Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

June 6 2017 4:01 PM

Automatic Facial Recognition Software Helps Police Make an Arrest in the U.K.

Police in South Wales have used automatic facial recognition, or AFR, software to identify a suspect and subsequently arrest him, making this the first arrest aided by this technology in the U.K., according to Wales Online.

The police arrested the man, who had a warrant out for his arrest, on May 31 after spotting him via a “Slow Time Static Face Search.” According to the South Wales Police, that search is linked to 500,000 mugshots. The man was spotted by a camera in a police surveillance van, and then his face was found in the database.

The arrest came as U.K. police were preparing to use real-time software to scan faces near the Cardiff central train station and the Millennium Stadium as part of their security plan for a major June 3 soccer game. But a spokesperson from the South Wales police department told Ars Technica that the man they arrested on May 31 was not related to the match.

The U.K. is already close to blanketed in cameras. There are 5.9 million closed-circuit television cameras in the United Kingdom, or about 1 camera per 11 people, according to the British Security Industry Authority.*

Two years ago, police in Leicestershire began to make use of all those cameras and started trial runs of NEC’s automatic facial recognition software, NeoFace. According to the company’s website, NeoFace “enables faces to be recorded and archived at a distance, act as a crime deterrent, and help identify a person in real-time.”

NEC has also partnered with U.K. police in other instances, like when NeoFace was integrated with FaceWatch, a software that lets business owners look at CCTV stills and videos to report crime to the police and share the images of suspects. With NeoFace, stores could be alerted

when someone from FaceWatch’s watch list—database of people who have been a part of a previous incident in that location—entered the premises.

However, law enforcement’s increasing use of facial recognition has been controversial, specifically in the United States, which is starting to use similar software to make arrests.

A study from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology published in October found multiple problems with the use of facial recognition software in police investigations. According to the report, even though it’s largely unregulated, more than 117 million adult Americans are in some kind of facial recognition network. One in four police agencies in America can run face recognition searches on its own database, run them on another agency’s system, or access a system where they can run a search. The study, which is called “The Perpetual Line-Up,” made record requests to 100-plus police agencies and found that none of the agencies needed warrants to use the recognition software to identify someone. Furthermore, the press release for the study says, “Of the 52 agencies that acknowledged using face recognition, only one obtained legislative approval for its use and only one agency provided evidence that it audited officers’ face recognition searches for misuse.”

Aside from being unregulated, facial recognition software seems to contain some blind spots, particularly when it comes to race. A 2011 study from the University of Texas–Dallas found that algorithms from some European countries and the United States were better at identifying Caucasians than other racial groups. Other research suggests that software has consistently struggled to identify black faces and features.

*Correction, June 6, 2017: This post originally misstated the number of cameras in the U.K. relative to the population. There is one camera for 11 people, not 11 cameras per person.

June 5 2017 5:12 PM

Apple’s New Gizmo Looks Like an Overpriced Echo. Here’s Why It Will Win Anyway.

It might be a year or two late, but it isn’t a dollar short.

Apple on Monday announced the HomePod, its long-anticipated answer to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. The “breakthrough home speaker,” which appears to prioritize high-fidelity music playback over other functions, will set you back $350 when it ships in December. The Echo costs $180, the Home $110.

The HomePod looks a lot like its rivals: It’s a chunky, mesh-covered cylinder that sits on a table and responds to voice commands. It wakes to “Hey, Siri” and will attempt to answer basic questions and control other devices in addition to playing tunes via Apple Music. On first glance, you might think Apple just copied the Echo, replaced Alexa with Siri, and jacked up the volume and price.

But Apple is billing it as something a little more: a hybrid of a smart speaker, like the Echo, and a wireless home speaker system, like the $300 Sonos Play:3. With a seven-tweeter array and a four-inch subwoofer, the HomePod should deliver substantially better sound than Amazon or Google’s equivalents. The company says it has imbued the device with “spatial awareness” to automatically adjust to your room’s acoustics. You can also link it to another HomePod in the same room for true stereo sound, or to other AirPlay 2-compatible speakers elsewhere in the house for multiroom audio. In accordance with the audiophile theme, Siri on the HomePod will gain a new knowledge base that Apple calls “Musicologist,” allowing it to answer questions such as, “Who’s the drummer on this track?” (No word yet on its next-order music knowledge, like whether early Pink Floyd was truly superior to the post-Syd Barrett era.)

