Plan To Digitally Connect Temples With Devotees Launched

Through its ‘India Spiritual Journey’ initiative, Koo, a Made-in-India social media platform, has enabled devotees to connect digitally with temples and spiritual centers across India. The first leg of the Journey, covering 4000 kilometers, will bring prominent temples and spiritual centers from Uttarakhand closer to devotees digitally. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative by an Indian social media platform.

Over the last two years, e-darshans have increased significantly on social media as a result of pandemic-induced lockdowns and temporary closures of temples. With spirituality and related topics being among the most searched topics on the internet, this campaign will enable spiritual leaders and temple trusts to connect with devotees across India, share updates, and engage with followers in their native language – all in real time.

Pratik Khedkar, an avid biker and Koo employee, will ride 4000 kilometres from Madhya Pradesh to Uttarakhand. Pratik will visit key pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan state, including Haridwar, Rishikesh, Uttarkashi, Gangotri, Yamunotri, and Badrinath, as part of Koo’s Operations Team. The journey will come to an end at Gaurikund, the base camp for the Kedarnath trek. This campaign, which has the support of Uttarakhand Tourism, aims to assist temple trusts and spiritual centres across the state in harnessing the social media revolution that is currently transforming the world. The ‘India Spiritual Journey’ will be gradually expanded to pilgrimage sites throughout India.

Pratik said as he rode his bike around the region, “I am grateful to Koo for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this campaign.” ‘India Spiritual Journey’ has helped me rediscover myself and connect with spiritually inclined people. We hope to bring this experience to millions of Koo users through this campaign. The experience of travelling through some of India’s most remote areas, surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains, pine forests, and ancient temples, has been nothing short of divine.”

On the platform, Koo has over 100 verified spiritual accounts, including those of prominent gurus such as Swami Avdheshanand Giri, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. In the last quarter, the platform saw a 50 per cent increase in verified spiritual accounts. By utilising the platform’s unique multi-lingual feature, spiritual leaders actively koo and interact with their followers in local languages. The feature enables real-time translation of messages across the platform’s current slew of languages, thereby broadening reach. Chat Rooms and Live features contribute to a stronger digital connection between temples and devotees, with over 47 per cent of spiritual accounts gaining more followers on Koo than on any other microblogging platform in India.

Data Security: More Privacy On The Smartphone

Privacy on the smartphone is possible, as is shown by the Privacy Friendly Apps (PFAs) for Android: Together with students, the SECUSO research group of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has developed more than 30 apps for Android phones. They request authorizations required for functioning only and do not contain any tracking mechanisms. For these PFAs, SECUSO has now been granted the first Digital Autonomy Award by the Digital Autonomy Hub that is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Every day, we all are feeding our smartphones with large data volumes: We are having conversations in the form of words, texts, and images, we are storing notes, photos, and videos. We are planning appointments and administrating contacts. Access to these partly highly sensitive data is subject to so-called authorizations. For example, any app accessing the camera needs the respective authorization. During installation or in other contexts, however, many apps request authorizations to access private smartphone data, although this is not required for their functioning. Some weather apps or QR code scanners, for instance, request access to the address book or to private photos. In addition, many apps contain so-called trackers that continuously collect data, analyze the user behavior, and create profiles of persons without them being aware of it. The data collected can be used for targeted advertising, but may also be stolen by hackers.

Students Are Largely Involved in the Development of Apps

The PFAs developed by KIT’s research group SECUSO (Security – Usability – Society) guarantee more privacy. The research group headed by Professor Melanie Volkamer is affiliated to KIT’s Institute of Applied Informatics and Formal Description Methods. Students were and are significantly involved in the development of PFAs suited for Android smartphones. “Through programming exercises or graduation theses, students come to know security and privacy aspects of Android app development,” Volkamer says. “Still, the challenge is to combine app development with academic education. Students without the relevant experience should also be able to take part.”

The PFAs only request the authorizations required for functioning, do not contain any tracking mechanisms, and, hence, do not collect any usage data. “The data collected are stored locally on the smartphone,” says Christopher Beckmann. The scientist is member of the SECUSO research group and responsible for the Privacy Friendly Apps Lab. “Clearly defined data will be transmitted to third providers only, if this is absolutely necessary for functioning.” The source code of every PFA is published on the GitHub platform.

Apps Range from the Pedometer to the Password Generator

Currently, more than 30 PFAs are offered in the areas of tools, fitness and health, games, and security, including a flashlight, to-do-list, pedometer, active break, sudoku, mental arithmetic trainer, password generator, and WiFi manager. For its PFAs, SECUSO has now received the Digital Autonomy Award that is granted for the first time in 2022 by the Digital Autonomy Hub. It coordinates an interdisciplinary network of 43 institutes and organization, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the program “Miteinander durch Innovation” (together through innovation), and implemented by the Gesellschaft für Informatik e.V. (Society for Informatics) and AlgorithmWatch.

It is SECUSO’s declared goal to continuously further develop the PFAs and to expand the group of users. For this reason, SECUSO looks for interested persons, who wish to help the Privacy Friendly Apps team by supporting one or several apps or by providing staff or funds.

Whatsapp CEO Says, India’s New IT Guidelines Are Regressive

As India tightens its stand on the social media platforms, Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp’s CEO Will Cathcart has said that the Indian government’s IT Rules of 2021 undermines the security of the users that the end-to-end encryption provides. In an interview with the US-based news portal Verge, when asked about the new Indian IT guidelines 2021, Cathcart said that if someone comes to WhatsApp and asks to find the originator of a specific text, then it is no longer private.

“With the IT rules in India, the specific thing those rules would require is us to build some system [to comply] if someone comes to us and says ‘Hey, someone said the words ‘XYZ.’ Tell us who the first person who said the words XYZ.” That’s not private. And it undermines the security that end-to-end encryption provides,” Cathcart emphasized. He added, “I think 10 years from now, even more of our lives will be online. Even more of our sensitive data will be online. There will be even more sophisticated hackers, spyware companies, hostile governments, criminals trying to get access to it. And not having the best security means that information is stolen. I think that has real consequences for free society.”

The WhatsApp CEO further added that at present, India is asking to find the first originator of the text, tomorrow some other country wants to push for it as well. “The more some countries see other countries do it, or push for it, the more they want to push for it, too,” he continued. The center of the issue is that as per the new IT guidelines, messaging platforms with more than a 5million user base in India need to enable the identification of the first originator of the information. The Indian government has said that the information will only be required for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offense related to sovereignty and integrity of India, and others.

However, WhatsApp has sued the government alleging that WhatsApp texts are end-to-end encrypted and in order to identify the originator of a particular text, it has to break encryption for those who have sent and received messages. Back then, WhatsApp called it a threat to privacy. In the last hearing of the matter, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the central government on WhatsApp plea challenging the traceability of the first originator of a message. On August 27, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for WhatsApp had asked the division bench of Delhi chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh to issue a notice to the Centre allowing the central government to file a response to the social messaging platform’s plea.

Complying with the new IT guidelines, WhatsApp in its latest compliance report revealed that it banned around 3 Mn Indian accounts between June 16 to July 31. WhatsApp has time and again been mired up in controversy in the country. The year started with a privacy policy update that allegedly allowed WhatsApp to share data to its parent company Facebook. The company faced severe criticism across the globe for this update and several governments including India asked the messaging platform to roll back the update, and the platform had to defer the rollout of the privacy policy update. However, the company clarified that the contentious policy update will look to address data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook business accounts and nothing will change for personal chats.

Anu Natarajan To Lead Facebook’s $1 Billion Affordable Housing Initiative

Former Fremont, California Vice Mayor and city council woman Anu Natarajan has been named by Facebook to head up its affordable housing initiative, which will allocate $1 billion in grants over 10 years to housing projects in California. The Indian American former official came on board as project lead in July, after consulting on the initiative for more than a year. “The Covid pandemic has really put the spotlight on the lack of housing in the state, which has been 40 years in the making,” Natarajan told India-West.

A survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau between last November found that over two million renter households in California reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent. Federal and state moratoriums have staved off evictions through the pandemic, but those are due to expire next month. Moreover, only a small fraction of $47 billion in federal funds has actually been doled out to renters in need and small landlords. In California, almost 30 percent of renters pay more than half their salary in rent, and almost 40 percent of homeowners pay more than 30 to 50 percent of their incomes to mortgages, according to data from the California Budget and Policy Center.

California has more than half of all unsheltered homeless people in the country, with an estimated 108,432 people living on the streets. Los Angeles County alone is home to almost 58,000 homeless people, according to 2019 data from Housing and Urban Development. In San Francisco, a family of four making over $100,000 per year is considered low-income, said Facebook in a press release. Natarajan noted the lack of supply at all levels of housing: for every 100 jobs created in the state, only 30 housing units are created, on average. “Not in My Backyard” protests from existing residents, as well as the increasing costs of materials have made building new housing so much harder, she said.

The Facebook housing initiative was announced on Oct. 22, 2019. An initial round of funding — $150 million — was announced last December to create 2,000 units of housing for very low-income people. Facebook partnered with Destination Home, a nonprofit organization leading efforts to end homelessness in Santa Clara County, which contributed an additional $5 million to the fund. Natarajan said that funds were also allocated to help with technical assistance for California’s Project Homekey, an $800 million initiative which bought up existing hotels and motels to create 6,000 units of permanent housing for unsheltered people. (See earlier India-West story: https://bit.ly/38td7mU)

“The COVID crisis demands we all step up and do more to protect the most vulnerable. I challenge other private sector corporations to follow suit and provide additional low-cost capital to create thousands more homeless housing units all across California,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom, as Facebook announced the grant last December. Facebook’s next round of grants are expected to be announced sometime during the week of Aug. 30, according to Natarajan. The areas of most need in the state include the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, San Diego, and the Inland Empire in Southern California.

Natarajan will also lead Facebook’s $25 million initiative to build teacher and essential worker housing on public land for school districts in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. The $1 billion initiative also allocates $250 million to a partnership with the State of California for mixed-income housing on excess state-owned land in communities where housing is scarce. This public-private partnership ensures that incremental new housing supply is brought to the market segments that need it most, said Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner in a press statement.

Natarajan earned her master’s degree in Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington. She served on the Fremont City Council from 2004 to 2014. She brings a three-pronged view to civic infrastructure development, considering the impact to climate change, addressing social justice concerns about equity in housing, and access to mobility and transportation.

Twitter As ‘Porn Hub’ Allowing Psy-War Targeting Communal Harmony

Twitter is the ‘porn hub’ of social media, DisinfoLab said in a new report. Shockingly, despite Indian laws and Twitter’s own policies, even child porn and rape videos are freely available. Worse, Twitter’s lax policy has allowed a massive psy-war targeting communal harmony, the report said. Twitter has a full-fledged porn industry — from live web cam to other ‘off-line services’. Numerous NSFW content selling websites openly advertise themselves on Twitter, including those who show their registration in India, it added.These activities are not run in hiding but in broad day light, advertising with hashtags! Live porn is openly sold on Twitter using the IndianCamGirl hashtag involving a nexus of ‘service providers’, it said.

The fact that the hashtag started in 2017, involves several Influencers, and is used regularly is a testament to Twitter’s unwillingness to address these concerns. In the garb of such ‘services’, personal data of the users are being mined, to be used for criminal activities from ‘sextortion’ to rape, to sexual exploitation of minors, leading to grave consequences, including suicides. Anti-social/anti-India elements are taking advantage of this ‘free porn’ environment of Twitter, weaponising the content. An elaborate psy-war is being waged to damage India’s communal harmony, particularly between Hindus and Muslims, the report said. “Hundreds of fake handles are running coordinated campaigns, dehumanising the women of both religions. These handles pretend to be Hindus (#hstuds) when demeaning Muslim girls (#mslut); and Muslim (#mstud), while demeaning Hindu girls (#hslut),” it added.

The behavioral pattern of these handles – creation date, activity, location and hashtag – clearly establishes an organized campaign designed to harm social harmony. Surprisingly, despite obvious Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB), Twitter doesn’t seem to take any actions, the report said. Twitter, the US based for-profit company, seems obliged to follow only US laws, while showing complete dis-regard to India’s IT Rules, which prohibits adult content on social media. Twitter doesn’t even make any attempt to implement the laws, doable with basic location filter, the report said. Contrast it with other social media platforms which do far better content management, and continue to strive to keep social media space clean. Shockingly, Twitter seems blind to even most obscene contents, including child porn despite a ‘child sexual exploitation policy’.

Twitter claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards child pornography – and yet seems to make zero efforts to counter this menace. It’s important to remember that this content is available to even under age users, as Twitter doesn’t filter ‘sensitive content’ to even young users, the report said. Equally shocking is freely available ‘rape videos’ on Twitter, which is prohibited even under Twitter’s policy of ‘gory content’. Even those video posts, which have words that could trigger filter mechanism are freely available, including the gang-rape video of a young girl, the report said. Twitter has also failed to filter obscene content for young users. Even a minor user on Twitter can access most obscene content if they wish to. Worth noting that Twitter could easily filter particular kind of content on age and location restriction, if it wished to, DisinfoLab said. “To access Twitter Hub, one need not even own a Twitter account. An open Google search could land anyone, even a minor, to most gory and vulgar contents available on Twitter with just a click on ‘view sensitive content’. Seems #Google also needs to take measures to control it,” the report added.

The DisinfoLab said in a report that adult content industry’s symbiotic relation with Twitter goes both ways: The presence of pornography lures and keeps engaged a number of users; and secondly, it also helps create an economic eco-system, which is more loyal as user, and hence increases Twitter’s number of ‘active users’. The report said several users/accounts openly sell porn on Twitter. The mechanism is simple: The seller accounts show porn clips, thereby ‘attracting’ customers and creating a ‘brand’. Then they send messages, asking money in exchange of large amount of porn. This conversation moves to DMs. In DMs they then share the links for the pornographic content. Not surpassingly, the links at times redirects to malicious websites.

Twitter doesn’t allow for ad promotion for pornographic content, but there are multiple ‘porn services’ websites that get promoted on Twitter. Interestingly, the report came across instances where same set of people/organizations running multiple websites/platforms on Twitter – without any filtering/restrictions. For example, two different websites (www.flitz.in and www.bindastimes.com) were asking for subscription money for giving access to their content. Only fans’ accounts promote their content on Twitter by sharing their website links. Interestingly, as some of the activities are illegal in India, they claim their location to be outside India, while proving contact details and address in India.

For example, a casual look at one of the websites revealed that these sites are registered in Kolkata, and their details have both address and contact numbers from Kolkata. It is therefore again surprising how Twitter doesn’t even scan the basic data of a website’s registration, the report said. It further said that some of the porn content accounts lure the users into filling forms, asking for personal details for a range of things – from ‘one-night stand’ to chats, video and calls etc. However, in order to access these services, the users have to fill forms, such as Google forms, which is not monitored by anyone, not even by Twitter.

Among the data collected through such means are mobile numbers and email ids; personal profile (age, marriage status), professional profile and payment details. The personal data so gathered could be exploited from blackmailing to phishing to selling to third parties. A number of such instances have also been reported in public, and there is a possibility that many more would be getting into traps but are not coming out openly due to public embarrassment, the report said. Other than the verified (Bluetick) services provided by Twitter to adult content handles/platforms, there is a full-fledged industry flourishing on Twitter which strives to provide authentication services to porn service providers. ‘Live webcam services’ are one of the most popular services on Twitter to sell porn. Thousands of users are offering these services openly on Twitter – selling links/means to access this service. However, every economic system needs trust, which is acquired through means of standardisation. The porn industry on Twitter too has developed its own systems of trust through standardisation, DisinfoLab said. Shockingly, despite Indian laws and Twitter’s own policies, even child porn and rape videos are freely available. Worse, Twitter’s lax policy has allowed a massive psy-war targeting communal harmony, the report said. (IANS)

2 Billion Google Chrome Users Accounts Potential For Hacks

Google Chrome has over two billion users worldwide and dominates the web browser market. But this also makes it the prime target of hackers and now Google has issued its fourth urgent upgrade warning in two months. In an official blog post, Google has revealed seven ‘High’ rated security threats have been discovered in Chrome with the vulnerabilities impacting Chrome users on all major operating systems: Windows, MacOS and Linux. Google is currently giving little away about the flaws.

