Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

Indian digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules will further undercut online privacy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 February 2021

Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

  • Journalists warn new rules are attempt to regulate online news portals
  • Tech giants are obliged to assist law enforcement in cybercrime, “unlawful” cases

NEW DELHI: Indian journalists and digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules announced on Thursday will further undercut online privacy and freedom of expression in the country.
The new controls give the government more power to police content shared on social media and digital streaming platforms.
It means that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other services are more accountable to requests for removal of content and the identification of users who are deemed to have committed illegal acts by authorities.
Under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, social media platforms have to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order and assist law enforcers in probing cybersecurity-related incidents within 72 hours of receiving a request.
The new rules, which Indian Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described as a “soft-touch oversight” mechanism, come two weeks after Twitter denied a government order to remove content on the farmer protests in New Delhi from its platform.
“The way these rules have come out, they will have a negative impact on privacy, freedom of speech, on creativity and the freedom of the press in India,” Nikhil Pahwa of India’s top Internet policy website MediaNama told Arab News, adding that the new controls are “the worst series of regulations on the Internet.”
He said: “It is very regressive and to my mind it is not backed by law. The rules need to be challenged in court, and if they are, the Indian government will probably lose.”
Social media giants enjoy a large presence in India, with the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform being used by 530 million people, YouTube by 448 million, Facebook by 41 million, Instagram by 21 million and Twitter by 10.7 million, according to Indian government data.
But none of the platforms have given detailed comments on the new regulations.
“The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” Facebook said in a written response to a request for comment.
“We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizens’ fundamental rights and reinforces online freedoms,” Twitter said in a statement.
However, because the new rules have been introduced as changes to the IT Act, which also regulates online media, journalists fear that the changes are an attempt to regulate news portals.
“We do know that the government is rattled by the work the digital media space does. Whether the only intention of these rules is for the government to have an overarching control over us, we will know only in time,” said Dhanya Rajendran, editor of news portal News Minute and chairperson of Digipub Foundation of India, which represents digital media organizations.
“Yes, we do have our suspicions and we are concerned that this could be the government’s motive,” she told Arab News.
Delhi-based journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who writes for News Click, a popular news portal known for independent journalism that had its offices raided by police last week, said the new regulations are “the government’s strategy to not just curb dissenting voices, but also to clamp down or curb their activities.”
He added: “The whole purpose or agenda is to clamp down on digital news media, which has been showing greater resilience and playing the role of adversaries against the government in power.”


BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage

Updated 15 April 2021

BBC receives nearly 110,000 complaints about Prince Philip coverage

  • According to BBC's fortnightly complaints bulletin, 109,741 complaints over the coverage of Philip's death were made by Thursday
  • BBC said it "acknowledged some viewers were unhappy" over the impact to planned schedules

LONDON: BBC coverage following the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip led to nearly 110,000 complaints about canceled programs and cleared schedules, the corporation said on Thursday.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s death at the age of 99 last Friday prompted the publicly-funded broadcaster to scrap its entire schedule on its main BBC One and BBC Two television channels to simultaneously broadcast the same coverage of his life.
Popular soap opera “EastEnders” and the cooking competition “Masterchef” were canceled and the BBC Four channel was taken completely off air.
BBC radio stations also changed their programming following the prince’s death, either broadcasting news programs or abruptly switching to play the national anthem when the news was announced.
According to the BBC’s fortnightly complaints bulletin, 109,741 complaints over the coverage of Philip’s death were made by Thursday.
Of those, 104,010 were made in the first three days after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
Many of the complaints were made via an online form on the BBC website.
In response, the BBC said in a statement it “acknowledged some viewers were unhappy” over the impact to planned schedules.
“We do not make such changes without careful consideration and the decisions made reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance,” it added.
The amount of criticism over the coverage is believed to be the largest ever received by the BBC.
But a spokesman told AFP: “We are proud of our coverage and the role we play during moments of national significance.”
The broadcaster reported it had received 63,000 complaints in 2005 when it broadcast the controversial musical “Jerry Springer: The Opera” about the 1990s US talk-show host.
The BBC has received criticism for its inclusion of Prince Andrew in its coverage because of the Queen and Philip’s second son’s association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the tone of its programming.
Other British networks also changed their schedules following Philip’s death.
Commercial Channel 4 came under fire for largely keeping to its schedule, with the exception of airing some documentaries about the duke’s life.
Viewing figures across the channels fell because of the wall-to-wall coverage.
“Gogglebox,” a television program about people watching television programs, was the most-watched show of the day last Friday.


Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data

Updated 16 April 2021

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data

  • Google is considering an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court
  • Competition commission seeking court orders and financial penalties against company

CANBERRA: Google broke Australian law by misleading users about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices, a judge found Friday.
The Federal Court decision was a partial win for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the nation’s fair trade watchdog, which has been prosecuting Google for broader alleged breaches of consumer law since October 2019.
Justice Thomas Thawley found that Google misled Android mobile device users about personal location data collected between January 2017 and December 2018.
“This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers,” Commission Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.
“We are extremely pleased with the outcome in this world-first case,” he added.
Google is considering an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court.
“The court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims,” a Google statement said.
“We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal,” Google added.
The judge ruled that when users created a new Google account during the initial set-up process of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the “Location History” setting was the only Google account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location.
But another Google account setting titled “Web & App Activity” also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.
The judge also found that when users later accessed the “Location History” setting on their Android device during the same time period to turn that setting off, they were also misled because Google did not inform them that by leaving the “Web & App Activity” setting switched on, Google would continue to collect, store and use their personally identifiable location data.
Similarly, between March 2017 and Nov. 29, 2018, when users later accessed the “Web & App Activity” setting on their Android device, they were misled because Google did not inform them that the setting was relevant to the collection of personal location data.
Google said the digital platform provides “robust controls for location data and are always looking to do more.”
The commission is seeking court orders and financial penalties against Google to be determined later.
The Australia Institute Center for Responsible Technology, a Canberra-based think tank, said the case “highlights the complexity of Big Tech terms and conditions.”
“The reality is most people have little to no idea on how much of their data is being used by Google and online platforms,” the Center’s Director Peter Lewis said in a statement.
Lewis said reading most terms and conditions takes an average of 74 minutes and requires a university education, according to the institute’s research, and more comprehensive consumer data protection was needed.


The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

Updated 15 April 2021

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

  • The Kingdom is using technology to help ensure a more normal holy month than last year, Arab News’s Rawan Radwan tells the Ray Hanania Show
  • Meanwhile there is a growing acceptance among Americans of the importance and significance of this time to Muslims, says US-based professor

Muslims around the world celebrated the start of Ramadan this week, but the experience and traditions of the holy month can vary widely from country to country, especially in the pandemic era.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the latest technology is being employed to protect the health of worshipers visiting the two most sacred mosques in Islam, Arab News deputy section editor Rawan Radwan explained during an interview on radio program The Ray Hanania Show on Wednesday.

Meanwhile acceptance in the US of Ramadan as an important religious occasion is continuing to grow, according to Saeed Khan, a history professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Radwan said that authorities in the Kingdom have launched two apps to help ensure that only those who have been vaccinated, or are in the process of receiving the shots, can join others to pray and worship.
“Just before the start of Ramadan, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques issued a series of guidelines and protocols with the relevant authorities involved, as well such as the minster of the interior and the minister of health,” she said.

“All of this is to ensure that every worshiper and all pilgrims that arrive at either the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah or the Grand Mosque in Makkah receive the proper care and attention that they deserve. Their health comes first.”

Radwan said Saudi authorities require visitors to the mosques to provide documents that confirm COVID-19 vaccination status. When this is verified, worshipers are given set time slots for their visit to maximize participation but avoid overcrowding.

“We have gone digital,” she added. “We are digital by default. We have something like a health passport — it’s not a health passport per se, it is an application that will allow you into establishments and commercial establishments across Saudi Arabia.”

The app, called Tawakkalna, displays a barcode along with the name of the user, an ID number and a color that reflects the health status of the individual.

“If you are vaccinated and you are fully immune, then it is a darker green color,” said Radwan. “If you just received one jab then it is a lighter green. If you just arrived from the US it could either be a blue or purple color and that could (mean) you need you to isolate.”

