The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Hae-in Lim, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
In the latest development in the negotiations between the United States and European Union over data transfer rules, Reuters reports France’s data protection authority gave Facebook three months to stop tracking non-users’ Web activity without their consent, and ordered Facebook to cease some transfers of personal data to the United States or face fines. In response, Facebook asserted it does not use the now-defunct Safe Harbor agreement to move data to the United States and instead has set up alternative legal structures to keep its data transfers in line with EU law. Despite this, Facebook was forced last year to stop tracking Belgian non-users after it was taken to court by the Belgian regulator. Last week, the United States and European Union agreed upon a new legal framework to replace Safe Harbor, but as it is not yet operational, several European data protection authorities are still deciding whether data transfers should be restricted.
Google’s new scheme to combat online extremism
In an effort to combat groups like ISIS that recruit online, Google has launched a pilot scheme to point users who search for extremist terms toward anti-radicalization links. It announced the new effort on Feb. 2 at a meeting with the U.K. Home Affairs Select Committee on Countering Extremism. Representatives of Twitter and Facebook were also challenged by members of Parliament on their role in combatting the spread of terrorist material. Twitter also announced last week that it had suspended 125,000 accounts associated with extremism since mid-2015 in response to pressure from the US government. However, as the New York Times’ Mike Isaac notes, “these companies must walk a fine line between bearing responsibility for their platforms and avoiding becoming the arbiter of what constitutes free speech.”
What’s going to happen to Ukraine’s database of “explicit content”?
The Ukrainian censorship body, the National Expert Commission for Protection of Public Morality, dissolved last year, but its legacy lives on as a database of “explicit content” that no one in the government seems to know what to do with. The database includes a sizeable amount of content “containing elements of sexual nature and erotica,” but the commission was also well known for its attempt to ban Spongebob Squarepants, Shrek, and Teletubbies. Users have suggested the team responsible for dissolving the commission make the content more widely available, so they can see where taxpayers’ money went.
Taking on Russia’s invasive surveillance
Two Russian Internet service providers are taking the Federal Security Service to court to challenge the surveillance system employed by Russian federal police to spy on Internet use. ISPs play a critical role in making surveillance possible, by installing expensive equipment that provides police access—making this case a significant affront to Russia’s invasive surveillance apparatus.
Telegram in Iran
Messaging app Telegram’s growing influence is being characterized as a major factor in the dissemination and spread of information leading up to Iran’s Feb. 26 parliamentary elections, but the platform’s susceptibility to state manipulation is also becoming more apparent. After the arrest of former BBC journalist Bahman Doroshafaei, the government took over his Telegram account and started to message his contacts. Some believe this was an effort to extract sensitive information or to distribute spyware. Fatemeh Shams, a friend of Doroshafaei, posted the following warning to her Facebook account:
Someone has been talking to me for two hours from Bahman's hacked Telegram account and now is chatting with my friends with my account..If anyone messaged you on Telegram [from my account] please ignore it. I've lost access to my account.