This is standard practice as the company attempts to limit information to stop the spread of these vulnerabilities to hackers and buy time for users to protect themselves. Consequently, this is all Chrome users have to go on right now:

  • High — CVE-2021-30598: Type Confusion in V8. Reported by Manfred Paul
  • High — CVE-2021-30599: Type Confusion in V8. Reported by Manfred Paul
  • High — CVE-2021-30600: Use after free in Printing. Reported by 360 Alpha Lab
  • High — CVE-2021-30601: Use after free in Extensions API. Reported by 360 Alpha Lab
  • High — CVE-2021-30602: Use after free in WebRTC. Reported by Cisco Talos
  • High — CVE-2021-30603: Race in WebAudio. Reported by Google Project Zero
  • High — CVE-2021-30604: Use after free in ANGLE. Reported by SecunologyLab

What I can tell you is “Type Confusion in V8” is the open source JavaScript engine at the heart of Chrome.  “WebRTC” (Web real-time communications) is tech which enables you to transfer audio and video streaming data between browsers and mobile applications. “ANGLE” (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) is Google’s open source, cross-platform graphics engine abstraction layer. Printing and Extensions are self explanatory. Historically, all of these have been used by hackers to execute code to take control of a target’s computer. Chrome’s most recent zero-day hack (where hackers are known to be exploiting a vulnerability before Google is able to patch it) was a V8 flaw.

To combat these new threats, all Chrome users should navigate to Settings > Help > About Google Chrome. If your browser version on Linux, macOS and Windows is listed as 92.0.4515.159 or above you are safe. If not, the About screen should prompt you to update and restart your browser. You should do this immediately. It is to Google’s credit that fixes for high level attacks are typically released within days of their discovery but their effectiveness still relies upon billions of users updating and restarting their browsers.  Chrome is a superb browser, but attacks are growing and there have already been eight zero day Chrome hacks this year. It is now vital to keep Chrome up-to-date at all times. Go check it now. (Courtesy: FORBES)

Apple To Scan U.S. iPhones For Images Of Child Sexual Abuse

Apple unveiled plans to scan U.S. iPhones for images of child sexual abuse, drawing applause from child protection groups but raising concern among some security researchers that the system could be misused, including by governments looking to surveil their citizens.

The tool designed to detected known images of child sexual abuse, called “neuralMatch,” will scan images before they are uploaded to iCloud. If it finds a match, the image will be reviewed by a human. If child pornography is confirmed, the user’s account will be disabled and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children notified.

Separately, Apple plans to scan users’ encrypted messages for sexually explicit content as a child safety measure, which also alarmed privacy advocates. The detection system will only flag images that are already in the center’s database of known child pornography. Parents snapping innocent photos of a child in the bath presumably need not worry. But researchers say the matching tool — which doesn’t “see” such images, just mathematical “fingerprints” that represent them — could be put to more nefarious purposes.

Matthew Green, a top cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University, warned that the system could be used to frame innocent people by sending them seemingly innocuous images designed to trigger matches for child pornography. That could fool Apple’s algorithm and alert law enforcement. “Researchers have been able to do this pretty easily,” he said of the ability to trick such systems.

Other abuses could include government surveillance of dissidents or protesters. “What happens when the Chinese government says, ‘Here is a list of files that we want you to scan for,'” Green asked. “Does Apple say no? I hope they say no, but their technology won’t say no.”

Apple has been under pressure to allow for increased surveillance of encrypted data

Tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others have for years been sharing digital fingerprints of known child sexual abuse images. Apple has used those to scan user files stored in its iCloud service, which is not as securely encrypted as its on-device data, for child pornography.

Apple has been under government pressure for years to allow for increased surveillance of encrypted data. Coming up with the new security measures required Apple to perform a delicate balancing act between cracking down on the exploitation of children while keeping its high-profile commitment to protecting the privacy of its users.

But a dejected Electronic Frontier Foundation, the online civil liberties pioneer, called Apple’s compromise on privacy protections “a shocking about-face for users who have relied on the company’s leadership in privacy and security.”

Meanwhile, the computer scientist who more than a decade ago invented PhotoDNA, the technology used by law enforcement to identify child pornography online, acknowledged the potential for abuse of Apple’s system but said it was far outweighed by the imperative of battling child sexual abuse.

“Is it possible? Of course. But is it something that I’m concerned about? No,” said Hany Farid, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, who argues that plenty of other programs designed to secure devices from various threats haven’t seen “this type of mission creep.” For example, WhatsApp provides users with end-to-end encryption to protect their privacy, but also employs a system for detecting malware and warning users not to click on harmful links.

Apple was one of the first major companies to embrace “end-to-end” encryption, in which messages are scrambled so that only their senders and recipients can read them. Law enforcement, however, has long pressured the company for access to that information in order to investigate crimes such as terrorism or child sexual exploitation.

Apple said the latest changes will roll out this year as part of updates to its operating software for iPhones, Macs and Apple Watches. “Apple’s expanded protection for children is a game changer,” John Clark, the president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said in a statement. “With so many people using Apple products, these new safety measures have lifesaving potential for children.”

Apple says the changes do not disturb user privacy

Julia Cordua, the CEO of Thorn, said that Apple’s technology balances “the need for privacy with digital safety for children.” Thorn, a nonprofit founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, uses technology to help protect children from sexual abuse by identifying victims and working with tech platforms.

But in a blistering critique, the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology called on Apple to abandon the changes, which it said effectively destroy the company’s guarantee of “end-to-end encryption.” Scanning of messages for sexually explicit content on phones or computers effectively breaks the security, it said.

The organization also questioned Apple’s technology for differentiating between dangerous content and something as tame as art or a meme. Such technologies are notoriously error-prone, CDT said in an emailed statement. Apple denies that the changes amount to a backdoor that degrades its encryption. It says they are carefully considered innovations that do not disturb user privacy but rather strongly protect it.

In order to receive the warnings about sexually explicit images on their children’s devices, parents will have to enroll their child’s phone. Kids over 13 can unenroll, meaning parents of teenagers won’t get notifications.  Apple said neither feature would compromise the security of private communications or notify police.

Separately, Apple said its messaging app will use on-device machine learning to identify and blur sexually explicit photos on children’s phones and can also warn the parents of younger children via text message. It also said that its software would “intervene” when users try to search for topics related to child sexual abuse.

Facebook Has New Redesigned Settings Page On Mobile

Facebook is changing its Settings page on the mobile app. The new layout will help people easily find tools they often need quicker. These include managing the ads people see, adjusting sharing settings and curating an audience for posts. The new design rollout has already begun since August 4, and should come to supported devices via an update soon if it hasn’t already.

Here’s all you need to know about the new Facebook Settings page, including what’s new and which devices it will come to.

The new story now features lesser broad categories than before. Facebook suggests the change is to prevent people from thinking too hard about where to start. Hence, Settings will now be grouped into six broader categories – Account, Preferences, Audience and Visibility, Permissions, Your Information, and Community Standards and Legal Policies.

Relocated menu items, new Privacy shortcut

The new Settings page will also be relocating some items so that they can now be found alongside other related settings. For example, the News Feed setting, previously found in its own small category, will now be seen under the Preferences category.

Facebook also said in a blog post that it will be improving the Settings’ Search functionality, making it “easier to find the settings you need if you don’t know the exact name or location of the setting you’re looking for.”

Facebook has also added a new Privacy Shortcut right at the top of the Settings page, to make it easier for users to change important privacy and security aspects.

Which devices will see the new Facebook settings?

The Facebook Settings redesign will roll out for Android devices, including smartphones and tablets, as well as iOS devices, including iPhones and the iPad series. The new rollout will also be coming to mobile web browsers for those who do not use the Facebook application. Lastly, it will also be implemented in Facebook Lite, a lighter version of the Facebook app that is available on some platforms.

Attempting To Intimidate Critics, Modi Gvt. Locks Rahul Gandhi ’s Twitter Account

The Twitter account of senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was ‘temporarily’ locked on last week, a day after a photograph he had posted with the family of the nine-year-old Dalit rape victim was taken down by the microblogging site.

The action came after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a notice to Twitter India, asking the social media platform to remove the tweet which revealed the identity of the rape victim.

“Shri @RahulGandhi’s Twitter account has been temporarily locked & due process is being followed for its restoration,” the Congress tweeted. “Until then, he will stay connected with you all through his other SM platforms & continue to raise his voice for our people & fight for their cause. Jai Hind!”

“Based on a complaint by the BJP, the Twitter account of Rahul Gandhi has been locked. Instead of giving justice to the 9-year-old Dalit girl, the BJP and the Narendra Modi government are far too preoccupied in intimidating Twitter as also illegally chasing Rahul Gandhi. Had PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah used this time in ensuring justice for the Dalit girl…Delhi would have been a safer place,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala told the media.

The girl, who has not been named by authorities and belonged to the Dalit community, one of Hinduism’s most oppressed castes, was found dead near a Delhi crematorium on Sunday night, Ingit Singh from Delhi Police’s South West District told NBC News over the telephone. Her whole body was burnt apart from her ankles and feet, he added.

Four men were arrested on suspicion of rape and murder in the death of a 9-year-old girl, whose killing has brought into focus both rampant sexual violence and caste prejudice in the country. Four men, including the crematorium’s priest, were arrested early Monday on suspicion of rape, murder and destruction of evidence, Singh said.

“The brutality from this incident is barbaric beyond words,” Yogita Bhayana, founder of the women’s rights group People Against Rapes in India, said. “And the saddest part is incidents like these are not rare. We see cases where Dalit women are killed, raped, and tortured daily. … Only a few come to the limelight.”

There are 200 million Dalits in India, out of a population of 1.3 billion, according to the most recent government census. Rahul Gandhi visited the girl’s family and offered his condolences and support to the family last week, seeking action for those behind the heinous crime.

India Has 52,391 Startups And 53 Unicorns

India’s startup ecosystem, which is widely considered as the third largest globally, has a total of 52,391 recognised entities as of July 14, 2021, Parliament was informed last week. The startups are recognized by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) and as of July 14, more than 5.7 lakh jobs have been reported by more than 50,000 startups, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Som Parkash, told the Lok Sabha in a written reply.

As per industry estimates, there are 53 unicorns currently in India, with a tentative valuation of Rs. 1.4 lakh crore, he said, adding that valuation of a company is a market driven exercise and the data of individual companies is not maintained by the DPIIT.

He said that the Startup India initiative is a flagship initiative of the Centre which aims to build a strong ecosystem for nurturing innovation and startups in the country. A 19-point Startup India Action Plan was launched in January 2016 which paved the way for the introduction of a number of policy initiatives to build a strong, conducive, growth-oriented environment for Indian startups.

The Prime Minister unveiled Startup India: The Way Ahead at 5 years celebration of Startup India on January 16, 2021 which includes actionable plans for promotion of ease of doing business for startups, greater role of technology in executing various reforms, building capacities of stakeholders and enabling a digital Aatmanirbhar Bharat, the Minister added. (IANS)

Snooping In India Indicates, Fundamental Freedom In India Is In Serious Jeopardy

“The alleged snooping in India using Israeli spyware Pegasus of opposition leaders, journalists, activists, and constitutional scholars is one more indication that fundamental freedoms in India are in serious jeopardy” said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA. What we have been witnessing over the last six years is the steady deterioration of the rule of law and undermining of democracy, and the government must be held accountable” added Mr. Abraham.

One of the most prominent people on the list is Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress and a vehement critic of the Modi Administration on their undemocratic policies. In a statement, Mr. Gandhi said, “ targeted surveillance of the type you describe, whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable.”

It is becoming evident that power is all that matters to the current leadership at the Centre, and they may stoop to any low to snatch it even at the cost of undermining constitutional freedom and individual liberties. News reports suggest that key political players, including the then deputy chief minister Parameswara and the personal secretaries of then Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, may have been potential targets of surveillance by the Pegasus spyware in the run-up to the collapse of the Congress-JD (S) alliance government in 2019. If these reports are accurate, it is undermining the democratically run election process and severe violations of constitutional provisions these authorities are sworn to uphold.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extra-judicial surveillance of journalists and others in reaction to the story. “The United States condemns the harassment of extra-judicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson stated.

Significantly, the list includes a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former Chief Justice, whose turnaround from a critic to a supporter of the Modi regime policies has surprised many. It may very well make a case study about how skeletons in the closet of any individual can be unearthed and weaponized to extract concessions or demand behavioral changes. It is a sad state of affairs in India today that reveals how much the world’s largest democracy has deteriorated under the BJP rule.

In Retaliation For Critical Coverage, Modi Government Raids Top Indian Media

Indian tax authorities on Thursday, July 21, 2021,  raided one of the country’s most prominent newspapers in what journalists and the political opposition denounced as retaliation for the outlet’s hard-nosed coverage of the government’s pandemic response. The DainikBhaskar Group, whose Hindi-language broadsheet boasts a combined circulation of more than 4 million, was raided simultaneously in at least four locations, including at its headquarters in Madhya Pradesh state.

Surabhi Ahluwalia, a spokeswoman for the tax authority, said searches were on at multiple locations across the country linked to the group but declined to share details about the case. She said the department usually undertakes searches in matters of tax evasion. But the justification of tax evasion was panned by government critics, who pointed out that the Bhaksar has been persistently needling India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its coverage, including as recently as this week.

The Press Club of India said in a statement that it “deplores such acts of intimidation by the government through enforcement agencies to deter the independent media.” Under the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rose to power in 2014, several critical media outlets have found themselves in tax investigators’ cross-hairs, raising fears about the health of the independent press in the world’s largest democracy. Reporters without Borders, the advocacy group, recently placed India at 142nd place in its press freedom rankings, roughly on par with Myanmar and Mexico.

Om Gaur, the Bhaskar’s national editor, said his staff’s mobile devices were seized during the raids as a “tactic to harass journalists.” “The raid is outcome of our aggressive reporting, especially during the second wave of pandemic in April,” Gaur said by telephone. “Unlike some other media we reported how people were dying for lack of oxygen and hospital beds.” The tax investigation “is not going to change anything for us,” he added. “We will keep doing good journalism.”

As covid-19 roiled India this spring, the Bhaskar splashed photos of funeral pyres on its front pages, reported on corpses floating in the Ganges river and repeatedly challenged the government’s narrative about the disaster and its official death statistics. Gaur, the editor, contributed an op-ed in the New York Times that made waves in his home country. The paper has sometimes taken a less-than-orthodox approach to holding government accountable: as citizens in the state of Gujarat struggled to procure covid-19 medication in April, the paper published the phone number of the BJP’s state president in a massive front-page headline.

This week, after The Washington Post and its media partners disclosed the Indian government’s use of the NSO Group’s Pegasus phone hacking program against opposition figures, activists and journalists, the DainikBhaksar was one of the few Hindi-language papers that featured the story prominently. It also followed up with an article recapping what it said was Modi’s record of snooping on political rivals going back 15 years, when he served as chief minister in Gujarat. The article was quickly retracted.

On Thursday, opposition figures rebuked the government. “Income Tax raid on DainikBhaskar newspaper & Bharat Samachar news channel is a brazen attempt to suppress the voice of media,” Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan state and a member of the Congress Party, said in a tweet. “Modi government cannot tolerate even an iota of its criticism.” India’s free-wheeling press was stunned in 2017 when the government launched an investigation into New Delhi Television, which was known for its independent streak. The top investigative agency raided NDTV’s offices and the homes of its founders, the Roy family, over suspected financial malfeasance. The channel called it a “blatant political attack on the freedom of the press.” The company has also faced a litany of probes from various agencies over alleged tax violations and money laundering.

In 2019, NDTV protested again when the Roys were barred from boarding an international flight out of Mumbai. The most recent raids on a media outlet came in February, when authorities investigated NewsClick, a left-leaning digital outlet, over its foreign remittances from a businessman with alleged links to China’s Communist party. The outlet denied the accusations.

Job Advertisement

 

Consulate General of India, Atlanta (USA)                

Required:
(1) Clerk
(1) Marketing Assistant
(1) Messenger
                

Consulate General of India (CGI), Atlanta requires the services of qualified young persons to fill up the following posts at the Consulate.

For Clerk: 

Required Skills:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university;
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills in English ;
  • Proficiency with MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, etc;
  • Dependable, organized, problem-solver;
  • Great Typing skills;
  • Keenness to learn and willingness to work hard.

