FACEBOOK: FROM FREEDOM OF INFORMATION TO CENSORSHIP

Facebook is reportedly working on a software that will sift the content hostile to the interests of the Chinese government in order to gain entry in the world’s largest base of active telecom and internet users. Facebook was blocked by China in 2009 for allegedly contributing to Xinxiang’s race riots.

China has around 700 million digital population, largest in the world – and Chinese internet companies like WeChat, Weibo and Baidu have grown manifold, aided by a protectionist Chinese government and by the absence of global internet giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

And it seems Mark Zuckerberg wants a share of that digital population to fuel his organization’s further growth even if it comes at the cost of the founding principle of Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg had written about information flow on Facebook in an open letter on September 8, 2006 that is available on Facebook. The open letter was basically about how apologetic Mark Zuckerberg felt after Facebook had a messy launch of its News Feed. The open letter was basically about the ‘free flow of information the Internet’.

Zuckerberg writes in the initial lines of his open letter, “When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better. I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with. I think a lot of the success we’ve seen is because of these basic principles.”

Zuckerberg further writes in the letter about creating a group ‘Free Flow of Information on the Internet’ because this is what he believes in as he says. The open letter has hyperlinked text to redirect to the group but when the link is clicked it says “sorry, this content isn’t available right now.”

From that motto of ‘free flow of information on the internet’, Facebook is now reportedly developing tailored tools to serve propaganda of the autocratic regimes like China.

Facebook was founded in 2004. In 2006, it was still a small business with valuation around $500 million. But 10 years later, its market cap is now over $350 billion – in ivy league with companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Exxon. Industry analysts say Facebook’s profit has the potential to grow 32% annually for some next years and its market cap may touch $1 trillion. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is already among the wealthiest people in the world and that if it happens so it will make him the richest person on the planet.

That makes Facebook a pure business interest for Mark Zuckerberg and with that comes the pressure growth. And he is already facing the heat. The pressure to grow its market has effectively put a break on Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of ‘free flow of information on the internet’. The ‘unavailability’ of the group Mark writes about in his open letter can be seen as a testimony to that. There has been a flurry of cases around the world on how Facebook uses the data or it violates personal privacy norms. It has unsuccessfully tried introducing controversial platforms like Free Basics in India, essentially a marketing tie-up with some companies that provides free basic internet to the users but with selected content.

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To maintain its hold as the primary and most preferred social networking site, Facebook has tried to increase its reach, acquiring new platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram and focusing on markets with enormous potential like China and India. Facebook’s mammoth acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 was seen as a desperate attempt to maintain that lead.

Facebook is slowing down in its main market – America and Canada – that it counts as one – and it needs to expand. China and India are the world’s biggest telecom markets in terms active users. As Facebook India MD Umang Bedi puts it, and as Mark Zuckerberg says, India is the most critical and strategic market for Facebook. But there is a big catch. India may a be a future market for Facebook but its contribution in Facebook’s overall revenue at the moment is negligible. Facebook earns Rs. 630 per user in the US whereas in India, it is still less than Rs. 9 while the global average is around Rs. 270. That is a huge gap to fill.

Also, Facebook has set a norm for itself that how many ads it can show in its news feed and it will hit the threshold in 2017. So, it needs many more users and markets outside the US to fuel its miraculous growth story. And China can be the solution Zuckerberg will have in mind.

And he is trying to woo China like anything. He has had multiple visits to China. Though Facebook is blocked in China, he opened his sales office there in 2014. He has learned Mandarin. Like Narendra Modi, he has also met with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and has given those events ample publicity. Narendra Modi even visited Facebook headquarters during his US visit in September 2015 but that luck has not smiled on Facebook when it comes to Xi Jinping.

©SantoshChaubey

PORN BAN: YES, STATE CANNOT ACT AS MORAL POLICE. WHAT IS SOLUTION THEN?

“The state cannot become the moral police. We cannot peek inside. The entire issue needs larger debate. Every computer and mobile phone have the child lock. It is difficult to stop such things at the source level.”

The statement sums up the government’s position after the huge backlash it faced on banning 857 ‘allegedly pornographic’ websites en masse that also included many non-pornographic websites.

Yes, the state and the courts cannot be the moral police as the Supreme Court has observed and as the government was forced to admit in the apex court today.

It is not the way societies in democracies function.

‘The entire issue needs larger debate’ – was rightly said by the government’s representative in the apex court.

There are issues related to this free run of online pornography that we need to be worried about. Banning sites with child pornographic content is absolutely required. But a blanket ban on all pornographic websites is not at all acceptable.

The government needs to regulate and control cyber crimes and violations and the pornographic content that violates any legal framework must be addressed in the framework.

It is true proliferation of online pornography with rapid internet growth in India, especially with ever increasing mobile internet base, is the major contributor behind massive increase in incidents of crime against women and the trend is worrying.

But, a blanket ban is not the way to handle it – because technologically, it is not possible. World Wide Web (www) offers websites a seamless space to function. A country can filter content of its area but it has no hold over other geographies which may not conform to its legal requirements and as internet has no defined geographies, banning related content from across the world is not feasible. Also, no technology can ensure effective identification of all such websites and contents based on a depository of related words and tools. Websites banned will soon crop up with different names. Even China, an authoritarian regime with heavy internet censorship, finds difficult to block web access the way it wants, in spite of its massive surveillance infrastructure. Same holds true for Russia.

