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. Ellery Roberts Biddle and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
Media outlets have discussed some of the risks of playing the chart-topping augmented reality game Pokémon Go, including reports of players getting into car accidents, falling into the ocean, or subjecting themselves to unwarranted police attention. But the game also carries substantial and unique risks in parts of the world where it is not officially available for download.
For example, it is not easy task to catch Pokémon in China. As Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam explained last week, the game is technically unavailable in China’s App Store, which is heavily censored, so Chinese players are climbing the Great Firewall in order to access the game. Some have reportedly spoofed their locations, flooding Japanese servers and taking over the gym at the Yasukuni Shrine, which is devoted in part to memorializing Japan’s World War II dead. In response, other religious sites in Japan, such as the Izumo shrine, have banned the game.
In Iran, Pokémon Go is technically unavailable for download. Gamers are using virtual private networks to download the game, but they have also encountered a general scarcity of characters in major cities like Tehran.
And government ministers in Egypt, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have issued stern warnings about gamers approaching or photographing government buildings, particularly those that are significant to state security. Kuwait interior ministry undersecretary Suleiman al-Fahd said in a statement that the ministry “informed security men to show zero tolerance to anyone approaching such prohibited sites, deliberately or not.”
Turks criticize WikiLeaks for promoting links to private citizens’ data
As the fallout continues following an attempted coup in Turkey, WikiLeaks promoted and linked to nearly 300,000 files it called “emails from Turkey’s ruling party.” But these files actually contained spreadsheets of private information on female voters in 79 Turkish provinces, as well as sensitive information for millions of members of the ruling AKP party, including election monitors. The Turkish government responded by blocking WikiLeaks in Turkey, while Turkish netizens quickly realized the leaks contained little of public interest.
UAE sets new, stricter rules on VPNs
The United Arab Emirates federal government will soon tighten existing laws on virtual private networks and other censorship-dodging tools by criminalizing anyone who “uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.” Many VPNs make it technically difficult, if not impossible, to monitor a user’s traffic and behavior. So how would authorities know if people were using VPNs for criminal purposes? Authorities haven’t spoken to this issue. For now, users have little choice but to wait and see how the law is implemented.
Mexican indigenous groups snub corporate giants, launch their own telecommunications company
For the first time in Mexico’s history, the country’s Federal Institute of Telecommunications granted a license to operate a telecommunications network for use by indigenous groups. The new Indigenous Community Telecommunications Network will be managed by and for indigenous communities in 356 municipalities in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz.
Environmentalists in Macedonia weather email impersonation scandal
Macedonian activists suspect local authorities used emails in order to impersonate an environmental activism group in an attempt to thwart efforts to stop a government development projects. The Macedonian ruling party VMRO-DPMNE has a history of organizing contra protests and fake accounts in order to discredit activist groups and citizen media.
WhatsApp still in limbo in Brazil
After Facebook failed to comply with a court order requesting the content of WhatsApp messages in a criminal investigation in Brazil, the Federal Public Ministry of the Amazon froze $11.7 million in Facebook’s local bank account—the sum of the daily fines imposed by a judge for not handing over the data. Should the two entities remain at an impasse, the service may once again be blocked in Brazil.
• “Digitizing Dissent: Cyborg Politics and Fluid Networks in Contemporary Cuban Activism“—Sam Kellogg, Teknokultura
• “Group5: Syria and the Iranian Connection“—Citizen Lab
• “ICT Facts and Figures 2016“—International Telecommunications Union
• “The Global Surveillance Industry“—Privacy International