Experience: 1-2 years of similar experience in an administrative role

For Marketing Assistant:

Required Skills:

  • A University Degree or equivalent qualification, preferably in Business & Marketing. Masters preferred;
  • Knowledge of International Trade Issues, including Intellectual Property Rights;
  • Adequate experience in the interdisciplinary analysis of trade and commerce vis-à-vis international political developments;
  • Proficiency in English language, communication skills, teamwork, Computer Operation – including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
  • Knowledge of US Government functioning, rules & regulations, and Policies;
  • Organizational skills to plan promotional events;
  • Keenness to learn and willingness to work hard.

Experience: 1-2 years of similar experience in Marketing Assistant Role

For Messenger:

Required Skills:

  • A High School degree is a must and, a bachelor’s degree is preferred;
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills ;
  • Knowledge of Computer Skills, if any, preferred. (applicant may have to perform the clerical job as and when required);
  • Dependable, organized, problem-solver;
  • Keenness to learn and willingness to work hard.

Experience: 1-2 years of similar experience.

Head of Chancery

Consulate General of India, Atlanta

5549 Glenridge Drive

Atlanta GA 30342

Email: [email protected] and [email protected]

Please Note: Position(s) are only for applicants who are either US citizens or permanent residents. Deadline of Submission: 10/07/2021

Modi Govt. Comes Under Fire For ‘Extrajudicial Surveillance’ Of Journalists, Activists, Regime Critics

The Pegasus report kicked up a storm on the first day of the Monsoon Session of Indian Parliament as several Opposition leaders condemned the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government, stating the spyware was being used to snoop on journalists and politicians in the country. India’s main Oppoision party Leader Rahul Gandhi is among dozens of Indian politicians, journalists, activists and government critics who were identified as potential targets of an Israeli-made spyware, media reports say.

More than 1,000 phone numbers in India were among tens of thousands worldwide selected as possibly of interest to clients of NSO Group, maker of the Pegasus spyware, according to a group of media outlets. The leaked list was shared with the news outlets by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International. The identities behind around 300 of the Indian phone numbers were verified by the media outlets.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extrajudicial surveillance’ of journalists and others in reaction to reports published by a consortium of news websites that Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware, Pegasus, was used for illegal hacking and surveillance of individuals, including in India. “The United States condemns the harassment or extrajudicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson said in response to a question on what U.S. President Joe Biden’s position on the issue was.

The news reports on Pegasus say that in addition to actually or potentially targeting journalists, leaders of the opposition in India, and others, a database of phone numbers that allegedly belonged to the NSO Group contained the numbers of two U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials in New Delhi and employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Just as states have the duty to protect human rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, including by ensuring that their products or services are not being used by end-users to abuse fundamental freedoms,” the spokesperson said.

While reports of Indian politicians and journalists being targets of surveillance operations carried out with the help of Pegasus spyware took centre-stage on Monday, French newspaper Le Monde reported that several Delhi-based diplomats were also on the list of potential targets for phone hacking from 2017-2021, along with a phone associated with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Media organizations in the 17-member consortium published more details of the leaked database allegedly belonging to Israeli technology company, the NSO group, that developed Pegasus. U.S.-based Washington Post, UK-based The Guardian and The Wire in India reported that the telephone numbers of a British High Commission official and two officials of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and employees of international NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were also in the database of those targeted.

New Delhi has hostile relations with China and Pakistan at present, and their diplomats are under close watch, but it is significant that the list included several countries that India has very friendly ties with as well. They include a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former chief justice, as well as Tibetan Buddhist clerics, Pakistani diplomats and Chinese journalists, the reports said. More than 50,000 phone numbers of citizens clustered mainly in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been studied as a part of the international collaboration by NGOs and media organisations investigating phone surveillance using Pegasus.

The government has denied any wrong doing or carrying out any unauthorized surveillance, but has not confirmed or denied whether it has purchased or deployed Pegasus spyware. The Indian government reiterated in a statement to the Washington Post that “allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said the reports aimed to “humiliate India at the world stage, peddle the same old narratives about our nation and derail India’s development trajectory.”Critics say that the world’s largest democracy has become increasingly authoritarian under Prime Minister Modi, with the government accused of seeking to silence dissent. Rahul Gandhi, from the main opposition Congress party, told the media that if the allegations were correct, it was “an attack on the democratic foundations of our country.”

Losing 10 Family Members To Covid, US Surgeon General Warns Against Health Misinformation

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy revealed during the White House news briefing on July 5th that he’s lost 10 family members to the coronavirus. Murthy, who joined the briefing in an effort to urge Americans to get their shots amid lagging vaccination rates, was candid about his own experience during the pandemic. His family members who died were in both the U.S. and India. He said it was “painful” to know that “nearly every death we are seeing now” from Covid-19 in the U.S. could have been prevented with vaccines.

Murthy said misinformation has been a significant contributor to vaccine hesitancy. He said roughly two-thirds of people who haven’t gotten the vaccination believe, to some degree, common myths about the shots. Some of this misinformation has been amplified by social media, he said. He warned against health misinformation saying that falsehoods spreading quickly online have subjected large numbers of Americans to avoidable illness and death. Murthy called on social media companies to step up their efforts on the issue, arguing that technology firms “have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users.”

“They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation – what we call disinformation – to have extraordinary reach,” Murthy said of tech companies. “They’ve designed product features such as ‘like’ buttons that reward us for sharing emotionally-charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.” The surgeon general’s advisory Murthy issued comes amid a rise in coronavirus cases, as some Americans resist getting inoculated against the coronavirus despite the widespread availability of vaccinations in the United States.

The advisory is the most high-profile action the Biden administration has taken to date to stem the tide of falsehoods spreading on social media. It’s a major reversal from the Trump administration, when the former president’s own baseless claims about the virus often tested the social networks’ covid-19 misinformation policies. Murthy’s advisory calls for the tech platforms to make investments to address disinformation, including building in more suggestions and warnings to make it harder for people to spread false information about vaccines or the virus. He also recommends that the companies make greater investments in content moderation, especially in languages other than English.

Murthy also called on the platforms to prioritize the detection of “super spreaders” and repeat policy offenders. The advisory Murthy issued on Thursday has a broad list of recommendations. It advises Americans to check whether a source is trustworthy before forwarding information. It also recommends that health and educational institutions work to improve information literacy and calls on media organizations not to give a platform to newsmakers who spread misinformation.

U.S. Accuses China Of A Massive Cyber attack On Microsoft

The White House is publicly blaming China for an attack on Microsoft’s Exchange email server software that compromised tens of thousands of computers worldwide, allowing hackers to gain access to troves of sensitive data. Separately, the Department of Justice announced Monday that a federal grand jury in May had indicted Chinese nationals accused of working with official sanction from Beijing to break into computer systems belonging to U.S. companies, universities and governments.

The cyberattack on Microsoft, which is believed to have begun in January, reportedly injectedcomputers with malwarethat secretly monitored systems belonging to small businesses, local and state governments and some military contractors. As part of the attack, an unidentified American company was also hit with a high-dollar ransom demand, according to a senior Biden administration official.

U.S. allies are also blaming China for cyber attacks

The official, who briefed reporters late Sunday, said the U.S. would be joined by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO in condemning Beijing’s Ministry of State Security for the malicious cyberattacks. EU policy chief JosepBorrell in a statement on Monday said the hacking was “conducted from the territory of China for the purpose of intellectual property theft and espionage.” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said China’s actions represent “a reckless but familiar pattern of behavior. The Chinese Government must end this systematic cyber sabotage and can expect to be held [to] account if it does not,” Raab said in a statement.

In a tweet, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance “stands in solidarity with all those affected by malicious cyber activities, including the Microsoft Exchange Server compromise. We call on all states, including China, to uphold their international obligations & act responsibly.” The announcements follow heightened concern over ransomware attacks that the White House has blamed on Russian hackers and highlights how the West’s traditional Cold War rivals have stepped up pressure in cyberspace in recent years.

The Biden administration official said that China’s Ministry of State Security employed criminal contract hackers “to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally, including for their own personal profit.” Although the U.S. says criminal gangs of hackers with links to Russian intelligence carried out such audacious ransomware attacks as the one that caused Colonial Pipeline – a major U.S. petroleum distribution network – to shut down temporarily, China’s outright hiring of contract hackers is “distinct,” the official said.

“The United States has long been concerned about the People’s Republic of China’s irresponsible and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace,” the official said. Such hacks pose a serious economic and national security threat to the U.S. and its allies, the official said. “Their operations include criminal activities, such as cyber-enabled extortion, crypto-jacking and theft from victims around the world for financial gain. In some cases, we’re aware of reports that PRC government-affiliated cyber operators have conducted ransomware operations against private companies that have included ransom demands of millions of dollars,” the official said.

Although no sanctions against China have been announced, the U.S. has “raised its concerns” with Beijing, the official said. “The first important piece is the publicly calling out the pattern of irresponsible malicious cyberactivity, and doing it with allies and partners.” Previously, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry has said that Beijing “firmly opposes and combats cyber-attacks and cyber theft in all forms” and cautioned against “groundless accusations” that China is involved in such attacks, according to The Associated Press.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that a federal grand jury in San Diego had indicted four nationals and residents of China with “a campaign to hack into the computer systems of dozens of victim companies, universities and government entities in the United States and abroad between 2011 and 2018.” The indictment, unsealed Friday, alleges a conspiracy to steal data with a “significant economic benefit to China’s companies and commercial sectors, including information that would allow the circumvention of lengthy and resource-intensive research and development processes.”

The four individuals worked with China’s Hainan State Security Department “to obfuscate the Chinese government’s role in such theft by establishing a front company, Hainan Xiandun Technology Development Co., Ltd.,” which has since been dismantled, the Justice Department said. The FBI, National Security Agency and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint advisory Monday laying out ways that government agencies and businesses could protect themselves from such attacks.

How Your Personal Data Is Being Scraped From Social Media

How much personal information do you share on your social media profile pages?Name, location, age, job role, marital status, headshot? The amount of information people are comfortable with posting online varies. But most people accept that whatever we put on our public profile page is out in the public domain.So, how would you feel if all your information was catalogued by a hacker and put into a monster spreadsheet with millions of entries, to be sold online to the highest paying cyber-criminal? That’s what a hacker calling himself Tom Liner did last month “for fun” when he compiled a database of 700 million LinkedIn users from all over the world, which he is selling for around $5,000 (£3,600; €4,200).

The incident, and other similar cases of social media scraping, have sparked a fierce debate about whether or not the basic personal information we share publicly on our profiles should be better protected. In the case of Mr Liner, his latest exploit was announced at 08:57 BST in a post on a notorious hacking forum. It was a strangely civilized hour for hackers, but of course we have no idea which time zone, the hacker who calls himself Tom Liner, lives in.”Hi, I have 700 million 2021 LinkedIn records”, he wrote.

Included in the post was a link to a sample of a million records and an invite for other hackers to contact him privately and make him offers for his database. Understandably the sale caused a stir in the hacking world and Tom tells me he is selling his haul to “multiple” happy customers for around $5,000 (£3,600; €4,200).He won’t say who his customers are, or why they would want this information, but he says the data is likely being used for further malicious hacking campaigns. The news has also set the cyber-security and privacy world alight with arguments about whether or not we should be worried about this growing trend of mega scrapes.

What’s important to understand here is that these databases aren’t being created by breaking into the servers or websites of social networks.They are largely constructed by scraping the public-facing surface of platforms using automatic programs to take whatever information is freely available about users. In theory, most of the data being compiled could be found by simply picking through individual social media profile pages one-by-one. Although of course it would take multiple lifetimes to gather as much data together, as the hackers are able to do. So far this year, there have been at least three other major “scraping” incidents. In April, a hacker sold another database of around 500 million records scraped from LinkedIn.In the same week another hacker posted a database of scraped information from 1.3 million Clubhouse profiles on a forum for free.

Also in April, 533 million Facebook user details were compiled from a mixture of old and new scraping before being given away on a hacking forum with a request for donations.The hacker who says he is responsible for that Facebook database, calls himself Tom Liner. I spoke with Tom over three weeks on Telegram messages, a cloud-based instant messenger app. Some messages and even missed calls were made in the middle of the night, and others during working hours so there was no clue as to his location. The only clues to his normal life were when he said he couldn’t talk on the phone as his wife was sleeping and that he had a daytime job and hacking was his “hobby”.Tom told me he created the 700 million LinkedIn database using “almost the exact same technique” that he used to create the Facebook list. He said: “It took me several months to do. It was very complex. I had to hack the API of LinkedIn. If you do too many requests for user data in one time then the system will permanently ban you.”

API stands for application programming interface and most social networks sell API partnerships, which enable other companies to access their data, perhaps for marketing purposes or for building apps.Tom says he found a way to trick the LinkedIn API software into giving him the huge tranche of records without setting off alarms. Privacy Shark, which first discovered the sale of the database, examined the free sample and found it included full names, email addresses, gender, phone numbers and industry information. LinkedIn insists that Tom Liner did not use their API but confirmed that the dataset “includes information scraped from LinkedIn, as well as information obtained from other sources”. It adds: “This was not a LinkedIn data breach and no private LinkedIn member data was exposed. Scraping data from LinkedIn is a violation of our Terms of Service and we are constantly working to ensure our members’ privacy is protected.”

In response to its April data scare Facebook also brushed off the incident as an old scrape. The press office team even accidentally revealed to a reporter that their strategy is to “frame data scraping as a broad industry issue and normalise the fact that this activity happens regularly”. However, the fact that hackers are making money from these databases is worrying some experts on cyber security.The chief executive and founder of SOS Intelligence, a company which provides firms with threat intelligence, Amir Hadžipašić, sweeps hacker forums on the dark web day and night. As soon as news of the 700 million LinkedIn database spread he and his team began analyzing the data.

MrHadžipašić says the details in this, and other mass-scraping events, are not what most people would expect to be available in the public domain. He thinks API programmes, which give more information about users than the general public can see, should be more tightly controlled. “Large-scale leaks like this are concerning, given the intricate detail, in some cases, of this information – such as geographic locations or private mobile and email addresses. “To most people it will come as a surprise that there’s so much information held by these API enrichment services. This information in the wrong hands could be significantly impacting for some,” he said.Tom Liner says he knows his database is likely to be used for malicious attacks. He says it does “bother him” but would not say why he still continues to carry out scraping operations.

MrHadžipašić, who is based in southern England, says hackers who are buying the LinkedIn data could use it to launch targeted hacking campaigns on high-level targets, like company bosses for example. He also said there is value in the sheer number of active emails in the database that can be used to send out mass email phishing campaigns. ‘No ambiguity’ But cyber-security expert Troy Hunt, who spends most of his working life poring over the contents of hacked databases for his website haveibeenpwned.com, is less concerned about the recent scraping incidents and says we need to accept them as part of our public profile-sharing.

“These are definitely not breaches, there’s no ambiguity here. Most of this data is public anyway.The question to ask, in each case though, is how much of this information is by user choice publicly accessible and how much is not expected to be publicly accessible.” Troy agrees with Amir that controls on social network’s API programmes need to be improved and says we can’t brush off these incidents. “I don’t disagree with the stance of Facebook and others but I feel that the response of ‘this isn’t a problem’ is, whilst possibly technically accurate, missing the sentiment of how valuable this user data is and their perhaps downplaying their own roles in the creation of these databases.”

Mr Liner’s actions would be likely to get him sued by social networks for intellectual property theft or copyright infringement. He probably wouldn’t face the full force of the law for his actions if he were ever found but, when asked if he was worried about getting arrested he said “no, anyone can’t find me” and ended our conversation by saying “have a nice time”.

Free, Open Social Media Under Attack, Says Google Chief Sundar Pichai

The free and open internet is under attack around the world, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has warned, asserting that many countries are restricting the flow of information and the model is often taken for granted. In an in-depth interview with the BBC at the Google headquarters at Silicon Valley in California, the tech boss covered a wide range of topics, including the threat to free and open internet and also narrowed down on two developments that he feels will further revolutionise the world over the next quarter of a century as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing.