Also, putting in place such technological infrastructure requires substantial investments, in tune of billions of US dollars. And what pinches more that even then, we cannot say with certainty, that it will be able to check the menace.

Then what is the solution?

Well, we cannot say – in fact no one can say. What makes this assumption even more vague is the fact that there is no scope of error here if the trial fails – because the consequences will be even more damaging.

One possible way to deal with it partial pricing. The pornographic content may be kept out of the ambit of net neutrality and the service providers can be asked to price the content at a level (for related websites) that it becomes out of reach of the masses.

Also, the websites can be asked to offer only online content with no ‘download’ options, another way to check pornography spread.

Another way to deal with the problem is – the websites can be asked to have a configuration that works only with high end smartphone. Yes, it cannot be applied to all websites, especially those money spinners operating from a remote corner of the world, but keeping pornography out of ‘net neutrality’ ambit would help in tackling that.

It can be made legally mandatory to have child lock buttons in every mobile phone, computer and television set.

All these solutions (and more of the type) can work effectively to keep pornography restricted to a social penetration level that will be largely acceptable. Pornography was always there, before the advent of internet. Internet proliferated its spread. Finding indirect ways to control online pornography traffic has the potential to reduce it to the level that a society in transition like India needs where information access and excess have led to chaos and an order is needed.

Yes, the government cannot ‘peek’ inside – as the attorney general said. Right to privacy has to be sacrosanct in a democracy. The government doesn’t accept that and the Supreme Court is to deliver its decision on this issue tomorrow. Hope, the apex court will, one again, hold up the democratic spirit once again.

But we should also not forget that our fundamental rights remain suspended in case of emergencies and we, as a society, should see the rapid spread of online pornography as an emergency situation while finding the ways to deal with it.

A blanket ban is not any solution but making it difficult to reach to the masses is always viable and advisable in a society like India.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

PORN BAN: WHAT WE DO IN OUR INTIMATE MOMENTS IS OF NO ONE ELSE’S CONCERN

What we do in our personal life, in our intimate moments, is of no one’s concern – if it doesn’t affect others – if it doesn’t hurt our people.

Obviously, many of us conceal some innocuous things/habits/preferences from people we know, including our family. We do so, because we know and they know that most of us engage in such activities and the silent etiquette says we should not raise questions on doing so, on getting engaged in such activities.

Watching pornography is one of such activities. How does it affect life – and how does it ruin lives – are paradigms of endless debates over it. Regulating flow of pornographic material is a cultural, sociological and administrative problem.

And there are and there can be ways to regulate/control it – but banning pornographic sites en masse is certainly not advisable.

When people came to know on Sunday that the Government had banned (unofficially) some 857 adult websites in India, shielding behind a Supreme Court order in an ongoing court case, it was like a precursor to a wide-scale backlash. And by Tuesday, it had indeed become so, with government’s move attracting national and international criticism, media attention and outraged opinions on social media. The criticism was aggravated by the fact that many non-pornographic content websites were also banned.

The move to ban so many websites (when many more are still available) was so shabby and weak on logics and principles (of free internet, of freedom of communication) that the NDA government found the move hard to justify.

And by this evening, it decided to ‘lift the ban partially’ – restricting the ban to 150 sites. A high level meeting was held today to review July 31 order. And the sense, forced by the outrage on the ban, forced the government to modify the order.

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad an order would be issued to lift the ban and modify the order – to remove ban from sites other than sites with child pornography content and adult blue films.

Now, let’s see what the new, upcoming order says.

India’s is world’s second most populous country and is slated to overtake China by 2022 to become the most populous one, a latest UN projection says.

When combined with other factors, like India’s middle class would be the largest in the world by 2030, like India is the world’s fastest growing economy, like India is the world’s third largest economy by PPP standards, like it is the third largest smartphone market, like it is soon to become the second largest internet market, India becomes as lucrative for online pornography websites as it is for other trade oriented outfits. India is the fifth largest market (in terms of viewers accessing the content) for Pornhub, one of the major global adult entertainment websites.

Banning pornography in India, that is also the world’s largest democracy, will prove counter-effective. We cannot regulate content flow and cannot watch who is watching what. We should not forget pornography was still there when internet was in its primitive leg in India. And we should not, unless it violates law. Yes, internet has made pornography easily available now and therefore a new regulatory framework is needed – defining and pinning any criminal activity related to pornography content flow on internet. But that is true for almost every category of cyber crime in our country. The legal infrastructure on cyber crimes is still evolving here.

Yes, child pornography is illegal and it should strictly banned. Yes, underage viewing of pornographic content should be regulated. But mindset grooming and family values are better tools for that. Correcting anomalies in society has to begin from there.

Watching pornographic websites on internet, on our smartphones, in our intimate, personal moments is a private activity and a mass ban is nothing less that our invasion of privacy here, especially when most of us cannot afford virtual private networks (VPNs).

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/