Ramadan last year was severely affected by the start of the pandemic, as lockdowns prevented people gathering to pray and families from getting together for iftar. The latest measures introduced by the Saudi authorities to protect public health, she said, have raised hopes that this year’s Ramadan will be more normal. But there are still precautions that must be followed.

“The rules are very strict, very, very rigid,” said Radwan. “You cannot enter (the mosques) unless you are vaccinated and unless you have recovered. You have to go through certain entryways.

“You can’t even enter with your car. A bus will take you after you prove you have a reservation, and then you can enter. And, of course, you can’t make any reservation except through (the app).”

Those who are eligible to visit the mosques are given scheduled entry times and they can spend up to two hours there.

“Worshipers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah are allowed to perform Umrah all hours of the day, said Radwan. “Those wishing to pray are only allowed in to pray, and then leave. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah closes after evening prayers (and) reopens about a half hour before the Fajr, or Dawn, prayers. Again, the reason is they have to ensure the people arriving are safe.”

Cleanliness and protecting the health of the public are priorities, she added. More than 10,000 workers have been assigned to the Grand Mosque, which is sanitized 10 times daily. More than 200,000 bottles of holy ZamZam water are distributed to worshipers each day.

In the US, meanwhile, there is a growing recognition and acceptance of Ramadan as an important Muslim religious occasion, said Khan.

“At the same time, Muslim Americans are developing more visibility and more acceptance within broader society, (on) a few different levels,” he added. “Corporate America is certainly recognizing Muslims Americans; we see a lot more companies and stores not only providing Ramadan greetings but also providing Ramadan products, greeting cards and other kinds of Ramadan paraphernalia.

“But I think the most important thing that we are seeing is at the institutional level. Schools are becoming much more accommodating to the needs of young Muslim students, recognizing that maybe students that are fasting during the daylight hours might be operating in a slower gear.

“There is now recognition in the largest public school district in the country, New York City, that the Eid festival will be recognized as a public holiday for school students.”

Khan said that this growing acknowledgment and acceptance of Ramadan is the result of community-based educational efforts, and an understanding by Muslims in the US that when Americans of other faiths ask questions about Islam it is not always intended as a criticism.

“There is always more that can be done,” he added. “Part of the essence of that really is to be neighborly and not to be offended by somebody who is asking a question. Most of the time the questions come from a very good place and good faith, wanting to learn.

“There certainly are people who ask the ‘gotcha’ questions but, generally speaking, we find when it is a neighbor, a coworker or a colleague, they just want to know. We can’t necessarily presume everyone knows, that somehow it is self-evident.”

Khan said the evolving experience of Muslims in the US is similar to that of devotees of other religions in America.

“I always noticed that on Fridays the menu in the cafeteria (in school) was always the same,” Khan said by way of an example. “It was fish sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. I learned later that had to do with Catholic students and meatless Fridays.” Although the rules have changed in some countries over the years, Catholics traditionally are prohibited from eating meat on Fridays and on the main religious holidays.

“So, the US has always had that mechanism to go ahead and accommodate religious minorities. Muslims are no different,” Khan added.

Despite the positive signs of growing acceptance of Muslims and their faith, many still face discrimination, however.

“Unfortunately it seems like it is going to be a challenge that will be with us for quite a while,” said Khan. However he added that this is something that can affect people of all faiths.

“I think it is important to remember that it is not necessarily only directed against Muslims,” he said. “I remember in 2012 when Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and now the senator from Utah, was the presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, there were a lot of people who had a problem with a Mormon being someone running for high office.”

• The Ray Hanania Show, sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690, in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 on the US Arab Radio Network. 

 


Tunisian journalists clash with police in protest over new head of state news agency

Updated 15 April 2021

Tunisian journalists clash with police in protest over new head of state news agency

  • Protesting journalists say Kamel Ben Younes is too close to the moderate Islamist Ennahda

LONDON: Journalists in Tunisia clashed with police during a protest against the appointment of Kamal Ben Younes as head of state news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).

The flashpoint came when demonstrators attempted to block Ben Younes from entering TAP’s headquarters, but police later forced a way in.