Pichai, 49, who was born in Tamil Nadu and grew up in Chennai, has said India is deeply rooted in him and a big part of who he is.He didn’t refer to China directly but said: “None of our major products and services are available in China.” Pichai made it clear that the responsibility of steering the future of the internet should not be an onus of an individual “but rather a collective think tank that plots the course forward while taking into account the foundational pillars of the free internet”. He said that artificial intelligence is more profound than fire, electricity or the internet. “I view it as the most profound technology that humanity will ever develop and work on. You know, if you think about fire or electricity or the internet, it’s like that. But I think even more profound,” he was quoted as saying in the report.

In an executive order signed last week, US president Joe Biden called for the restoration of net neutrality regulations. “Big providers can use their power to discriminatorily block or slow down online services. The Obama-Biden Administration’s FCC adopted ‘Net Neutrality’ rules that required these companies to treat all internet services equally, but this was undone in 2017,” the order read. In the order, “the President encourages the FCC to restore Net Neutrality rules undone by the prior administration.”

Pichai, the chief executive of one of the most complex, warned the free and open internet is under attack in countries around, the report said, adding that he said many countries are restricting the flow of information, and the model is often taken for granted. When asked about whether the Chinese model of the internet based on surveillance is in the ascendant, Pichai said the free and open internet “is being attacked”. While he didn’t refer to China directly, he said: “None of our major products and services are available in China.” On the controversial issue of tax, he said: “We are one of the world’s largest taxpayers, if you look at on an average over the last decade, we have paid over 20 per cent in taxes.

“We do pay the majority of our share of taxes in the US, where we originate and where our products are developed. I think there are good conversations and we support the global OECD conversations figuring out what is the right way to allocate taxes, this is beyond a single company to solve,” he said. He was also asked about his own personal tech habits and encouraged everyone to adopt “two-factor authentication” when it comes to passwords to ensure multiple protections and admitted he is constantly changing his phone to test out new technology.Pichai is universally regarded as an exceptionally kind, thoughtful, and caring leader, the report said.

PM Modi Is A ‘Predator of Press Freedom’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the list of 37 heads of state or government that the global body Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has identified as ‘predators of press freedom’. The entry against Modi notes how his “close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires” has helped him spread his nationalist-populist ideology through continued coverage of his “extremely divisive and derogatory” speeches.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index. RSF is the world’s biggest NGO specialising in the defence of media freedom, which is regarded as a basic human right to be informed and to inform others. Modi joins the likes of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, along with 32 others who “trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.” This is the first time since 2016 that RSF is publishing such a list. Seventeen of the heads identified as ‘predators’ are new entrants. Thirteen of the 37 in the list are from the Asia-Pacific region.

Seven of the list’s world leaders have been a part of it since it was first published in 2001 and include Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Ali Khamenei, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko. The latter has gained credence as a ‘predator’ since the dramatic rerouting of a plane to capture critique and journalist Roman Protasevich. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam are the two women identified as ‘predators’. For each of the predators, RSF has compiled a file identifying their ‘predatory method,’ their press release notes. The list also highlights how each ‘predator’ censors and persecutes journalists, and their ‘favourite targets’ – the kinds of journalists and media outlets they go after, along with quotations from speeches or interviews in which they ‘justify’ their predatory behaviour.

Modi’s entry notes that he has been a “predator since taking office” on May 26, 2014 and lists his ‘predatory methods’ as ‘national populism and disinformation’. His favourite targets, RSF says, are ‘sickulars’ and ‘presstitudes’. The former is a word which the Hindu rightwing and supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party use to slam viewpoints that are ‘secular’ – a word which is also in the Preamble of the Indian constitution – and not ostensibly rightwing Hindu-adhering. The latter is an amalgamation of ‘press’ and ‘prostitute’ – intended to indicate with the help of misogyny that media critical of Modi is a sellout.

The following is how the RSF describes Modi’s impact on the free press:

After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014. His leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. To this end, he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires.

This insidious strategy works in two ways. On the one hand, by visibly ingratiating himself with the owners of leading media outlets, their journalists know they risk dismissal if they criticise the government. On the other, prominent coverage of his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, enables the media to achieve record audience levels.

All that is left for Modi is to neutralise the media outlets and journalists that question his divisive methods. For this, he has a judicial arsenal with provisions that pose a major threat to press freedom. For example, journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition. To round off this arsenal, Modi can count on an army of online trolls known as “yodha” (the Hindi word for “warriors”), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed.

The note also points out the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, in 2017, was a significant victim of Hindutva, “the ideology that spawned the Hindu nationalist movement that worships Modi.” It also notes like women journalists like Rana Ayyub and BarkhaDutt, who have been critical of Modi, receive the brunt of virulent attacks, including doxxing and call for gang-rapes. As a rule, any journalists or media outlets that question the prime minister’s national-populist ideology are quickly branded as “sickular” – a portmanteau of “sick” and “secular” – and are targeted by “bakht,”

Modi devotees who bring lawsuits against them, defame them in the mainstream media and coordinate online attacks against them. Recently, RSF had been critical of the “absurd charges” of “criminal conspiracy” brought against The Wire, Twitter India, and journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammed Zubair in connection with tweets and reports on an attack against a Muslim elderly man in Ghaziabad.

(Courtesy: Thewire.in)

What We Learned About Relationships During The Pandemic

The pseudo-scientific formula that explains most human bonding is basically time + affection + togetherness = relationship. So what happens to humans and their interconnectedness when two of the key elements—time and togetherness—are removed or increased? Can digital communication replace human to human contact? How do couples cope with stressful events they have never before encountered? This is the focus of a series of studies published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, which has dedicated several special issues to relationships in the time of COVID-19.

“When COVID hit it became clear to me that… it would be really important for us to provide a space for relationship science to showcase their work,” says Pamela Lannutti, the director of the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University in Chester, Penn., and one of the editors of the series of issues. So the journal put out a call for researchers who had begun research on what relationships were like in this unique set of circumstances and the studies flooded in.

Some of the results were obvious: health workers needed supportive spouses during this time, digital communication with friends helped with loneliness and college couples who were dating grew apart when they couldn’t see each other. Others were a little more surprising. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Gender roles in the home got more, not less, defined.

A study out of New Zealand found that during the stay-at-home measures, with people working from home and schools closed, each partner in heterosexual relationships had to take on more responsibilities around the house. But women took on many more. While both men and women recognized the situation was imbalanced, it only led to relationship dissatisfaction among the women, unless the men were doing a lot of childcare. That is, the men could see the burden was being unevenly carried, but it didn’t bother them. “There’s definitely a shift back towards traditional gender roles in ways that perhaps weren’t there before COVID,” says Lannutti. “Here’s something that came along and just shook up society in this really unexpected and really quick way. And still those gender roles were so powerful.”

Contrary to expectations, lonely single people didn’t settle.

Using a multinational survey of almost 700 single people, most of them female, a group of researchers from across the globe found that single people were more interested in finding a partner if they were more concerned about COVID-19. The researchers expected single people to lower their standards given the exigent circumstances. They did not. Not even about looks. “They still cared about physical attractiveness,” says the journal’s co-editor, Jennifer Bevan, a professor of communication at Chapman University in Orange, California, “which I thought was such an interesting element.”

People who don’t like video chat just kept meeting in person.

Getting together via video took off during the early days of lockdown, with workplaces and families having to quickly adjust to meeting over Zoom, Google meetings, Bluejeans or other digital platforms. A Utah State university study found that those who had difficulty adjusting to this form of communication were more likely to violate social distancing protocols and pleas to avoid gatherings, in order to see other humans. “The need for connection overrides what’s happening at that moment, which is a scary thought,” says Bevan. “How do we kind of override the need for connection? I know it’s really difficult to do.”

Same sex couples who avoided fighting were less happy than those who voiced their complaints.

In a study of LGBTQ couples, those who refrained from complaining about their relationships when something was wrong had less satisfying relationships, suffered more anxiety and depression, and leaned more heavily on substance use during COVID-19. Their dissatisfaction with their relationships was also worse if they were people of color or had higher internalized homophobia. The researchers noted that one fifth of the participants in the study had decided to move in together because of the pandemic—which paradoxically had made them less anxious while also making the relationship less stable. “We recommend same-sex couples to actively discuss their moving in decisions,” the researchers suggested, “rather than rushing to cohabit without adequate considerations.”

When people can’t meet in person, even fictional characters and celebrities feel like friends.

The lockdown proved to be a bumper time for what researchers call “parasocial relationships,” that is, relationships with folks who don’t know you, but with whom you form an attachment. Because of the isolation and the direct access people had to celebrities via social media as well as via streaming platforms, many people became much more attentive to their favored celebrities. The study found that people maintained stable relationships with friends as the social distancing measures went on, but felt much closer to the celebrities they followed. The editors theorized this closeness might partly be the result of people consuming a lot more content in their homes, through their personal devices. “It‘s not the same as going to an arena and seeing the concert. They’re sitting at their house,” says Bevan, who acknowledged that Taylor Swift helped get her through some hard days. “It makes that experience a lot different.” These can be famous people, or even fictional characters.

“A problem a lot of couples can face during times of hardship or crisis is relational uncertainty—meaning they aren’t sure how committed they or their partners are or where the relationship is going,” says Helen Lillie, a post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Utah. According to the school of relationship science known as Communication Theory of Resilience, couples who focus on five habits can weather hard times more easily. The five techniques are: maintaining some semblance of normalcy with their routines, talking to their spouse as well as sympathetic others about their concerns, reminding themselves of who they are and what they believe, reframing their situation in a more positive or different way and focusing on how good things will be when the crisis is over. Lillie’s study surveyed 561 people to ascertain whether couples who used those strategies were getting on with their partners better during the pandemic, and found that they did. The study also found humor helped couples cope with the lockdown, although it didn’t always improve couple communication.

Web Resources To Prevent Youth Radicalization

Newswise — New tools to help parents and educators protect vulnerable young people from online radicalization were released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab (PERIL). The organizations released the new web resources in addition to updates to the 2020 guide, titled Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization, and new tools specifically tailored for educators, counselors, coaches and mentors. 

“Young people are being targeted online by extremists looking to exploit and radicalize them,” said Lydia Bates, Senior Research Analyst with the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “This is why it was critical to us to not only provide resources for parents and caregivers but ensure they are as effective as possible.” In an impact study of 755 adults, the two organizations found that just seven minutes with the guide can dramatically improve a user’s knowledge of extremism and understanding of youth radicalization. Adults who spent more time reading the guide felt better equipped to take immediate action to prevent online radicalization.

Following last year’s release of the Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization, SPLC and PERIL conducted the impact study and thirteen focus groups with educators, school counselors, social workers, coaches, mentors and youth group leaders. The findings from that research led to the development of SPLC and PERIL’s newly published resources. “Communities are looking for resources that not only help them recognize risks, but also build resilience to extremism,” said PERIL Director and Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss. “Our goal is to inform and empower all adults with the tools to recognize signs of extremist radicalization and feel equipped to intervene with a young person in effective ways.”

The new resources include the updated Building Resilience & Confronting Risk: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization as well as information about the key vulnerabilities that make youth more susceptible to radicalization; how to recognize the warning signs of radicalization; what drives online radicalization; how to get help and engage a radicalized child or young adult; and additional resources for help and support.

The new online resources can be viewed HERE and updated guide HERE.

Google’s First Transparency Report Under The New IT Rules In India

Google has published its first transparency report under the new Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021. It has published the report for April 2021. The rules were notified in February 2021. Google has published its first transparency report under the new Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code). Google received a total of 27,762 complaints for the month of April, and the number of removals stood at 59,350. according to the report. The search giant removes any content which violates its community guidelines, product policies, or local legal requirement.

The new IT rules require significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs) such as Google, Facebook, etc to publish a monthly report on the action taken on user complaints that they have received. The rules were notified in February 2021, and came into effect from May.It should be noted that this number of requests, does not include the number of other government requests for content removal. Google has been publishing these details as a separate report, every six months since 2009.

Google’s report under the IT rules also notes that in order to “allow sufficient time for data processing and validation, there will be a two-month lag for reporting.” The existing report does not include data on removals as a result of automated detection, data relating to impersonation and graphic sexual content complaints received post May 25, 2021. This will be included in future reports. Nearly 96 per cent complaints deal with copyright issues (26,707), while 1.3 per cent deal with trademark (357). Around 1 per cent dealt with defamation (275). Other legal requests were 1 per cent (272), counterfeit were 0.4 per cent (114 ) and circumvention were 0.1 per cent (37). According to Google, “some requests may allege infringement of intellectual property rights, while others claim violation of local laws prohibiting types of content on grounds such as defamation.”

Google specifies that each unique URL in a specific complaint is considered an individual “item”, which is why the number of removals is higher than total complaints. Further, “a single complaint may specify multiple items that potentially relate to the same or different pieces of content.” Nearly 98 per cent of the content removal was with regard to copyright: 58,391. The rest of categories were: trademark: 931 (1.6%) Circumvention: 13 (0.0%) Counterfeit: 7 (0.0%) Defamation: 7 (0.0%) Other Legal: 1 (0.0%)

The “removal actions” number represents the number of items where a piece of content was removed or restricted during the one-month reporting period as a result of a specific complaint. Google says they review all complaints carefully. It also notes that there are many reasons as to why they may not have removed content in response to a user complaint. “For example, some requests may not be specific enough for us to know what the user wanted us to remove (for example, no URL is listed in the request), or the content has already been removed by the user when we process the complaint,” notes the report.

US Court Dismisses FTC Lawsuit Against Facebook

Just two weeks into her tenure as chair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan has been handed her first crisis: how to rescue the agency’s near-dead monopoly lawsuit against Facebook and keep antitrust enforcement against the biggest technology companies on track. The US District Court for the District of Columbia Monday dismissed a complaint filed by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against social networking giant Facebook that sought to undo the company’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. This is being seen as a major blow to the US administration’s antitrust efforts against big-tech companies.

In December last year, an antitrust lawsuit was filed against Facebook alleging that has harmed competition by buying up smaller companies like Instagram and WhatsApp to squash the threat they posed to its business. While the suit was filed by the New York attorney general, 47 other state and regional attorneys general joined it. The overarching theme of the lawsuit was that Facebook, which acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, violated antitrust laws by purchasing companies that were potentially on their way to becoming competitors to Facebook in the social media market.

Judge James Boasberg said the FTC failed to sufficiently detail its claim that the company has monopoly power in the social media market. He gave the agency an opening to revive the complaint by fixing it and refiling in 30 days. Getting the case back on track rests with the 32-year-old Khan, who rose to prominence in the antitrust world by advocating for more forceful competition enforcement against tech companies. The FTC said it was reviewing its options. “There are plenty of facts out there to prove that Facebook has a dominant share of that market,” said Alex Petros, a lawyer at the tech policy organization Public Knowledge in Washington. “This is a bar they should be able to overcome.”

Yet the decision also underscores the hurdles U.S. antitrust enforcers face in bringing cases that challenge conduct by dominant companies. Supporters of more aggressive enforcement say the courts have created nearly insurmountable barriers to winning cases that accuse companies of violating monopoly laws and that Congress has to pass new legislation. “It’s not hard to look at these cases and come away with the sense that antitrust law, as it stands, is not capable of handling the problems posed by dominant technology companies,” said Blake Reid, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are mounting a multi-pronged effort to reform the laws and give competition watchdogs at the FTC and the Justice Department new authority. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a package of bills aimed at the biggest tech platforms, including Facebook. The proposals would force the companies to exit certain business, impose restrictions on how they treat other firms that depend on their platforms, and make it harder to win approval for mergers. One would also increase filing fees to raise revenue for the antitrust agencies.

“We cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open, and fair,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., after the Facebook decision. She has introduced her own antitrust reform proposals and has called for additional funding for the FTC and the Justice Department’s antitrust division. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy,” she said. Democrats Jerrold Nadler of New York, who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, of Rhode Island, who led the House effort to reform the power of technology giants, echoed Klobuchar’s remarks.

The Facebook lawsuits were filed in December in an exiting salvo by the Trump administration as part of a widening crackdown on America’s tech giants. The cases followed a Justice Department complaint against Alphabet Inc. for allegedly monopolizing internet search, and the findings of a House investigation that accused technology companies of abusing their dominance. The Facebook lawsuits centered on the 2012 acquisition of Instagram and the 2014 takeover of WhatsApp. Officials say Facebook made the deals because it saw both companies as threats to its business. Rather than compete with its own products, Facebook followed Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra: “It is better to buy than compete,” according to the FTC complaint.

