10 as one of four recipients of the Courage Award, for her reporting during the war in Gaza. Her work included a story about the challenges women face giving birth at home during the conflict, and a harrowing account of a young girl who carried her paralyzed brother to safety during military bombing campaigns.

The IWMF describes itself as “a bold and inclusive organization that supports journalists where they are.” Its board and advisory council include prominent media figures such as former CNN journalist Suzanne Malveaux, the Washington Post’s Hannah Allam and CNN TV news anchor Christiane Amanpour.

Hussaini denounced the decision to rescind the award, accusing the Washington-based foundation of “succumbing to pressure” and “choosing to act contrary to courage.” She added that it “starkly demonstrated the systematic physical and moral attacks Palestinian journalists endure throughout their careers.”

Ina message posted on social media platform X, she added: “Each announcement of an award to a Palestinian journalist is systematically followed by extensive smearing campaigns and intense pressure on the awarding organizations from supporters of the Israeli occupation and the Zionist lobby.

“While some organizations uphold their principles and maintain their decision … others, regrettably, cave to the pressure and withdraw the prizes.”

Hussaini said she had “no regrets about any posts” and said her social media comments reflected her experiences of living under Israeli occupation and simply expressed support for resistance efforts.

The foundation’s decision was widely criticized by journalists and media groups. Some suggested Hussaini was the victim of a “vicious campaign,” others described the output of the Washington Free Beacon as “decadent and unethical” and said it had a history of targeting supporters of the Palestinian cause.


UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

Updated 21 June 2024
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UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

  • Robert Winnett is accused of using unethical methods to obtain information
  • Winnet’s candidacy faced criticism from Post staff who scrutinized his past

WASHINGTON: British journalist Robert Winnett will not be joining the Washington Post as its editor, an internal memo seen by Reuters showed, following media reports that he used unethical methods to obtain information while working with the Sunday Times.
Post publisher Will Lewis had named Winnett, a former colleague who serves as deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, to the role earlier this month after the exit of Sally Buzbee, the first woman to lead the storied newsroom. The reversal means Winnett will remain at the Daily Telegraph, which he joined in 2007.
“It is with regret that I share with you that Robert Winnett has withdrawn from the position of Editor at The Washington Post,” Lewis said in the memo on Friday.
The New York Times reported last Saturday that Lewis and Winnett used fraudulently obtained records in articles at London’s Sunday Times newspaper. On Sunday, the Post published a report detailing Winnett’s ties to John Ford, who has admitted to using illegal methods to gain information for stories.
Lewis did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment, while Winnett declined to comment.
Daily Telegraph editor Chris Evans said in an internal memo, “I’m pleased to report that Rob Winnett has decided to stay with us. As you all know, he’s a talented chap and their loss is our gain.”
The Post’s memo showed that it has started a search for a new editor and that Matt Murray, former editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, will lead the newsroom and continue in his role as executive editor until after the US elections.
The newspaper, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of many news outlets struggling to maintain a sustainable business model in the decades since the Internet upended the economics of journalism and digital advertising rates plummeted.
Executives at the Post last year offered voluntary buyouts across the company to reduce employee headcount by about 10 percent and shrink the size of the newsroom to about 940 journalists.
A report in the Post last month said the newspaper was planning to create new subscription tiers called Post Pro and Post Plus to draw more money from its readers after losing $77 million over the past year.


TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

Updated 21 June 2024
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TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

  • ByteDance-owned company said in court letter that Committee on Foreign Investment ceased negotions after submitting draft security agreement