Apple HomePod questions
Apple VP Phil Schiller shows off some of the questions HomePod will be able to answer.

Screenshot / Apple.com

The features and price point seemed to puzzle some tech analysts: With the hefty price tag and the focus on sound quality, is Apple limiting itself to a niche audience of music-lovers?

It’s a fair question, but one that overlooks Apple’s long history of outdueling rivals by introducing devices that offer higher quality and greater simplicity of use at an elevated price. The iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch have all been more expensive and luxurious than similar devices from competing companies, yet they’ve all been bestsellers.

Apple is betting that a lot of people—most of them probably not audiophiles—will be willing to pay a significant premium not only for the Apple brand (and the relatively seamless compatibility that comes with it) but for a device that can become their main home stereo system. Some techies might opt to hook up an Echo Dot to a Sonos, but Apple knows its customers would prefer an all-in-one solution. It also knows they love music (see: iPod).

I’ve written before that Google might have a long-term edge in the smart speaker race, because it has the most advanced artificial intelligence technology. That means Google Home can answer questions that Alexa and Siri can’t. It’s a lot closer to the Star Trek computer.

Realistically, however, the Star Trek computer remains a distant dream: A.I. is advancing rapidly, but anyone who’s ever had an exasperating miscommunication with a talking computer knows there’s a long road ahead.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Google’s devices have already been widely labeled creepy for the way they’re constantly listening to your living-room conversations and storing records of your queries on remote servers. Google especially spooks people because its business is based around collecting their data for advertising purposes.*

Apple’s recent emphasis on privacy and encryption could give it an edge here. The company says the data your HomePod transmits will be encrypted and anonymized. That could help assuage customers’ fears, provided Apple succeeds in explaining to them what it means.

Siri might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but Apple knows hardware. It knows marketing. Increasingly, it knows privacy. And it knows that, for all its sci-fi promise, the smart speaker today is good mostly for one thing: playing audio on command. If the HomePod can do that substantially better than the Echo or Home, it might not matter that Apple gave Amazon and Google a head start and spotted them $200. Apple will win again.

*Correction, June 8, 2017: This post originally mischaracterized how Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home smart speakers handle your data. Like Apple’s HomePod, both devices beam your queries to remote servers only after they hear the “wake word.”

June 5 2017 4:22 PM

The Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Police Need a Warrant to Get Cellphone Location Data

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear a case revolving around a controversial question: whether police need a warrant to obtain cellphone location data from service providers.

According to SCOTUSblog, the court will hear this case in the coming October 2017 term, but a date has not yet been set.

The case, Carpenter v. United States, stems from a series of armed robberies that occurred between December 2010 and December 2012 in Ohio, Maryland, and Michigan. Two suspects, Timothy Carpenter and Timothy Sanders, were convicted based on cellphone evidence that revealed 12,898 location points for Carpenter and 23,034 points for Sanders. This information was used to show that Carpenter and Sanders had been near the locations of the robberies at the time of the crimes.

Carpenter was originally sentenced to 116 years in prison in 2014, but in an appeal he said that the cellphone evidence should have been thrown out because there was no warrant. In 2016, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revisited the case and ruled that the data collection was not a Fourth Amendment search, and therefore didn’t require a warrant. On May 31, the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed upheld that ruling. The court argued that cellphone location data is already being released to the providers, which invokes third-party doctrine—a legal theory that says that if people are knowingly giving their data another party (in this case, cellphone providers), they cannot expect privacy and thus police are allowed to go to the companies to access what they want for the case.

In conjunction with other organizations, the ACLU, which has advised Carpenter, filed an amicus brief in support of Carpenter, saying, “the government violated the Fourth Amendment when it obtained the location records from the defendants’ wireless carriers without a warrant.”

This discussion about cellphone location data has been coming to a boil for some time.

Before Monday’s announcement, Matt Ford speculated in the Atlantic that the Supreme Court might hear U.S. v. Carpenter in conjunction with the similar cases of Aaron Graham and Eric Jordan. The two were suspects in a Feb. 5, 2011 armed robbery of a McDonald’s in the Baltimore area. The police went through a magistrate to obtain geographic data for the suspects’ phones from August 2010 to February 2011. After retrieving the data, the police connected them to other robberies.