According to a Reuters report, the US judge said the federal complaints were “legally insufficient”. Judge James Boasberg said the FTC failed to show that Facebook had monopoly power in the social-networking market but said the FTC could file a new complaint by July 29, the report said. He also dismissed a lawsuit by multiple US states saying they waited too long to challenge the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

The Joe Biden administration has mounted a massive antitrust campaign against big-tech firms, in addition to the scrutiny these companies are undergoing from various other branches of the government. And while the case was filed in December, this could prompt the first reaction on the issue from the FTC under its new commissioner Lina Khan, a vocal critic of big-tech who was confirmed by the US Senate earlier this month at a time when there is a growing bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill on the need to rein in the American technology majors.

On World Yoga Day, India, WHO Launch New Myoga App

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the mYoga fitness app on the occasion of International Yoga Day. Jointly developed by the Ministry of Ayush and the World Health Organization, the mYoga app aims to bring assisted yoga training to everyone with a smartphone for free without needing any signing in. Check out all you want to know about the new WHO mYoga app, available on both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. The application is completely free and has no sign up required. Here’s how it works.

The mYoga app is mainly divided into two sections, a learning tab and a practice tab. The learning tab is meant for those users who are completely new to Yoga. It features a sequential set of videos that help watchers learn the various yoga asanas with proper technique. The practice session is aimed at users who have learned the asanas and are practising. Both modes offer different time durations like 10 minutes, 20 minutes and 45 minutes. Although when in Practice mode, you can also switch to an audio-only panel and only follow along with audio instructions.

Aasanas covered in the learning modules include basic neck movements, trunk twisting, Tadasana, ArdhaChakrasana, Bhujangasana and more. While the 10-minute module will cover fewer exercises, the 20 and 45-minutes programs will offer additional exercises like the Vakrasanak, Shalabhasana and more. Videos on the app can either be streamed or even downloaded and saved offline to watch later. The app also offers its entire interface as well as an audio output for videos in both English and Hindi.

UN Not Happy With New Indian IT Rules That Do Not Conform With International Norms

Experts at the United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner have said in a report that it is concerned that India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in their current form, do not conform with international human rights norms. The observations were made in Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The report is authored by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Clement NyaletsossiVoule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. “As noted in previous communications sent to your Excellency’s Government, we are concerned that these new rules come at a time of a global pandemic and of large-scale farmer protests in the country, where the enjoyment of the freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to receive information, and the right to privacy, is particularly important for the realization of several other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights,” the report said.

“We would like to recall that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multiparty democracy, democratic tenets and human rights,” the report said. The report said as a global leader in technology innovation, India has the potential to develop legislation that can place it at the forefront of efforts to protect digital rights. However, the substantially broadened scope of the Rules is likely to do just the opposite. “We would therefore encourage the Government to take all necessary steps to carry out a detailed review of the Rules and to consult with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society dealing with human rights, freedom of expression, privacy rights and digital rights”, the report said.

“We understand the new rules were issued under the Information Technology Act of 2000 and therefore, were not subject to parliamentary review or opened for consultation with stakeholders. We believe such consultations with relevant stakeholders are essential in order to ensure the final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations, in particular with Articles 17 and 19 of the ICCPR,” it added. This observation along with India’s comment will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council, it added. Meanwhile India vigorously defended the much-debated IT Rules following critical comments by the UN special rapporteurs that certain aspects of the newly introduced regulation fall afoul of international human rights.

India’s Permanent Mission to the UN said: “The concern that the rules may be misused deliberately to make a large number of complaints so as to overwhelm the grievance redressal mechanisms created by social media platforms is misplaced, exaggerated and disingenuous and shows lack of willingness to address grievances of the users of these media platforms while using their data to earn revenues.” “The concerns alleging potential implications for freedom of expression that the new IT rules will entail is highly misplaced. India’s democratic credentials are well recognized. The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The independent judiciary and a robust media are part of India’s democratic structure.”

The Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations, in a letter to the union government last week, had raised concerns on certain aspects of the Rules. “We are seriously concerned that Section 4 may compromise the right to privacy of every Internet user. We are notably concerned by the ability of executive authorities to issue orders to access to user data and restrict content, which seems to take place outside of any judicial oversight mechanism that would hold authorities accountable.” On Part 3 of the Rules on digital media: “We are seriously concerned that such broad powers given to the executive authorities, without judicial review, is likely to unduly restrict the free flow of information, which is protected by Article 19 (2) of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political rights].”

Social Media Platforms Frustrated By India’s Changing Regulations

US-based social media platforms have been frustrated by the relentless changing rules and regulations in India, the latest being India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Microblogging site Twitter has been facing the wrath of Indian authorities ever since it flagged a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra on a ‘COVID Toolkit’, attributed to the Congress, on how to target the Centre over its handling of the COVID crisis. The row over the purported toolkit escalated after the Special Cell visited Twitter India offices on May 24 and served a notice, asking it to share information based on which Patra’s tweet had been tagged ‘manipulated media’.

The government had asked Twitter to remove the ‘manipulated media’ tag as the law enforcement agency was looking into the issue. Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari was questioned by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell on May 24 in connection with its probe into the case. He was questioned about the company’s policy on flagging tweets as ‘manipulated media’. Indian representatives of microblogging platform Twitter appeared before the parliamentary panel chaired by Congress’ Shashi Tharoor to discuss the issue of its guidelines and the misuse of its platform. During the deposition, Twitter India’s public policy manager Shagufta Kamran and legal counsel Ayushi Kapoor represented Twitter before the panel.

During the meeting, the panel asked the company, if it follows the law or the land, to which a representative responded saying, “We follow our own policies.” The members then told Twitter that law of the land is “supreme” and asked the company to abide by them. They also asked Twitter to explain why it should not be fined for ‘violating’ rule of land. On February 25, 2021, the Central Government enacted the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which cast various obligations on internet intermediaries, especially on social media platforms. It was reported that social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were yet to comply with their obligations under the 2021 Rules. This gave rise to an apprehension among users of such websites that these websites could either stop operations or be banned in India for such non-compliance.

A user registered on Facebook can share information with his connections without the same being edited by Facebook in any manner. This passive role adopted by Facebook is what in essence enables it to be classified as an intermediary. Under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, intermediaries are granted protection from incurring any liability for third-party data available on their platform or hosted by them. This protection is essential as various intermediaries such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube do not monitor the content posted by third-party users on their platforms. However, if any such content uploaded by a third-party user is in violation of any law, the intermediary does not incur any liability for such information.

Prior to the current 2021 rules, the 2011 Rules laid down the standards of due diligence required to be observed by intermediaries. The 2011 Rules required intermediaries to publish rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreements which would enjoin each user not to post information which would contravene any law in force. These rules also required intermediaries to disable access or remove information which is unlawful upon receiving actual knowledge of the same. In Shreya Singhal versus Union of India, the Supreme Court read down the requirement of actual knowledge of an intermediary to mean knowledge of a court order directing it to disable access or remove such information.

The 2021 Rules supersede the 2011 Rules. In these rules, the requirement of publication of rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreements which stipulate that no user shall post information which would contravene any law in force have been retained.  The 2021 Rules now permit the intermediaries to take down any unlawful information on a voluntary basis and such voluntary removal would not affect the protection afforded to them under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. The 2021 Rules lay down additional due diligence requirements to be observed by “significant social media intermediaries”.

Any intermediary who primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services and has more than 50 lakh registered users is classified as a significant social media intermediary. Thus, all popular social networking platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter would be required to observe these additional due diligence requirements. They social media platforms were given a three-month timeline for ensuring compliance of these rules. So far, none of the major international social networking platforms have complied with these requirements. Facebook has released a statement that it aims to comply with the 2021 Rules and was in discussion with the government on certain issues.

Under Rule 7 of the 2021 Rules, if an intermediary fails to observe any of the rules laid down, it loses protection afforded to it by Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. Simply put, this would mean that an intermediary like Facebook or Twitter would be open for liability if a third-party user posts unlawful content on their platforms. On June 19, experts at United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner have said in a report that it is concerned that India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in their current form, do not conform with international human rights norms.

The observations were made in Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. The report is authored by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Clement NyaletsossiVoule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

“As noted in previous communications sent to your Excellency’s Government, we are concerned that these new rules come at a time of a global pandemic and of large-scale farmer protests in the country, where the enjoyment of the freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to receive information, and the right to privacy, is particularly important for the realisation of several other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights,” the report said.”We would like to recall that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multiparty democracy, democratic tenets and human rights,” the report said.

The report said as a global leader in technology innovation, India has the potential to develop a legislation that can place it at the forefront of efforts to protect digital rights. However, the substantially broadened scope of the Rules is likely to do just the opposite. “We would therefore encourage the Government to take all necessary steps to carry out a detailed review of the Rules and to consult with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society dealing with human rights, freedom of expression, privacy rights and digital rights”, the report said.

The question here is whether freedom of speech is paramount or not. The Narendra Modi regime has been chipping away at various pillars of democracy and it is no wonder that another opportunity for the general public to voice its woes is being muzzled. Media too have been generally silenced be it through force or coercion. Popular voices have been thus silenced time and again by authoritarian governments the world over.

Bail for Delhi Riot accused

The impositions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) law against protestors have always been criticized by human rights activists and lawyers. A couple of days back, the Delhi High Court granted bail to DevanganaKalita and Natasha Narwal, and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the Delhi riot case.  Pinjra Tod activists DevanganaKalita and Natasha Narwal were arrested a year ago in the Delhi riots case. They were arrested in May 2020 for allegedly being part of a premeditated conspiracy behind the communal violence that broke out in northeast Delhi in February 2020 during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). The Delhi High Court granted interim bail to student activist Asif Iqbal Tanha, accused in a northeast Delhi riot case, so that he may appear for his three remaining backlog BA examinations papers.

However, the Delhi Police approached the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court granted bail to DevanganaKalita and Natasha Narwal, and Asif Iqbal Tanha. While refusing to stay the Delhi High Court order, the Supreme Court observed that reading down of anti-terror law is an important issue and may have pan-India ramifications, and sought responses from three activists. It also said that the High Court judgement will “not to be treated as precedent by any court” to give similar reliefs, the Supreme Court said while hearing the Delhi Police’s appeal against the bail.

In its observation, the High Court said, “ We are constrained to say, that it appears, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the state has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.”  “Protests against governmental and parliamentary actions are legitimate; and though such protest are expected to be peaceful and non-violent, it is not uncommon for protestors to push the limits permissible in law,” the court had said. What the High Court observed is significant as the right to protest, just as freedom of speech, cannot be curtailed by imposing draconian laws by an all-powerful state. Let us wait for a further judgment by the Supreme Court of India in this case.

Sedition case against Aisha Sultana

Another interesting case that has come up in recent times is the one against Lakshadweep resident and activist Aisha Sultana, who has been charged with sedition for her “bioweapon” remark. The sedition case was registered against her on June 9 by the Kavaratti police following a complaint from BJP leader Abdul Khader Haji. The film director-cum-activist—a prominent face of Lakshadweep residents’ protest against a slew of draft proposals mooted by administrator Praful K Patel for the “development” of the island chain—had approached the High Court fearing arrest.

Kerala High Court had directed filmmaker Aisha Sultana to appear before the police in Lakshadweep for interrogation, but also granted her interim bail in case she is arrested. In an interim order, the court said Sultana should be released on interim bail for a week after executing a bond of Rs.50,000 in the event of arrest. She was told to appear before the Kavaratti police on June 20 for questioning. Sultana, during a debate on MediaOne TV on the proposed reforms and decisions of Patel, said the Centre has used a “bioweapon” on the island. Allegedly referring to the recent spurt in COVID-19 cases in Lakshadweep, Sultana said: “I can clearly say that Centre has used bioweapon in the island. There is already a calculation that China has used the coronavirus as a bioweapon…” she had said.

After the statement sparked controversy, Sultana clarified that she meant that the Centre was using administrator Patel as a “bioweapon” on the islands. The police had opposed her appeal saying that she had encouraged communalism.  The unpopular measures proposed by Praful Patel include drafts of the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation and amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules.

Even in this case, there is an attempt to silence those who speak against a ruling authority such as the Administrator in the island who has become unpopular after a slew of measures that has run foul with the peaceful people of the Union Territory. Following the Kerala High Court’s direction in the case, the Lakshadweep Administration is trying to shift the islands’ cases to the Karnataka High Court as early as possible.

While Jeff Bezos Plans Trip To Space, 59,000 People Sign Petition To Stop Him From Returning To Earth

Days after billionaire Jeff Bezos announced he would be flying to space, multiple petitions have been launched to prevent the Amazon CEO’s return to Earth. Two of these petitions have collectively gathered over 56,000 signatures. On June 7, Bezos said that he would be going to space with his brother Mark Bezos, when his space exploration company Blue Origin launches its first flight carrying humans. The rocket will take flight on July 20. However, multiple change.org petitions have already emerged and garnered thousands of signatures, in order to stop the billionaire from returning to the planet.

The most popular petition has more than 39,000 signatures and it’s just increasing by the minute. “Billionaires’ should not exist…on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter they should stay there,” said the description of the petition.

Another petition that echoes the same sentiment has accumulated almost 20,000 signatures. The petitioner, in the description, linked Bezos to conspiracy theories, secret societies and comic villains, believing it as enough reason to prevent him from entering the planet. They theorised that Bezos was Lex Luthor, a fictional supervillain from the DC Comics universe. “He’s actually an evil overlord hellbent on global domination… This may be our last chance before they enable the 5G microchips and perform a mass takeover,” said the description.Needless to say, netizens are quite amused by this turn of events and are sharing the petitions, asking others to sign them. Some are sharing hilarious reasons for not wanting Bezos back on earth.

India Blames Twitter For Not Complying With Local Laws

NEW DELHI (AP) — The standoff between the Indian government and Twitter escalated Wednesday when the country’s technology minister accused the social media giant of deliberately not complying with local laws. Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Twitter has chosen “the path of deliberate defiance” when it comes to following new internet regulations that digital activists have said could curtail online speech and privacy in India.

“If any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, such attempts are misplaced,” Prasad said in a series of tweets.The Indian government has been at odds with major social media websites over a new set of sweeping regulations that give it more power to police online content. It requires companies to erase content that authorities deem unlawful, comply with government takedown orders, help with police investigations and identify the originators of “mischievous information.”

Under the new laws, social media websites and tech companies will also have to remove content within 36 hours after an administrative or legal order is issued. Their employees can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s requests.Twitter said in a statement Tuesday that it was making every effort to comply with the new regulations. The company said it had appointed an interim chief compliance officer in India, a requirement under the new regulations, and will soon notify India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

The new rules also require social media platforms to appoint what the government calls grievance officers to handle complaints from law enforcement agencies. Prasad, the IT minister, also accused Twitter of bias and said it was labeling some content as manipulated media, “only when it suits its likes and dislikes.” In May, leaders from Modi’s party tweeted parts of a document they said was created by the main opposition Congress Party to discredit the government’s handling of the pandemic. Some Congress leaders complained to Twitter, saying the document was forged. In response, Twitter marked some posts as “manipulated media.”

Twitter rules apply “manipulated media” tags to posts that have been “deceptively altered or fabricated.” The new internet regulations, announced in February, are among many challenges social media companies face after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pushed back against criticism that its new rules restrict online speech.Modi’s government has sought for years to control social media and has often directed Twitter to take down tweets or accounts that appear critical of his party and its leaders, including his administration’s handling of the pandemic. Twitter has complied with most of those orders.

The friction has intensified recently, with the government threatening social media companies with legal action and their employees with prison time if they refuse to comply with the takedown directives.Initially, Twitter expressed concern about what it called “the potential threat to freedom of expression” when the new rules came into effect late last month.

Boycotting Kareena Kapoor Khan on Twitter Grows

Bollywood actor Kareena Kapoor Khan has been trending on Twitter but not for any pleasant reason. The star found herself in trouble after reports alleging her charging a whopping Rs 12 crore (approx. US $1.6 million) fee for playing Sita on-screen surfaced online.Days after a media outlet reported that Kareena had demanded such a big amount for the upcoming mythological period saga ‘Sita’, netizens took to Twitter and expressed anger, demanding to boycott the ‘Good Newzz’ actor.