The writers fear that Ben Younes’ known leanings toward the Ennahda party – a movement with historical and ideological ties to the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood – could undermine the agency’s editorial independence.

Hani Nasira, a media expert and researcher into extremist groups in the Middle East, including the Muslim Brotherhood, told Arab News: “Ben Younes was a prominent figure during the days of (former Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine) Ben Ali, as well as during the days of the revolution.

“He embodies a model of journalists who change their loyalty as the system changes. They supported (former Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak in Egypt, then the Muslim Brotherhood and so on.

“They do not believe in journalism as a space for freedom, objectivity, and neutrality but aim to transform it into a private institution that works for certain entities. This same state news agency is seeking to monopolize the management of an important affair like the press,” he said.

Tunisian journalists accuse Ben Younes of backing moves to control the press before the 2011 revolution brought democracy to the North African nation, and while he has denied the charges, protesters are demanding he steps down.

Co-founded in 1981 by Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Journalists’ Syndicate and Tunisia’s labor unions movement called for TAP reporters to hold their first-ever strike on April 22 and invited Tunisian journalists to continue the open sit-in at TAP’s headquarters.

TAP journalist, Ayman Zamal, told Al Arabiya news channel: “(We must) continue the open sit-in in TAP’s headquarters at all costs so as to maintain the agency’s independent line and national line which cannot become a servant of a certain political group and to prevent the published media from becoming partisan or authoritarian media.”

Before the revolution, TAP was an arm of state propaganda based entirely on official sources. But it has become a rare Arab news agency with editorial independence, often covering stories that criticize the government.

Related


Reuters names Alessandra Galloni as its next editor-in-chief

The hunt for the new Reuters editor came as other major media are dealing with succession in the newsroom. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 April 2021

Reuters names Alessandra Galloni as its next editor-in-chief

  • A native of Rome, Galloni, 47, will replace Stephen J. Adler, who is retiring this month after leading the newsroom for the past decade