The defendants argued that the length of the cellphone monitoring was extensive and therefore violated their Fourth Amendment rights. In 2015, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that warrants were necessary for police to obtain location tracking data for citizen’s cellphones, but it declined to exclude the evidence. The Supreme Court declined to hear this case alongside Carpenter, though.

Back in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on the related case United States v. Jones, in which police officers tracked a GPS device that they had put in a suspect’s car without his knowledge. The court agreed unanimously that using a GPS device without a warrant was unconstitutional. However, the justices differed on their reasoning: Some said that there had been a physical intrusion, while others said Jones’s expectation of privacy was violated.

June 5 2017 3:17 PM

Apple’s Safari Browser Will Soon Kill Autoplaying Videos by Default

The modern internet has more than its share of problems, but if I had to select one irritant that rises above the rest, I’d almost certainly point to the scourge of autoplaying videos. Visit FoxNews.com (if you must) or another popular news site, and you’ll almost certainly be greeted with a video running above the article you’ve come to read. If you scroll down, the video may follow you. Noisy, flashy things, these unavoidable clips are often only tangentially related to the material that pulled you in. And, ultimately, they’re little more than vehicles for the pre-roll ads that run beforehand. If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t hit the pause button fast enough.

Now, Apple is suggesting that it might be able to stop the multisensory flood. At the company’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference, senior vice president Craig Federighi announced that Apple would be updating its Safari browser with a handful of new features. As Recode notes, that includes “ ‘intelligent tracking prevention’ to cut back on ad trackers” (say goodbye to those pants you looked at one time that now follow you to every site you visit) and, most enticingly, “autoplay video blocking.”

While the feature is appealing, it’s worth noting that it should raise some concerns. As Slate’s Will Oremus argued in 2015, many autoplaying ads are “now less annoying than many other forms of online advertising,” especially when, as on Facebook, they play silently and only spring to life if you scroll past them. At their best, such videos can ensure that sites are able to find advertiser support for whatever service they’re offering in a way that integrates naturally with the platform.

The trouble, of course, is that most sites still don’t follow that best practices approach to online video. That’s understandable, in part because video plays such an important role in many publishers’ revenue streams—so much so that Digiday wrote in 2015, “Grouse all you want, autoplay video isn’t going away. In fact, it will only become more ubiquitous.” But as the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer suggested on Twitter shortly after the Apple announcement, that widespread failure likely made a feature like this one “inevitable”:

It remains to be seen, of course, how aggressive the new Safari feature will be. Will it, for example, kill relatively unobtrusive videos like those on Facebook and Twitter? If not, it might encourage other platforms to adopt similar strategies. But if it does, it might mean a return to older, more annoying forms of advertising (such as banner ads that hide the rest of the page), especially if and as other mainstream browsers adopt similar user-friendly approaches.

So, questions linger, but in the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to a little peace and quiet. And, for the first time in a while, I might actually have to get Safari up and running.

June 2 2017 2:11 PM

The Trump Administration Is Now Vetting Visa Applicants’ Social Media Accounts

Courtesy of the Trump administration, visa applicants to the United States will now have to fill out a questionnaire that asks about their social media and biographical information going back years, Reuters reported Thursday.

According to Reuters, the new procedures allow consular officials stationed at U.S. embassies worldwide to demand visa applicants’ social media handles over the preceding five years along with previous passport numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, employment history, travel history, and past addresses stretching back 15 years. The Office of Management and Budget green-lit the questionnaire last month via an emergency approval process that—for now—gives the form a six-month lifespan instead of the typical three years.

June 1 2017 5:56 PM

Netflix Is Abandoning the Fight for Net Neutrality at a Critical Moment

The fight for net neutrality lost a big backer Wednesday: Netflix. The video-streaming heavy hitter has long thrown its weight behind the principle, a shorthand term for barring internet service providers from elevating certain forms of web traffic above others.

“It’s not our primary battle at this point,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told attendees of Recode’s third annual Code Conference, held in Rancho Palos Verdes, California this year. Here’s Hastings’ entire on-stage interview with Recode’s Peter Kafka:

June 1 2017 5:23 PM

The Weather Channel’s Response to Trump’s Paris Pullout Was Potent and Perfect

When Donald Trump announced Thursday that the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, plenty of media outlets had their coverage ready. But nobody was quite as ready as Weather.com.