Twitterati seemed to be miffed with Bebo asking for such a whopping amount and many alleged that she is hurting their religious sentiments and that the demand of Rs 12 crores for a role is ‘against humanity’.#BoycottKareenaKhan has been trending on Twitter with users slamming the actor. One of the users tweeted, “Remember the way she arrogantly replied to public that it’s you idiots who make us star, Don’t watch my flims, I don’t care. Let’s not watch such unworthy people. She playing in mythological film is disgusting #BoycottKareenaKhan.”

Another user wrote, “This role cannot be played by an actress who doesn’t respect Hindu God’s. #BoycottKareenaKhan.”“She doesn’t deserve to play the role of Mata Sita! So We just #BoycottKareenaKhan!” read another tweet.Saying Kareena should rather play “Shurpnakha”, a user said, “RT if you also think Kareena Khan with the “Shurpanakha” Role than “Mata Sita”.

Another one wrote, “A nationalist Indian would never accept an actress who has no faith in Hinduism for the role of Mother Sita. Bollywood film mafia spreads poison towards Hinduism, we should boycott all such artists who hurt the religious sentiments of the people.”The viral report cited a source who claimed that Kareena who usually asks for Rs 6-8 crores for films has quoted a sum of Rs 12 crores for playing the role of Sita in Alaukik Desai’s upcoming film, which is said to be a Bollywood recreation of the Hindu epic, Ramayana.

Meanwhile, Kareena, whose last movie was ‘Angrezi Medium’, will next be seen in ‘Laal Singh Chadha’, co-starring opposite Aamir Khan. Helmed by AdvaitChandan, the Bollywood flick is a remake of the Hollywood classic ‘Forrest Gump’. Apart from ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, Kareena is also a part of filmmaker Karan Johar’s period epic ‘Takht’.

What Will Tiktok Do WithYour ‘Faceprints’ And ‘Voiceprints’

Recently, TikTok made a change to its U.S. privacy policy, allowing the company to “automatically” collect new types of biometric data, including what it describes as “faceprints” and “voiceprints.” TikTok’s unclear intent, the permanence of the biometric data and potential future uses for it have caused concern among experts who say users’ security and privacy could be at risk.

On June 2, TikTok updated the “Information we collect automatically” portion of its privacy policy to include a new section called “Image and Audio Information,” giving itself permission to gather certain physical and behavioral characteristics from its users’ content. The increasingly popular video sharing app may now collect biometric information such as “faceprints and voiceprints,” but the update doesn’t define these terms or what the company plans to do with the data.

“Generally speaking, these policy changes are very concerning,” Douglas Cuthbertson, a partner in LieffCabraser’s Privacy & Cybersecurity practice group, tells TIME. “The changes are vague in a lot of ways. TikTok does not explain what it will do with this biometric information, how and when it will seek consent before taking it, and what it means by ‘faceprints and voiceprints,’ which aren’t defined.”

To put TikTok’s popularity—and the amount of information it has access to—in perspective, it has 689 million global active users and ranks as the seventh most used social network in the world as of January 2021. In the U.S. alone, over 100 million Americans use TikTok every month while 50 million are on the app every day, according to figures shared by the company in August 2020. TikTok did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.

Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, notes that biometrics, and especially facial biometrics, are unique and permanent identifiers. He says that TikTok’s “faceprints” could potentially be used to re-identify an individual across a variety of scenarios. Since the information isn’t critical to the functioning of the app and the phrasing of the update is vague, Acquisti says it’s difficult to determine TikTok’s precise intent.

“Biometrics’ range of potential uses is vast: from benign, such as secure access to the app—think about how [Apple’s] iOS uses facial recognition for authentication—to chilling, such as mass re-identification and surveillance,” he says. The provisions for how TikTok can use the data collected under the privacy policy’s “Image and Audio Information” section are broad.

“We may collect information about the images and audio that are a part of your User Content, such as identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken in your User Content,” the new section reads. “We may collect this information to enable special video effects, for content moderation, for demographic classification, for content and ad recommendations, and for other non-personally-identifying operations.”It’s the last use on this list, “other non-personally-identifying operations,” that Cuthbertson says he takes particular issue with.

“It’s disingenuous to say these are ‘non personally-identifying’ operations,” he says, pointing out that a person’s unique ‘faceprint’ or ‘voiceprint’ could inherently be used to identify someone. “That’s not the way the mobile data ecosystem works anymore. You don’t need someone’s social security number to figure out who they are and how to monetize them.”

Users should also take note of the open-ended nature of the uses listed in this section, says Derek Riley, the director of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s computer science program. “If you want to have funny face filters that engage users, gathering this kind of information is necessary. But there are a lot of other potentially alarming things that can be done with it too,” he tells TIME. “Capturing that information means TikTok could use it within their application, or they could turn and share it with another actor, government or company.”

While TikTok’s privacy policy states that it “does not sell personal information to third parties,” it also says it may share the information it collects for “business purposes.”“It’s one thing if TikTok can discreetly say, we’re taking this narrow band of information, here’s our description of the information so that you, as a user, really understand what we mean and here’s this very narrow way we’re going to use it,” Cuthbertson says. “Instead we have vague definitions of what the data even is and TikTok itself is vague about how and why they need to use it.”

The fact that TikTok is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance may also play a role in how people view this policy update, Riley says. While President Joe Biden signed an executive order on June 9 revoking former President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok in the U.S., some still view the app as a potential national security threat. TikTok has said it doesn’t share data with the Chinese government and wouldn’t do so if asked.

TikTok has also previously faced legal action over privacy-related issues. In February, the company agreed to pay $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that it violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, the federal Video Privacy Protection Act, and other consumer and privacy protection laws by collecting users’ personal data, including data harvested by facial recognition technology, without consent and sharing the data with third-parties, some of which were based in China.

Now, the updated policy states that TikTok will seek user permission for this type of data collection “where required by law,” but doesn’t specify whether it’s referring to state law, federal law or both.While there’s no federal U.S. law regulating the collection and use of biometric data, some states began passing their own laws more than a decade ago. Illinois led the way in 2008, with Texas, Washington, California, New York and Virginia all enacting their own biometric privacy protections in the years since. But it’s this legal gray area that demonstrates the need for more stringent standards, Cuthbertson says.

“Is it state law? Is it federal law? Even if it’s every applicable law, it’s still highly problematic,” he says. “That they will do what’s required by law as defined under the vague term ‘U.S. laws’ really highlights the need for more robust privacy laws and regulations that govern the collection of biometric information.”

Ultimately, maintaining awareness of what you’re consenting to by using the app is crucial, Riley says, especially when it comes to the app’s younger users. “It’s really important for individuals like teachers and parents to be able to inform younger individuals who see TikTok as a fun way to engage with their friends of the implications of this type of data collection,” he says. “It has a web of tangential outcomes that could turn out to be really problematic.”

Facebook To Help Affordable, Fast Internet Access In India

In a bid to expand affordable internet access for the public, Facebook India on Tuesday announced new partnerships with internet service providers (ISPs) D-Vois and Netplus. The ISPs will use Facebook Connectivity’s Express Wi-Fi platform to launch public Wi-Fi hotspots across Bengaluru and several cities in Punjab.

“From Dharavi in Mumbai to Shillong, Aizawl, Vadodara, Rajkot, and many other towns and cities, the Express Wi-Fi platform is helping expand internet connectivity in the country, enabling economic opportunities, innovation, and expression for people, businesses, and communities alike,” said Manish Chopra, Director and Head of Partnerships, Facebook India.Express Wi-Fi is a software platform that enables mobile operators, satellite operators, and ISPs to build, grow, and monetise their Wi-Fi businesses in a sustainable and scalable way.The platform is used by partners in more than 30 countries, connecting millions of people around the world.

In India, the platform has already been deployed by eight partners, providing public Wi-Fi options to people across 12 states.D-VoiS has a presence in 60 cities and operates its broadband services under the brand ION. “ION plans to expand public Wi-Fi to thousands of hotspots at restaurants, bus-stands, malls, cafes, hospitals, and other public spaces,” said Ramesh Sathyanarayana, Founder, D-vois Communications. Netplus Broadband, the internet arm of Fastway Group, is another leading ISP in the country.

“The Express Wi-Fi services will be available at several high footfall public areas such as malls, hospitals, bus stands, and market complexes across the cities of Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandar, Patiala, and Bhatinda,” informed PremOjha, Fastway Group CEO.During the current Covid crisis in India, Facebook also leveraged the Express Wi-Fi partner networks to share Covid-related information from credible sources with micro communities and towns across the country.

Trump Denied Access To Facebook, Instagram For 2 More Years

In a blow to Trump, Facebook has extended Donald Trump’s suspension for two years and says it will only reinstate him “if the risk to public safety has receded.”

In a blow to Trump, Facebook has extended Donald Trump’s suspension for two years and says it will only reinstate him “if the risk to public safety has receded.” The decision comes after Facebook’s Oversight Board told the company it had been wrong to impose an indefinite ban on Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Facebook says it is setting new rules for public figures in times of civil unrest and violence, “to be applied in exceptional cases such as this.” Trump has received the maximum penalty under those rules, “given the gravity of the circumstances” leading to his suspension. Because the company took his Facebook and Instagram accounts down on Jan. 7, the two-year suspension will last until at least Jan. 7, 2023.

At that point, Facebook will consult experts and “evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest,” said Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs, in a statement.He was barred indefinitely from both sites in January in the wake of posts he made on the US Capitol riots, but last month Facebook’s Oversight Board criticized the open-ended penalty.Facebook said Trump’s actions were “a severe violation of our rules”. Trump said the move was “an insult” to the millions who voted for him in last year’s presidential election.

Facebook’s move comes as the social media giant is also ending a policy shielding politicians from some content moderation rules.It said that it would no longer give politicians immunity for deceptive or abusive content based on their comments being newsworthy.Trump’s ban was effective from the date of the initial suspension on 7 January, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a post.”Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available,” it added.

“If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.”  On his return, Trump will be held to “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions,” for any violations,  Clegg’s statement noted. In a statement issued from his Save America political action committee, Mr Trump said: “Facebook’s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75m people, plus many others, who voted for us. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our country can’t take this abuse anymore!”

In a second statement on the two-year ban, Trump attacked Facebook’s founder.”Next time I’m in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife,” the former president said. “It will be all business!”The move by Facebook allows Trump to return to the platform before the 2024 presidential election. It also comes as he prepares to again hold the large scale in-person rallies that were a signature of his campaigns and presidency. One of his first is planned for Dallas, Texas, in early July, according to local media.

Earlier this week, it emerged that the communications platform set up by Mr Trump in the wake of his social media bans – From the Desk of Donald J Trump – has been permanently shut down.In addition to Facebook, which has over two billion monthly users, Mr Trump has also been banned from Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch and other social media platforms over the January riot.Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican Trump ally, signed the first law in the US that punishes tech companies for de-platforming politicians.

Facebook’s dilemma on Trump was complex, involved trade-offs, and was guaranteed to upset millions of people. The fact is – whatever their decision – it was bound to be polarising.But just to be clear: today Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, has denied access to its megaphone to a man who 74 million people voted for. They didn’t just know him, or approve of him; they voted for him to be US president. That is a big call.

What is Facebook’s new policy?

Facebook says public figures who violate its rules by inciting unrest or violence will be suspended for a month or, in more serious cases, up to two years.It comes as part of an effort to undo a previous policy of allowing newsworthy political speech despite a potential that it may cause harm.Posts that are deemed worthy of an exception, despite possible violations, may still be allowed but will be given a warning label by Facebook. The company says it will no longer treat “content posted by politicians any differently”.

“Instead, we will simply apply our newsworthiness balancing test in the same way to all content, measuring whether the public interest value of the content outweighs the potential risk of harm by leaving it up.”The company’s Oversight Board found that Mr Trump’s initial ban was appropriate, but that there was no rationale for the ban to remain indefinitely.The independent board, which is funded by Facebook, has 20 members who are able to make binding decisions on content. Among the members are legal scholars, journalists, freedom of speech experts and a former prime minister of Denmark.The announcement comes on the same day that regulators in Europe and the UK begin formal anti-trust inquiries into whether Facebook misused customer data.Biden Announces a Donation of 19 Million COVID-19 Vaccines to COVAX, With More to Follow

Twitter Commits To Complying With India’s New IT Rules

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, was notified in February, with all clauses of it coming into force on May 25.Social media company Twitter has told the ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) that it is “committed to complying” with all clauses of the intermediary guidelines and asked for a week’s time, officials familiar with the matter said on Monday, days after the government issued an ultimatum to the company.

The government on Saturday said Twitter would have to face “unintended consequences” that can involve it losing its legal protection from criminal liability for user content if it does not comply with the new rules for digital content.“The company has highlighted that there have been some difficulties in making appointments for some key personnel and sought a week’s time to comply with most of the provisions, while saying that it will implement all provisions as soon as possible,” said a ministry official, who asked not to be named.

The official added that the platform has also informed the ministry that it is looking to set up an office in the country, as required under the new rules that seek a physical address for significant social media intermediaries, or companies running networks with more than 5 million registered users from India.The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, was notified in February, with all clauses of it coming into force on May 25. These guidelines require digital companies such as Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook to change how they regulate content, appoint nodal officers for compliance and grievance redressal, and adopt features such as traceability of messages and voluntary user verification.

Twitter said in a statement on Monday that the company is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines while continuing a constructive dialogue with the government. “Twitter has been and remains deeply committed to India, and serving the vital public conversation taking place on the service,” a Twitter spokesperson said, adding, “We have assured the government of India that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and an overview on our progress has been duly shared.”There have been several instances of confrontation between the United States-based company and the government of India, particularly around government’s content takedown orders and Twitter’s actions against prominent people linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party for violation of its terms of use.

Against this backdrop, the new IT rules hardened the stand-off last month, with the microblogging website earlier asking for more time to comply, raising concerns over the “core elements” of the norms, and flagging potential threats to the safety of its employees after a visit by the Delhi Police the same month.“Our intent was always clear: the company is free to do business in India, but it has to comply with the law of the land,” the official mentioned above said. The ministry earlier echoed this sentiment when it had said, “Leave alone proactively creating such a mechanism, Twitter Inc is in the inglorious bracket of refusing to do so even when mandated by law.”

Hindustan Times reported on May 29 that other significant social media intermediaries that have 5 million users or more, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Google, have shared the details with the ministry.Under criticism over the past few months, the government has maintained that the new IT rules make companies more accountable for the online content posted on their websites and protects users from abuse. But the companies, several experts and Opposition parties believe that the norms may have a bearing on the right to free speech and privacy.WhatsApp has challenged the rules in the Delhi high court, calling it unconstitutional and a threat to Indians’ fundamental rights.

Tech Giants Fight ‘Cloud Wars’ Under Deep Oceans

“The fact you can post a picture on Facebook or video on YouTube and people can see it anywhere in the world is mind-boggling, but it takes a lot of things behind the scenes and below the ocean to make it happen,” says Alan Mauldin, research director at TeleGeography. It is easy to overlook that our access to the internet relies on thousands of miles of cable, crossing the world’s oceans. They provide the plumbing for the internet – 98% of all international internet traffic travels through them.

Some connect neighboring countries, such as the 131km (80 mile) CeltixConnect cable between Ireland and the UK. Others like the Asian-America Gateway cable, stretch for 20,000km and link continents.The data flashes along optical fibres as thin as a strand of hair. Each cable will have several of these at its core and then further layers of protective coating to prevent damage. According to Daniel Sousa, managing director of manufacturing operations at SubCom, one challenge is that “the entire cable systems need to be manufactured and tested as a complete system”.Cables are tested ashore before being loaded on to ships, a process which can take around two weeks, says Orange Marine’s chief executive Didier Dillard.

The company operates six cable ships, with one vessel, the René Descartes, able to lay up to 6,000km of cable.
Once telecom companies would have been the main backers of such complicated and expensive projects. But now technology giants have started putting serious money into undersea cables.TeleGeography estimates that content providers – Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft – have spent over $1.5bn (£1bn) on cable construction in the last five years.The simple reason is that they have more demand for bandwidth than anyone else, says Alan Mauldin.