LONDON: Reuters News has named one of its top editors, Alessandra Galloni, as its next editor-in-chief, the first woman to lead the globe-spanning news agency in its 170-year history.
A native of Rome, Galloni, 47, will replace Stephen J. Adler, who is retiring this month after leading the newsroom for the past decade. Under his leadership, Reuters has received hundreds of journalism awards, including seven Pulitzer Prizes, the industry’s highest honor.
A speaker of four languages, and with broad experience covering business and political news at Reuters and previously at the Wall Street Journal, Galloni takes the helm as the news agency faces an array of challenges. Some of these are common to all news media. Others are specific to the organization’s complexity: With a worldwide staff of some 2,450 journalists, Reuters serves a range of divergent customers and is also a unit in a much larger information-services business.
Since 2008, Reuters has been part of Thomson Reuters Corp. , a corporation with more-lucrative and faster-growing segments than news. Its chief executive, Steve Hasker, who joined Thomson Reuters last year, has focused on aggressively expanding the corporation’s three largest businesses: providing information, software and services to lawyers, corporations and the tax and accounting profession. Hasker’s strategy has helped boost Thomson Reuters stock to all-time highs.
Reuters News comprises about 10% of Thomson Reuters’ total $5.9 billion in revenues. Unlike many news organizations, Reuters is profitable. But it is also a drag on the parent company’s revenue growth and profit margin, analysts say, and the executive who runs the news business, Reuters President Michael Friedenberg, is pushing to increase sales and boost profitability. Looking forward, Thomson Reuters’ chief financial officer last month forecast that sales at its “Big Three” businesses are expected to grow 6% to 7% in 2023, while its news division and printing business “are expected to dilute organic revenue growth by about 1% to 2%.”
Gary Bisbee, an analyst at Bank of America, said he expects Reuters News “will continue to be a drag on the growth of the company,” but added that as other divisions of Thomson Reuters grow faster, that drag would diminish over time.
Thomson Reuters is hoping for a turn-around in the Reuters Events business, which it acquired in October 2019. Almost all in-person conferences last year were canceled or postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the business has pivoted to a hybrid events strategy for 2021 with both in-person and virtual conferences, and expects its revenues to improve.
While some in the industry have speculated that Thomson Reuters might want to sell the news division, three analysts said they don’t expect a sale. Douglas McCabe, a media analyst with Enders Analysis in London, said Reuters is “a tremendously powerful part of” the Thomson Reuters brand, and that “the mighty Reuters newsroom behind you and all the really specialized business assets is a great combination.”
In a statement, CEO Hasker said: “Thomson Reuters is committed to the future of Reuters News. It is an important part of the company and is valued across our customer base. The last year has proven beyond question the value of independent, global, unbiased journalism.”
This year saw the closing of a deal in which the former Financial and Risk business of Thomson Reuters — now called Refinitiv — was sold to the London Stock Exchange Group Plc in a $27 billion all-stock deal. Under the terms, Reuters News is guaranteed annual payments of at least $336 million to provide news and editorial content to Refinitiv until 2048. That stream of revenue is envied by many in the media industry.
Galloni has told colleagues that one of her critical tasks would be maintaining a good relationship with Refinitiv, as it is Reuters’ biggest customer, accounting for slightly more than half of the news agency’s $628 million in revenues last year.
The important relationship has been a source of some tension, senior editors say. As part of the contract with Refinitiv, Reuters is required to meet strict performance targets for the news coverage that Refinitiv clients receive, which Reuters has exceeded so far. Thomson Reuters, for its part, noted in its latest annual report that the exclusive deal, while lucrative, limits Reuters’ ability to sell to other customers in the growing financial-services industry. A Refinitiv spokesman declined to comment.
Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, said the new editor will nevertheless have to find new sources of revenue. “Reuters is in an unusual position because the pledge from Refinitiv frees Reuters News up to be more aggressive in creating new news products to serve new markets,” he said. “I think there’s still a lot of low-hanging fruit for Reuters because of the strength of the brand and the size of the staff.”
New website
Reuters’ primary competitors include Bloomberg News, the Associated Press, French news agency AFP and visual content provider Getty Images. In addition to its events business, Reuters has been seeking other growth opportunities. Prominent among these is the upcoming launch of a revamped website that is expected to target professionals and eventually begin charging for content.
McCabe said convincing consumers to pay for content is challenging because “Reuters is a brand that a lot of people recognize but don’t intuitively go to.” But he is more optimistic that targeting professionals could succeed for Reuters. “All the evidence says to me that these are the subscription models that really work,” he said.
CEO Hasker has told colleagues that he wants to make Reuters more integral to the company’s other divisions. To that end, the newsroom recently added to its legal reporting staff.
Adler spearheaded a number of moves to modernize Reuters, which gained fame in its early days for using carrier pigeons to relay scoops. In the past decade, the newsroom created teams of investigative, data and graphics journalists, and is using artificial intelligence to speed the delivery of certain breaking financial news.
Hasker has said he is eager to continue modernizing the newsroom by getting it to embrace new technologies more aggressively. He and Friedenberg considered a wide range of journalists to succeed Adler, both inside and outside the news agency, according to people familiar with the matter.
Among them were two top Reuters editors, Gina Chua and Simon Robinson. The external candidates included David Walmsley, editor in chief of Canada’s The Globe and Mail, and Kevin Delaney, former co-chief executive and editor-in-chief of Quartz Media Inc.
Galloni, based in London, is known internally as a charismatic presence with a keen interest in business news. She has told colleagues that her priorities would include boosting the Reuters digital and events businesses.
She takes the helm after serving as a global managing editor of Reuters, overseeing journalists in 200 locations around the world. At the beginning of her career, she worked at the Reuters Italian-language news service. She received degrees from Harvard University and the London School of Economics. She returned to Reuters in 2013 following about 13 years at The Wall Street Journal, where she specialized in economics and business coverage as a reporter and editor in London, Paris and Rome.
“For 170 years, Reuters has set the standard for independent, trusted and global reporting,” Galloni said in the Reuters announcement on her appointment, which takes effect on April 19. “It is an honor to lead a world-class newsroom full of talented, dedicated and inspiring journalists.”
The hunt for the new Reuters editor came as other major media are dealing with succession in the newsroom. Both the Washington Post, where executive editor Marty Baron retired in February, and the Los Angeles Times, where Norman Pearlstine stepped down as executive editor in December, are currently seeking their replacements.