As you can see in the screenshot above, the Weather Channel’s home page greeted the news with every ounce of righteous outrage it deserved. Its top nine stories—the whole page, on a normal-size screen—were all devoted to the topic. Two of them covered Trump’s announcement. The other seven methodically explained, in words, pictures, and hard data, exactly why it was so misguided, and why it matters so much.

On cable TV, the Weather Channel itself treated the news with similar gravity, if rather less drama, breaking from its regular programming to offer in-depth coverage and analysis of the climate news. Contrast that with the coverage on Fox News, which trotted out such noted climate experts as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Rep. Mike Lee of Utah to pooh-pooh the Paris Agreement and downplay the threat that global warming poses.

In case you were wondering, this is not out of character for the Weather Channel. My former colleague Eric Holthaus chronicled its gradual embrace of data and climate science in recent years, highlighted by a 2015 series of original short videos aimed at persuading conservatives to take the issue seriously.

As Holthaus pointed out, the Weather Channel is hardly a bastion of left-wing activism: It’s based in Atlanta and caters to an older, conservative-leaning audience. But the network has concluded that climate change poses a threat that transcends partisan politics. Accordingly, its coverage on Thursday was not explicitly political. Rather, its stories illustrating the damage climate change is poised to wreak—and, in many cases, is already wreaking—amounted to a potent, science-based refutation of the notion that the threat is overstated, far-off, or hypothetical. They include a stirring feature on a doomed New Jersey wilderness; news stories on California’s already-receding coastline and the stunning, imminent crack-up of an Antarctic ice sheet; and an analysis of how the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement is likely to worsen all of these problems and more.*

Don’t believe we need urgent action on climate change? Do your children and grandchildren a favor. Turn off Fox News, and go read the top stories on Weather.com right now.

*Correction, June 8, 2017: This post originally misstated that the Pine Barrens are in New England. They’re in New Jersey.

June 1 2017 4:05 PM

Why Isn’t Nicaragua Part of the Paris Agreement?

On Thursday, President Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The U.S. will join just two other U.N. member countries that haven’t signed on: Syria and Nicaragua. It would seem pretty clear why Syria hasn’t signed on to the agreement, given the current political turmoil, but why is Nicaragua so against it?

Because the agreement doesn’t do enough to fight climate change. Nicaragua’s Paul Oquist, who represented the country at the Paris negotiations in 2015, has said that Nicaragua’s main problem with the Paris Agreement is that countries’ pledges to fight climate change—known as “intended national determined contributions”—are voluntary. Oquist says that because the commitments aren’t binding, the climate change agreement will fail to meet its goal.

“[We’re not going to submit because] voluntary responsibility is a path to failure,” Quist said in 2015 to a reporter from Climate Home. “We don’t want to be [an] accomplice to taking the world to 3 to 4 degrees and the death and destruction that represents.” The Paris Agreement calls to limit climate change to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels,” though there is disagreement about how useful that goal is.

Oquist also argued that the responsibility for fighting climate change needs to fall on the countries that emit the most greenhouse gases, not the smaller countries that barely emit any by comparison. As you might expect, Nicaragua has far less of an impact on the state of climate change compared to the United States. While the U.S. ranks second in the world for carbon-dioxide emissions (behind China), Nicaragua ranks 131st, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Oquist seems to see himself, and Nicaragua, as taking a stand for many other countries. “A lot of developing countries have conditioned their [intended national determined contributions] on receiving finance and that finance is nowhere to be seen,” he said in 2015.

Nicaragua has been part of international agreements on climate change in the past. The country signed on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and ratified it a year later. Unlike the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol included real consequences for Annex 1-level countries, like Australia and members of the EU, if they failed to meet the standards they had agreed to. It is that sort of binding commitment that Nicaragua presumably wanted from the 2015 accord.

The Paris Agreement’s “intended national determined contributions” didn’t start out as voluntary. Back in 2009, at a major climate change conference in Copenhagen, a proposal that included binding commitments was in fact proposed, but the United States did not sign on.

Nicaragua has also made leaps and bounds in the past decade in terms of renewable energy. Two years ago, NPR reported on Nicaragua’s shift away from foreign oil and toward thermal and wind energy, something they can do thanks to their 19 volcanoes and excessive, powerful winds. In fact, according to the World Bank, Nicaragua is on the path toward having 90 percent clean renewable energy by 2020.