Google, in particular, is investing in a number of its own cables. The Curie cable connects Chile to the US – while the Dunant cable, laid in partnership with SubCom, connects the US to France at Orange’s cable landing station at Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez.Two others will be finished soon. The Equiano cable running from Portugal down the west coast of Africa to South Africa, and the Grace Hopper cable that connects the US, UK and Spain.

Ensuring reliable access to the services many of us rely upon, as well as expanding access to previously underserved areas, are two reasons for this investment.But it is also an investment in Google’s cloud computing services – a particularly competitive space amongst the major technology companies. It has spawned the phrase ‘cloud wars’ to describe the battle for ascendancy amongst them.

Cloud computing has become a huge business as firms have moved their computing and digital storage needs to services like Amazon’s AWS and Azure from Microsoft.So is there any downside to giants like Google controlling these important digital connections? Alan Mauldin says while the cables are private they are not exclusive.”There are multiple users on it, not just one party. All these parties use the same infrastructure.”While capacity on their private cables is not sold directly by Google, some capacity is commonly shared with telecom companies.

For instance, Orange is able to provide capacity to its customers on the Dunant cable, in return for allowing Google to use its Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez base.Mr Mauldin likens the undersea cables therefore to a motorway where Google and Facebook have prominent “high-sided trucks”, but other, smaller vehicles also dart around carrying data for all other users.Satellites have been discussed for decades as a potential alternative that may one day put a dent into the dominance of subsea cables.

London-based satellite operator OneWeb recently launched its sixth batch of satellites, whilst Elon Musk’s SpaceX is investing in satellite technology through its Starlink project. Yet comparing the two technologies may be unhelpful.
Satellites are most effective in providing internet access to remote areas where it is either physically difficult or prohibitively costly to build a cable, with cables currently best placed to meet the demand of carrying large amounts of data.

“The heavy lifting of pushing the big data between data centres across the world is going to be on submarine cables,” says Mr Mauldin.But this reliance on cables has propelled the tech giants into geopolitics. In March, Facebook dropped plans for a cable between California and Hong Kong, reportedly due to pressure from US national security officials.The Royal Navy has announced it is building a surveillance ship to protect “critical” cables, citing the risk of sabotage due to “submarine warfare”.

Despite these concerns, a more commonly encountered problem is that cables need to be repaired due to damage inflicted by the natural environment or human activity.One of Orange Marine’s cable ships is currently repairing a cable damaged by an underwater landslide off the coast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.But it is human activity that poses the bigger challenge. Areas where fishing trawlers regularly operate are a particular problem. Internet access to the Channel Islands was temporarily impaired in 2016 when a ship dragged its anchor, damaging cables.

It also requires a quick response to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum. “It’s part of the requirements of our customers that we maintain at all times a cable ship ready to sail within 24 hours,” says Mr Dillard from Orange Marine.The pandemic has concentrated people’s attention on the importance of cable networks, says Alan Mauldin: “We always knew it was important, but can you image Covid 20 years ago? It would have been an even bigger disaster.”
(Courtesy: BBC)

Whatsapp Has ‘Strong Argument’ In India Privacy Lawsuit

Facebook’s messaging app, WhatsApp, has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in the Delhi High Court, alleging that the government is forcing the app to violate Indian privacy rights in identifying “first originator of information” at the demand of authorities. SitalKalantry is a professor at Cornell Law School, teaches comparative constitutional law with a focus on India, and is an expert in the Indian judicial system. Kalantry says WhatsApp comes to Delhi’s High Court with a strong argument. She adds that the Modi administration’s new rule imposed on WhatsApp is a tool to repress political dissent.

Kalantry says:“The Indian government’s new regulations require WhatsApp to break its encryption and identify certain users to the government. The Indian Supreme Court’s landmark privacy decision in the Puttaswamy case provides protections against this government intrusion. WhatsApp has a strong argument in its case in the Delhi High Court that the government’s new rules do not have a legitimate goal. The rules are one more way that the Modi administration will repress political dissent on social media, which it did during its annexation of Kashmir and the farmers’ protests.” WhatsApp is suing the Indian government over a ‘traceability’ clause in the new Intermediary Rules 2021, which were notified in February this year. In response, the government has called WhatsApp’s act as a one of defiance and wants them to comply.

Here are the top points explaining everything to know about this latest controversy.

1) WhatsApp’s case against IT rules

As reported by indianexpress.com, WhatsApp has said that the new social media rules are unconstitutional and filed the case on May 25, incidentally it was also the last day for companies to comply with the new rules. The Facebook-owned messaging app is invoking the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy vs Union Of India judgment in support of its arguments. WhatsApp wants the court to ensure the clause does not come into force, and prevent criminal liability to its employees for non compliance.

2) Traceability means End-to-End encryption won’t work

In a detailed blog post, WhatsApp has also explained that traceability will not work, arguing that breaking end-to-end encryption (E2E) would weaken user privacy on the app and stifle free speech and freedom of expression. E2E encryption is turned by default on WhatsApp for all messages.

Further, WhatsApp will have to re-engineer the app just for India, which won’t happen. If WhatsApp had to comply with the rules, it would have to create a version of the app that supports traceability and doesn’t have E2E encryption.WhatsApp said in its blog that while it supports “reasonable and proportionate regulations”, it cannot stand for “eroding privacy for everyone, violating human rights, and putting innocent people at risk.”

3) Traceability means a lot of data collection

WhatsApp in its blog post makes it clear that in order to trace the originator of any message, it will have to keep a log of all messages. Currently, WhatsApp cannot read a user’s message given the E2E encryption.It says tracing even one message means tracing every single message on the platform and they will have to add some sort of “permanent identity stamp” or effectively ‘fingerprint’ each message. It says that this will be the equivalent of a mass surveillance program.

4) Traceability is not foolproof

WhatsApp and internet experts have made it clear that traceability is not foolproof. Further, when users are forwarding, copying messages, finding the originator becomes difficult. WhatsApp says it might have to “turn over the names of people who shared something even if they did not create it, shared it out of concern, or sent it to check its accuracy,” which would lead to human rights violations as innocent people could end up getting caught in investigations or going to jail.

Further, even if messages are fingerprinted on WhatsApp, these techniques are not foolproof and can be easily impersonated. WhatsApp also says that “traceability” goes against the basic principles of how law enforcement and investigations work.

5) Government response to WhatsApp’s lawsuit

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY)has called WhatsApp’s refusal to comply with the new IT rules as a “clear act of defiance.” Further, it has said that the right to privacy will come with reasonable restrictions, adding that social media companies will only have to give the originator of a message in select cases and based on an order from a competent court.

The government also questioned WhatsApp’s own commitment to user privacy pointing out that the company plans to “share the data of all its users with its parent company, Facebook, for marketing and advertising purposes.”

6) IT rules on tracing originator

According to the government, tracing the first originator is only under select circumstances and they don’t want to track all messages.Under Rule 4(2) of the guidelines, a social media intermediary could be required to trace an originator of a message or tweet or post “only for the purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment etc. of inter alia an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years.”

7) Three red ticks on WhatsApp calls, messages?

There is a fake WhatsApp message going viral claiming that three red ticks will appear on messages indicating that the government is reading and recording all calls, messages on the platform. This is patently false and has been debunked earlier as well. It is best to ignore this message and not forward to others. Read more about it here.

8) Google and others on the new social media rules

The new IT rules impact all social media intermediaries and companies, not just WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter. This includes Google as well, which is another major player in the market.In a statement, CEO Google SundarPichai said the company will comply with all laws. “It’s obviously early days and our local teams are very engaged… we always respect local laws in every country we operate in and we work constructively. We have clear transparency reports, when we comply with government requests, we highlight that in our transparency reports,” he said, reported PTI.

While WhatsApp is fighting a lawsuit against the new IT rules, its parent company Facebook. “Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform,” a spokesperson for the company said.Twitter has issued a statement on its platform around the IT rules as well. “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules,” the statement said.

“We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. We believe that it is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public,” the statement adds.

Under the new guidelines, significant social media intermediaries (those with more than 50 lakh users in India) have to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person. The guidelines state these employees need to be residents of India.

Will Indians Have Access To Twitter, Facebook Anymore?

Twitter, Facebook and others, which were required to abide by the rules notified in the gazette of India on February 25 under Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, have failed to comply on many accounts till date and could be shit down

The deadline to comply with the new legal rules, IT Rules 2021 introduced by the Modi Government there months ago ending on May 25, 2021, has threatened the operations of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in India.According to top official sources, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and others, which were required to abide by the rules notified in the gazette of India on February 25 under Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, have failed to comply on many accounts till date. The government’s rules will come into effect from May 26.

If the companies fail to comply with the new rules, they could lose protection accorded to them under section 79 of the Information Technology Act. Section 79 gives social media intermediaries immunity from legal prosecution for content posted on their platforms.The rules were notified in the Gazette of India on February 25, and impose several restrictions on social media intermediaries such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and others. The rules also call for the players to enable tracing of the ‘original’ creator of a message or a tweet as maybe be directed or needed by the relevant authorities. For end-to-end encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp, such rules could pose a big challenge. It is not clear how WhatsApp or Facebook, its parent company, plan to comply with these.

The rules require social media intermediaries with more than 50 lakh users to have a clear mechanism for addressing user complaints and problems. The rules calls for companies to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules, a 24×7 Nodal Contact Person for coordination with law enforcement agencies and a Resident Grievance Officer, who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. All these officers need to be residents of India.

The rules also state that social media companies will need to publish a monthly compliance report on how they handle these user complaints. Further, if there are complaints against the dignity of women and children, the companies have to remove any such objectionable content within 24 hours.“If social media companies do not obey the rules, they may lose their status and protections as intermediaries and may become liable for criminal action as per the existing laws of India,” top official sources said.

Except one Indian social media company, Koo, sources said that none of the top social media intermediaries have appointed a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person yet.Sources said the failure of social media companies to make these appointments in three months has not gone down well with the government.

“We aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government. Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to the media.Sources said the social media platforms which were required to furnish monthly reports as to how many grievances were filed and settled, have failed to do so. Some of the platforms, sources said, have sought more time of up to six months for furnishing compliance.

For some platforms, sources said, the standard reply has been that they will await instructions from their company headquarters in the US, who in turn on their own will have an “expert assessment” to take a view.The US-based social media platforms have grown huge, thanks to their massive user base and profitable revenues in democracies like India. However, none of the platforms have shown any inclination to comply with India’s domestic laws. Instead, social media platforms have refused to be transparent about their fact-checking mechanism and their criteria to label tweets.

India’s Largest Online Workshop, “AI-for-India,” Breaking Guinness World Record!

An IIT-M incubated startup, coordinating the largest online workshop the country has ever witnessed to form a Guinness world record. An estimated 10 Lakh people reportedly joined the online workshop through a series of 90-minutes slots beginning from April 24th, 6 PM to April 25th, 6 PM.

The event was open for anyone aged between 08-80 with a zeal for learning, be it a schoolkid, fresh graduate, or an experienced professional. The platform urges everyone to participate and become part of this great initiative. AI-FOR-INDIA aims to upskill 1 Billion Indians with the concept of Artificial Intelligence and to embark our country onto a path to become a global AI innovator.

In this one-day workshop, the participants were taught to build & deploy a face recognition application using Python Language from top industry experts. All the participants gained free access to GUVI‘s professionally curated course to know the basic intricacies of Python Programming. Python is an in-demand programming skill that has grown by 456% as compared to last year. The attendees learnt how to spin up Image-processing and will be able to create thumbnails, formats, filters, and apply various digital image processing techniques primarily for Face Recognition App. The event also featured free certificates of participation & additional access to GItHub’s resources worth $200.

The event collaborated with AICTE, national-level council for technical education, under the Department of Higher Education and co-sponsored by BUDDI.AI, the leading revenue and clinical automation platform based on deep learning. AI-For-India has primarily met with a positive reaction, and more than 1 Lakh people have already registered with the online event. To register, one has to go to GUVI’s official website and pick a slot of their convenience. This event is also going to be the Official Attempt of Guinness World Record for Most users to take an online computer programming lesson in 24 hours.

Highlighting the initiative’s objective, Mr. Arun Prakash, Chief Operating Officer of GUVI, quoted, “This initiative is in memory of GUVI‘s Co-founder Sridevi Arun Prakash, who firmly believed that the only way to advance a nation is through education. Through every age, the world experiences different revolutions. Currently, we are on the brink of the coding or AI revolution. You do not need to be a developer, but you need to understand what is happening.”

Ram Swaminathan, Co-Founder & CEO of Buddi.ai said “We are excited to collaborate with GUVI on this initiative as we firmly believe that the future prospects for the healthcare, or any industry is very bright when powered by AI. We urge everyone to learn AI technologies and skill themselves to have an exciting future. After the unprecedented breakthroughs in space and medicine, we are sure that our country can become a cradle for AI Zeitgeist, especially the youth who are fascinated by its capability.” Let’s welcome this initiative and join GUVI’s cause to impart AI in every nook and corner of India. Winning a Guinness World Record for the country is like a cherry on top!

Oversight Board Upholds Facebook’s Decision To Ban Trump

In a significant development, the independent Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7 to suspend then US President Donald Trump from its main platform and Instagram.

The Board found that Trump’s posts severely violated Facebook’s rules, and his words of support for those involved in the attack on the US Capitol building legitimised violence in a situation where there was an immediate risk to people’s lives.

While the Board concluded that Trump should have been suspended from Facebook and Instagram, it also found that Facebook failed to impose a proper penalty. The decision came as the former US President launched a new so-called social media platform, which is actually a WordPress blog on his own website.

“President Trump’s actions on social media encouraged and legitimised violence and were a severe violation of Facebook’s rules,” said Thomas Hughes, Director of the Oversight Board Administration.

“By maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible. Facebook’s decision to suspend the President on January 7 was the right one,” Hughes added.

However, it said that instead of applying one of its established account-level penalties for severe violations, Facebook devised an “indefinite” suspension which is not included in their content policies.

“This arbitrary penalty gave Facebook total discretion over whether to lift or maintain the suspension, with no criteria that can be scrutinised by users or external observers,” the Board observed.

“The Board rejects Facebook’s request for it to endorse indefinite suspension, which gives the company total discretion over when to lift or impose and isn’t supported by their content policies,” said Hughes. “Anyone concerned about the power of Facebook should be concerned with the company making decisions outside of its own rules.”

The Board stated that within six months of the decision, Facebook must reexamine this arbitrary penalty and impose one consistent with its own rules.

“In the future, if a head of state or high government official repeatedly posts messages that pose a risk of harm, Facebook should either suspend the account for a definitive period or delete the account,” it recommended.

Facebook’s rules should ensure that when it imposes a time-bound suspension on an influential user, the company should assess the risk of inciting harm before the suspension ends.

“Influential users who pose a risk of harm should not be reinstated. Facebook should publish a full report on its potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and political tensions that led to the events of January 6,” as per the decision.

The board, constituted by Facebook with 20 members from across the world last year, last month said it was reviewing more than 9,000 responses before it delivers the verdict on Trump’s ban on the social media.

Banned on Facebook and Twitter, former President Donald Trump has launched a new so-called social media platform, which is actually just a WordPress blog on his own website.

His followers can sign up for posts alerts on the platforms via their email and phone numbers. The new platform is designed like a generic version of Twitter but is hosted as a running blog.

A Twitter spokesperson told The Verge on Tuesday that “Generally, sharing content from the website reference is permitted as long as the material does not otherwise the Twitter Rules”. Trump has posted content dating back to March 24 on the new ‘platform’.

The latest post is a video advertising his new platform, calling it “a place to speak freely and safely, straight from the desk of Donald J. Trump.” The platform appears to have been built by Campaign Nucleus, a digital services company founded by Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale.

The Trump’s ‘platform’ went live just ahead of ruling by the independent Oversight Board on the ban concerning Trump, who was banned on Facebook following the Capitol attack on January 6.

On January 21, the Oversight Board accepted a case referral from Facebook to examine its decision to indefinitely suspend Trump’s access to post content on Facebook and Instagram, as well as provide policy recommendations on suspensions when the user is a political leader. Trump is still banned from using Facebook and its other platforms like Twitter.