LONDON: TikTok disclosed a letter Thursday that accused the Biden administration of engaging in “political demagoguery” during high-stakes negotiations between the government and the company as it sought to relieve concerns about its presence in the US
The letter — sent to David Newman, a top official in the Justice Department’s national security division, before President Biden signed the potential TikTok ban into law — was submitted in federal court along with a legal brief supporting the company’s lawsuit against measure. TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is expected to be one of the biggest legal battles in tech and Internet history.
The internal documents provide details about negotiations between TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive inter-agency panel that investigates corporate deals over national security concerns, between January 2021 and August 2022.
TikTok has said those talks ultimately resulted in a 90-page draft security agreement that would have required the company to implement more robust safeguards around US user data. It would have also required TikTok to put in a “kill switch” that would have allowed CFIUS to suspend the platform if it was found to be non-compliant with the agreement.
However, attorneys for TikTok said the agency “ceased any substantive negotiations” with the company after it submitted the draft agreement in August 2022.
CFIUS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department said it is looking forward to defending the recently enacted legislation, which it says addresses “critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations.”
“Alongside others in our intelligence community and in Congress, the Justice Department has consistently warned about the threat of autocratic nations that can weaponize technology — such as the apps and software that run on our phones – to use against us,” the statement said. “This threat is compounded when those autocratic nations require companies under their control to turn over sensitive data to the government in secret.”
The letter sent to Newman details additional meetings between TikTok and government officials since then, including a March 2023 call the company said was arranged by Paul Rosen, the US Treasury’s undersecretary for investment security.
According to TikTok, Rosen told the company that “senior government officials” deemed the draft agreement to be insufficient to address the government’s national security concerns. Rosen also said a solution would have to involve a divestment by ByteDance and the migration of the social platform’s source code, or its fundamental programming, out of China.
TikTok’s lawsuit has painted divestment as a technological impossibility since the law requires all of TikTok’s millions of lines of code to be wrested from ByteDance so that there would be no “operational relationship” between the Chinese company and the new US app.
After the Wall Street Journal reported in March 2023 that CFIUS had threatened ByteDance to divest TikTok or face a ban, TikTok’s attorneys held another call with senior staff from the Justice and Treasury departments where they said leaks to the media by government officials were “problematic and damaging.”
That call was followed by an in-person meeting in May 2023 between TikTok’s attorneys, technical experts and senior staff at the Treasury Department focused on data safety measures and TikTok’s source code, the company’s attorneys said. The last meeting with CFIUS occurred in September 2023.
In the letter to Newman, TikTok’s attorneys say CFIUS provides a constructive way to address the government’s concern. However, they added, the agency can only serve this purpose when the law — which imposes confidentiality — and regulations “are followed and both sides are engaged in good-faith discussions, as opposed to political subterfuge, where CFIUS negotiations are misappropriated for legislative purposes.”
The legal brief also shared details of, but does not include, a one-page document the Justice Department allegedly provided to members of Congress in March, a month before they passed the federal bill that would require the platform to be sold to an approved buyer or face a ban.
TikTok’s attorneys said the document asserted TikTok collects sensitive data without alleging the Chinese government has ever obtained such data. According to the company, the document also alleged that TikTok’s algorithm creates the potential for China to influence content on the platform without alleging the country has ever done so.


Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London

Updated 20 June 2024
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Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London

  • The meetings discussed the impact of artificial intelligence on journalism and the safety of media professionals in conflict zones

LONDON: The Saudi Journalists Association took part on Wednesday as an observer in the International Federation of Journalists’ meetings in London.

The event, hosted by the UK National Union of Journalists, explored the impact of artificial intelligence on journalism and the safety of media professionals in conflict zones.

The IFJ, the world’s largest union of journalists’ trade unions, vowed to help develop journalists’ skills to adapt to the rapid evolution of journalistic tools, including the growing influence of AI.

Adhwan Al-Ahmari, chairman of the Saudi Journalists Association, emphasized the importance of collaborating with international press federations and knowledge exchange to further develop the Saudi association.

“This marks the first time the association has participated as an observer after joining the IFJ late last year,” Al-Ahmari said.

“Our goal is to play a more significant role within the federation in the coming period.”

The Saudi Journalists Association was founded in 2003 as a civil society body that acts as an umbrella for the country’s press professionals, enhancing their role and instilling a sense of responsibility towards their country and people.


Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

Updated 19 June 2024
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Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

  • Anti-Defamation League cannot be trusted as neutral source of information, Wikipedia editors conclude
  • Organization under scrutiny for its methods of tracking antisemitism and its rigid definition of the term

LONDON: Wikipedia has labelled the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Israeli civil rights organization, as “generally unreliable” for its work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, effectively declassifying it as a top source on its pages.

Editors of the world’s largest online encyclopedia concluded that the ADL, known as the premier Jewish civil rights organization in the US, cannot be trusted as a neutral source of information about antisemitism and the Israel-Palestine crisis.

“ADL no longer appears to adhere to a serious, mainstream and intellectually cogent definition of antisemitism, but has instead given in to the shameless politicization of the very subject that it was originally esteemed for being reliable on,” an editor known as Iskandar323, who initiated the discussion about the ADL, wrote in a debate thread.

Editors highlighted the definition of Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement advocating for the creation of an Israeli state, as a key reason for the declassification.

The decision, which equates the ADL with tabloids, is a significant blow to the organization’s historical status as a key source of information regarding the tracking of antisemitism in the US.

The ADL has faced scrutiny for its methodologies and its rigid definition of antisemitism.

Experts repeatedly expressed skepticism about the organization’s decision to classify demonstrations featuring “anti-Zionist chants and slogans” as antisemitic.

Critics argue that this classification does not represent the full spectrum of antisemitism, because it excludes Jewish progressives and others critical of Israel.

The Forward, a US-Jewish newspaper, found at least 3,000 cases that raised concerns about the ADL’s logging system.

This decision appears to reflect ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s position that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism, full stop,” as he stated in a 2022 speech.

Greenblatt has often been criticized for his strong stance on the issue and has been accused of a partisan approach toward Israel.

In November, he endorsed Elon Musk, who had posted an antisemitic conspiracy theory on his X account, while more recently he described US student protests as Iranian “proxies” and compared the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf to a swastika.

In a statement, the ADL said the Wikipedia decision was part of a “campaign to delegitimize the ADL.”

“This is a sad development for research and education, but ADL will not be daunted in our age-old fight against antisemitism and all forms of hate,” the statement said.