But its environmental record isn’t completely pristine. Nicaragua has taken a lot of heat from environmental groups over a planned canal—similar to the famous one in Panama—to be built by a Chinese company, which will retain the rights to operate it for the next 116 years. Construction on the project is supposed to begin this year, but since its inception, it’s has faced multiple delays.

The International Federation for Human Rights has come out with a statement saying that the building of this canal will be bad for both the environment and Nicaragua’s citizens. According to the IFHR’s website, plans call for the canal to cut through the main fresh water reserve for Central America, Lake Nicaragua, which provides water for 80,000 people and a home for 40 species of fish. This canal is expected to pollute the lake it runs through and displace a minimum of 30,000 people. The executive secretary of the Nicaraguan commission overseeing the canal? Oquist, the country’s chief climate negotiator.

June 1 2017 2:26 PM

Netizen Report: Ethiopia Claims It Shut Down the Internet to Stop Students From Cheating on Exams

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, Endalk Chala, Salma Essam, Leila Nachawati, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

new advox logo

On Tuesday, May 30, Ethiopians woke up to find themselves unable to connect to the internet in the third nationwide internet blackout that the country has seen since November 2015, when land rights protests peaked in the Oromo province.

The blackout has left businesses, universities, banks, and even government media cut off from one another and the rest of the world, making day-to-day work extremely difficult. Officials have claimed that the shutdown is part of an effort to prevent students from cheating on upcoming exams. Last year, exam answers were leaked on Facebook, forcing education officials to postpone exams for two weeks, and triggering a shutdown of social media networks including Facebook.

But this shutdown is broader in scope and scale than previous ones, effectively eliminating Ethiopia from the map of the global Internet.

Exams may not be the sole reason for the shutdown, though. It comes at a moment when Ethiopians have endured seven months of a “state of emergency,” a legal designation that has allowed authorities to justify mass arrests and the use of violence in efforts to break up protests surrounding the ongoing conflict between the ruling party and dominant opposition groups in the Oromo region, which lies adjacent to the capital, Addis Ababa.

Just last week, two Ethiopian human rights activists were given long-term prison sentences for “incitement” on Facebook. One was punished for posts expressing solidarity with anti-government protesters and pleading for an end to violence.

The experience of Ethiopians in recent months demonstrates how these elements—a state of emergency and human rights violations (from arrests to internet shutdowns)—too often go hand in hand.

Venezuela has become another prime example of this trend. Internet access has seriously deteriorated since the government extended the country’s state of emergency (which has been in place since May 2016) and officially authorized online content filtering. The Index on Censorship recently published evidence of 41 websites being blocked in the country, though the full extent of the censorship is unknown.

The government has also urged the use of surveillance drones to monitor protests and the collection of biometric data without an explanation of how it will be used. Dozens of protesters have been arrested and jailed during this time, often without charges.

A group of 21 advocacy groups, including Global Voices Advox, signed a letter condemning the conditions of the state of emergency and the restrictions on the free flow of online content that have come as a result. The letter states, “The sum of this factors, aggravated by the passage of time and the deepening of the social and political crisis, outlines the creation of a state of censorship, control, and surveillance that gravely affects the exercise of human rights.”

Maldives threatens expat bloggers with prosecution via Twitter
Four Maldivian bloggers and activists living overseas were issued arrest warrants, some of them sent via Twitter, for unspecified crimes. Authorities have warned that they may face prosecution in absentia if they fail to return to the Maldives to face trial. The arrest warrants lack detail about the nature of the police investigation in which they are said to be implicated. But they follow a call by the ruling party parliamentary leader Ahmed Nihan’s call to arrest all “irreligious” people in the country.

Egypt censors 21 news outlets, including Al Jazeera
State-run news agency Al-Ahram reported that, according to a high-level security source, 21 news websites were banned in Egypt for “supporting terrorism and spreading lies.” These websites include the Arabic-language edition of Huffington Post, the website of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, and the highly regarded independent news site Mada Masr. Mada Masr is one of the few remaining Egypt-based independent outlets that continues to cover the country’s ongoing crackdown on activists and journalists, the attacks on Egypt's Coptic minority, and the plight of refugees in Egypt. While websites have been blocked in Egypt before, this marks the first time the government has publicly announced their decision to do so. Reacting to the blocking, Mada Masr's editor in-chief Lina Attalah told Reuters: “Nothing explains this blockade more than a very clear intention from the authorities to crack down on critical media in ways that bypass the law.”

Facebook censors, then reinstates Tiananmen image
Facebook apologized after rejecting a picture frame commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Facebook users in Hong Kong protested the removal of the frame in the days leading up to the 28th anniversary of the massacre, on June 4, out of concern that the site is curbing their freedom of expression in the interest of gaining favor with the lucrative Chinese market. Though Facebook called the rejection a “mistake,” netizens are calling for an explanation.

France fines Facebook for shirking privacy requirements
French data protection authority CNIL hit Facebook with a maximum fine of about $168,000 for violating data privacy rules around the tracking of user and non-user data. This is the first major regulatory action to be taken by a European government after the European Court of Justice struck down the Safe Harbor provisions that enabled companies like Facebook to avoid EU data transfer rules. Facebook is also under investigation by Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain for similar violations.

Gendering Surveillance”—Association for Progressive Communications

June 1 2017 1:25 PM

Wikipedia Seems to Be Winning Its Battle Against Government Censorship

In Iran—as you might expect—internet content about women’s rights, sex, and religion are censored and filtered. Wikipedia articles on the topic used to be blocked. But in 2015, people in Iran were suddenly able to access Wikipedia posts that were previously censored—all because Wikipedia made a simple switch.

Wikipedia used to operate under both HTTP or HTTPS. With HTTPS, the information in your browser is encrypted. People can see what site you’re on, but not which specific page of that site when you use HTTPS. For example, someone eavesdropping on the network could see that you’re on Facebook, but not which ex from high school you’re looking at.

So if a country didn’t want you looking at, say, the Wikipedia page about Tiananmen Square, it could just block that single article. That is, until the Wikimedia Foundation switched over to being completely HTTPS in 2015. Now, if a nation wants to stop its citizens from reading some Wikipedia pages, it has to block the entire site. “Without encryption, governments can more easily surveil sensitive information, creating a chilling effect, and deterring participation, or in extreme cases they can isolate or discipline citizens,” the Wikimedia Foundation said in a statement back in 2015.

In May, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard released a study on the effects of the Wikimedia Foundation’s switch to HTTPS-only. For the most part, according to the report, it has been positive for the fight against censorship. “Wikipedia has repeatedly found itself the target of government censors,” the authors of the study wrote. But the site’s efforts seem to be working. “Our research suggests that on balance, there is less censorship happening now than before the transition to HTTPS-only content delivery in June 2015. This initial data suggests the decision to shift to HTTPS has been a good one in terms of ensuring accessibility to knowledge,” the study says.

To conduct the study, the Berkman Center used both client-side data and server-side data. Client data comes from the “perspective of users around the globe,” and server data deals with “traffic coming in to Wikimedia servers.”

The researchers focused on 15 different countries that had histories of either specifically blocking Wikipedia or general internet censorship. The study found that the primary countries that are censoring Wikipedia at least somewhat are China, Thailand, and Uzbekistan.

The Chinese-language Wikipedia project began in May 2001. Its first brush with censorship came in 2004, when the government blocked the project during the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Currently, the entire Chinese Wikipedia site is blocked. China’s government its own official digital encyclopedia in 2018. A digitized version of the print version that has been around since the 1970s, it will contain 300,000-plus entries made by more than 20,000 scholars.

China is an extreme case, but other countries have dabbled in Wikipedia blockage, too. While states in America have begun to legalize marijuana, Russia still has a problem allowing its citizens to merely look at articles on the subject. Roskomnadzor, the federal agency that supervises electronic media in Russia, blocked all of Russian Wikipedia, aka ru.wikipedia.org, in August 2015 after Wikipedia editors refused to remove an article about cannabis. Because this happened after the switch to HTTPS, the government had to block all access to Wikipedia, instead of just the page. However, the site was restored a few hours later after Roskomnadzor said the article met its standards after being edited, even though Wikipedia editors claimed the article hadn’t been changed.

The study concludes that while Russia’s internet censorship at large continues to grow, the government has not been interfering with Wikipedia. Clients based in Russia were able to access Wikipedia and its subdomains, and the network request round trip was the fastest out of all the countries in the study.

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