World Press Freedom In An Age Of Remoteness

(IPS) – Edmund Burke called the press the fourth estate, the fourth pillar of democracy, with an oversight role on the remaining three pillars – the legislature, executive and the judiciary. In an ideal world, this fourth estate would have unimpeded access to the other three pillars so that the citizenry could be kept informed at all times. This freedom was conceived to be so sacrosanct that many countries have included it as a fundamental right, e.g., the US Constitution enshrined it as the very first amendment.

While this is the ideal state of affairs, even under the best of circumstances press freedoms have faced considerable challenges. The traditional newspaper is threatened by shrinking readership and concentration of ownership and control which implies that profitable markets will be served first, viz. global or at best national audiences.. There has been a considerable void in news reporting, particularly on issues affecting local populations. Other forms of media are unable to fill the gap. Television combines news with entertainment – infotainment- and traditional radio has been swamped by satellite radios. Local issues areneglected and many local media outlets including newspapers and television and radio stations are facing dire conditions. There has been a steady rise in media concentration in the past few decades.

At the same time, the emergence and now overwhelming dominance of the social media and the Internet have given rise to a sharp proliferation of media outlets. Many of these are driven by the pure short-term profit motive and are difficult to regulate. All these forms of media are facilitated by the frictionless distribution enabled by the Internet and the disruptive effects of digital transformation. There is no dearth of people active on social and regular media, including some who should know better, who will, when forming an opinion about an issue, first come to their preferred conclusion and then work their way back to selectively choose evidence to support their conclusion. The world still awaits a business model that pays for accurate content at competitive rates. The overburdening with information makes it difficult for people to use discretion in the absorption of news so that the primary objective of press freedom, i.e., keeping the citizenry informed at all times, is belied. Nevertheless, in many countries with very distorted ownership patterns of traditional media social media outlets have provided a breath of fresh air and independence, especially when elements of the traditional media are themselves accused of improper conduct and reporting.

This point brings us to the issue of pressing challenges facing journalism and press freedoms. https://orca.cf.ac.uk/94201/1/DG_FoJ-Risks%20Threats%20and%20Opportunities_JJ.pdf

The first one is personalized news feeds. Facebook and Twitter have created cultures of maximal tribalism and infinite personalization. Users can silo themselves in self-made realities while taking part in collective expression of tribal outrage that often seem bewilder outsiders. The fact that such personalization can mould the opinions of large numbers of people is particularly worrisome. Second, the 24-hour news cycle forces reporters to publish articles without proper fact-checking. Even allegedly responsible media houses have had to retract stories because of the lack of proper checking. This leads to a deeper concern. Whereas the privilege of helping the citizenry to form opinions about key public issues lies with journalists, there is an implied responsibility that the information and analysis provided by the journalist is accurate and verifiable. This does not always seem to be the case. Indeed, some journalists have been accused of spreading “fake news” by pursuing their own agendas when pursuing their vocation. There have been well-known instances of both traditional and social media outlets pursuing political advocacy. The distinction between “news” and “views” has broken down in many cases and the citizenry is often ill equipped to discern the difference.

During the on-going pandemic another very serious issue has disrupted. Violence towards journalists is an old issue but the promulgation of long lockdowns has led to explosion of serious domestic violence and mental ill-health concerns. This has been described as a pandemic within a pandemic https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2024046

Under ordinary circumstances, the explosion of these domestic issues would be an important news story. However, lockdown orders have meant that many such instances all over the world get unreported. Clearly, women are the worst victims here. In particular, it has become increasingly difficult for women journalists to report on such issues. It is ironical that although women journalists are most suited to report on occurrences of domestic and sexual violence, they are the ones with minimal access to the victims of such abuse.

Even before the pandemic journalists- particularly women journalists – have been subjected to harassment and abuse.of several types: https://www.iwmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/IWMF-Global-Report.pdf

On World Press Freedom Day (May 3) there is need to ponder on these and many other issues relating to the role of the fourth estate. Freedom of the Press is invaluable in society. However, as with any other freedom, constant vigil and action are the price of this freedom. If we want a robust press this price will need to be paid.

Raghbendra Jha, Professor of Economics and Executive Director, Australia South Asia Research Centre, Australian National University.

Narendra Modi’s Attempts To Stifle Criticism During Covid Pandemic ‘Inexcusable’: Lancet

A hard-hitting editorial published in medical journal The Lancet has said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government seemed more intent in removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the Covid pandemic.

PM Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are “inexcusable”, it has said.

The editorial quoting The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from COVID-19 by August 1. “If that outcome were to happen, Modi’s Government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe.”

Despite warnings about the risks of superspreader events, the government allowed religious festivals to go ahead, drawing millions of people from around the country, along with huge political rallies — conspicuous for their lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures, the editorial has said.

Throwing light on the near-collapse of health infrastructure, it also criticises the government’s complacency in tackling the crisis.

“The scenes of suffering in India are hard to comprehend… hospitals are overwhelmed, and health workers are exhausted and becoming infected. Social media is full of desperate people (doctors and the public) seeking medical oxygen, hospital beds, and other necessities. Yet before the second wave of cases of COVID-19 began to mount in early March, Indian Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan declared that India was in the “endgame” of the epidemic.

“The impression from the government was that India had beaten COVID-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains. Modelling suggested falsely that India had reached herd immunity, encouraging complacency and insufficient preparation, but a serosurvey by the Indian Council of Medical Research in January suggested that only 21% of the population had antibodies against SARS-CoV.”

The editorial also said that India squandered its early successes in controlling COVID-19 and that until April, the government’s COVID-19 taskforce had not met in months.

India’s vaccination programme, too, has come under scathing criticism. The Lancet pointed out that the message that COVID-19 was essentially over also slowed the start of India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which has vaccinated less than 2% of the population. At the federal level, India’s vaccination plan soon fell apart. The government abruptly shifted course without discussing the change in policy with states, expanding vaccination to everyone older than 18 years, draining supplies, and creating mass confusion and a market for vaccine doses in which states and hospital systems competed.

The crisis has not been equally distributed, with states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra unprepared for the sudden spike in cases, quickly running out of medical oxygen, hospital space, and overwhelming the capacity of cremation sites. Others, such as Kerala and Odisha, were better prepared, and have been able to produce enough medical oxygen in this second wave to export it to other states.

The journal has said that India must now restructure its response while the crisis rages. The success of that effort will depend on the government owning up to its mistakes, providing responsible leadership and transparency, and implementing a public health response that has science at its heart.

The editorial has further suggested a two-pronged strategy — first, a botched vaccination campaign must be rationalised and implemented with all due speed. There are two immediate bottlenecks to overcome: increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens, who constitute more than 65% of the population (over 800 million people) but face a desperate scarcity of public health and primary care facilities..

The government must work with local and primary health-care centres that know their communities and create an equitable distribution system for the vaccine. The government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown, the editorial has said.

India Censoring Criticism Of Its Pandemic Response Shows Misplaced Priorities

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, today expressed dismay over the government of India’s continued obsession with managing the news coverage of the pandemic instead of the pandemic itself.

As the pandemic rages across India accounting for almost half of all new cases globally, the government ordered Twitter to block over 50 tweets that criticized its complete mismanagement of the pandemic. Among them was a tweet by Indian American Muslim Council, comparing the rabid Islamophobia targeting the Tablighi Jamaat and all Indian Muslims in the early days of the pandemic with the near silence over government support for the massive Kumbh Mela, that has endangered the lives of millions of Hindu devotees and their fellow citizens.

Today hundreds of thousands of Indians belonging to all faiths are literally gasping for breath, afflicted by a virus that makes no distinction on the basis of religion or caste. In this horrifying scenario, the government’s alacrity in pressuring Twitter to block tweets critical of its handling of the crisis shows the administration’s moral compass continues to point in a direction that is shamelessly self-serving.

“The catastrophic surge in Covid-19 cases across India and the collapse of the country’s healthcare system is a monumental albeit avoidable tragedy for which the responsibility lies squarely on the government’s misplaced priorities,” said Mr. Khalid Ansari, Vice-President of IAMC.  “Many precious lives lost to the pandemic might have been saved had the government not been obsessed with advancing the Hindutva agenda of subjugating minorities, and focused instead on governing for all Indians,” added Mr. Ansari.

Far from leading by example to overcome the crisis, the Modi administration promoted the spread of the virus by organizing countless super spreader events in the form of election rallies where masking was not enforced and where Mr. Modi as well as Home Minister Amit Shah addressed massive crowds.

IAMC has urged Indian Muslims, especially Muslim healthcare workers and relief organizations to rise to the occasion by serving their fellow citizens. Observance of civic duties, a commitment to defending the country and selfless service towards people of all faiths is the need of the hour.

Study On Social Media Use in 2021

Despite a string of controversies and the public’s relatively negative sentiments about aspects of social media, roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they ever use any kind of social media site – a share that has remained relatively stable over the past five years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.

Beyond the general question of overall social media use, the survey also covers use of individual sites and apps. YouTube and Facebook continue to dominate the online landscape, with 81% and 69%, respectively, reporting ever using these sites. And YouTube and Reddit were the only two platforms measured that saw statistically significant growth since 2019, when the Center last polled on this topic via a phone survey.

When it comes to the other platforms in the survey, 40% of adults say they ever use Instagram and about three-in-ten report using Pinterest or LinkedIn. One-quarter say they use Snapchat, and similar shares report being users of Twitter or WhatsApp. TikTok – an app for sharing short videos – is used by 21% of Americans, while 13% say they use the neighborhood-focused platform Nextdoor.

Even as other platforms do not nearly match the overall reach of YouTube or Facebook, there are certain sites or apps, most notably Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, that have an especially strong following among young adults. In fact, a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram (71%) or Snapchat (65%), while roughly half say the same for TikTok.

These findings come from a nationally representative survey of 1,502 U.S. adults conducted via telephone Jan. 25-Feb.8, 2021. With the exception of YouTube and Reddit, most platforms show little growth since 2019.

YouTube is the most commonly used online platform asked about in this survey, and there’s evidence that its reach is growing. Fully 81% of Americans say they ever use the video-sharing site, up from 73% in 2019. Reddit was the only other platform polled about that experienced statistically significant growth during this time period – increasing from 11% in 2019 to 18% today.

Facebook’s growth has leveled off over the last five years, but it remains one of the most widely used social media sites among adults in the United States: 69% of adults today say they ever use the site, equaling the share who said this two years prior.

Similarly, the respective shares of Americans who report using Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Twitter and WhatsApp are statistically unchanged since 2019. This represents a broader trend that extends beyond the past two years in which the rapid adoption of most of these sites and apps seen in the last decade has slowed. (This was the first year the Center asked about TikTok via a phone poll and the first time it has surveyed about Nextdoor.)

Adults under 30 stand out for their use of Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. When asked about their social media use more broadly – rather than their use of specific platforms – 72% of Americans say they ever use social media sites.

In a pattern consistent with past Center studies on social media use, there are some stark age differences. Some 84% of adults ages 18 to 29 say they ever use any social media sites, which is similar to the share of those ages 30 to 49 who say this (81%). By comparison, a somewhat smaller share of those ages 50 to 64 (73%) say they use social media sites, while fewer than half of those 65 and older (45%) report doing this.

These age differences generally extend to use of specific platforms, with younger Americans being more likely than their older counterparts to use these sites – though the gaps between younger and older Americans vary across platforms.

Majorities of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram or Snapchat and about half say they use TikTok, with those on the younger end of this cohort – ages 18 to 24 – being especially likely to report using Instagram (76%), Snapchat (75%) or TikTok (55%).1 These shares stand in stark contrast to those in older age groups. For instance, while 65% of adults ages 18 to 29 say they use Snapchat, just 2% of those 65 and older report using the app – a difference of 63 percentage points.

Additionally, a vast majority of adults under the age of 65 say they use YouTube. Fully 95% of those 18 to 29 say they use the platform, along with 91% of those 30 to 49 and 83% of adults 50 to 64. However, this share drops substantially – to 49% – among those 65 and older.

By comparison, age gaps between the youngest and oldest Americans are narrower for Facebook. Fully 70% of those ages 18 to 29 say they use the platform, and those shares are statistically the same for those ages 30 to 49 (77%) or ages 50 to 64 (73%). Half of those 65 and older say they use the site – making Facebook and YouTube the two most used platforms among this older population.

Other sites and apps stand out for their demographic differences: Instagram: About half of Hispanic (52%) and Black Americans (49%) say they use the platform, compared with smaller shares of White Americans (35%) who say the same.2

WhatsApp: Hispanic Americans (46%) are far more likely to say they use WhatsApp than Black (23%) or White Americans (16%). Hispanics also stood out for their WhatsApp use in the Center’s previous surveys on this topic.

LinkedIn: Those with higher levels of education are again more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to report being LinkedIn users. Roughly half of adults who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree (51%) say they use LinkedIn, compared with smaller shares of those with some college experience (28%) and those with a high school diploma or less (10%).

Pinterest: Women continue to be far more likely than men to say they use Pinterest when compared with male counterparts, by a difference of 30 points (46% vs. 16%).

Nextdoor: There are large differences in use of this platform by community type. Adults living in urban (17%) or suburban (14%) areas are more likely to say they use Nextdoor. Just 2% of rural Americans report using the site.

A majority of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram users say they visit these platforms on a daily basis. While there has been much written about Americans’ changing relationship with Facebook, its users remain quite active on the platform. Seven-in-ten Facebook users say they use the site daily, including 49% who say they use the site several times a day. (These figures are statistically unchanged from those reported in the Center’s 2019 survey about social media use.)

Smaller shares – though still a majority – of Snapchat or Instagram users report visiting these respective platforms daily (59% for both). And being active on these sites is especially common for younger users. For instance, 71% of Snapchat users ages 18 to 29 say they use the app daily, including six-in-ten who say they do this multiple times a day. The pattern is similar for Instagram: 73% of 18- to 29-year-old Instagram users say they visit the site every day, with roughly half (53%) reporting they do so several times per day.

YouTube is used daily by 54% if its users, with 36% saying they visit the site several times a day. By comparison, Twitter is used less frequently, with fewer than half of its users (46%) saying they visit the site daily.

Google Wins Case Against Oracle In Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court handed the tech company a major victory on Monday, ruling that its use of Oracle Corp’s software code to build the Android operating system that runs most of the world’s smartphones did not violate federal copyright law.
In a 6-2 decision, the justices overturned a lower court’s ruling that Google’s inclusion of Oracle’s software code in Android did not constitute a fair use under U.S. copyright law.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said that allowing Oracle to enforce a copyright on its code would harm the public by making it a “lock limiting the future creativity of new programs. Oracle alone would hold the key.”

Oracle and Google, two California-based technology giants with combined annual revenues of more than $175 billion, have been feuding since Oracle sued for copyright infringement in 2010 in San Francisco federal court. Google had appealed a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington reviving the suit.

The ruling spares Google of a potentially massive damages verdict. Oracle had been seeking more than $8 billion, but renewed estimates went as high as $20 billion to $30 billion, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
“The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers,” said Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs.

Oracle’s lawsuit accused Google of plagiarizing its Java software by copying 11,330 lines of computer code, as well as the way it is organized, to create Android and reap billions of dollars in revenue. Android, for which developers have created millions of applications, now powers more than 70% of the world’s mobile devices.

Over Half A Billion Facebook Users’ Personal Data Leaked Online

Data affecting over half a Billion Facebook users that was originally leaked in 2019, including email addresses and phone numbers, has been posted on an online hackers forum, according to media reports and a cybercrime expert. “All 533,000,000 Facebook records were just leaked for free,” Alon Gal, chief technology officer at the Hudson Rock cybercrime intelligence firm, said on Twitter last week. He denounced what he called the “absolute negligence” of Facebook.

Some of the data appeared to be current, according to a report in Business Insider which AFP was unable to confirm independently. It said some of the leaked phone numbers still belong to the owners of Facebook accounts. “This means that if you have a Facebook account, it is extremely likely the phone number used for the account was leaked,” Gal said.

But Facebook said the reports were old news. “This is old data that was previously reported on in 2019,” a company spokesperson told the media. “We found and fixed this issue in August 2019.”

The exposed data includes personal information of over 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries, including over 32 million records on users in the US, 11 million on users in the UK, and 6 million on users in India. It includes their phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birthdates, bios, and — in some cases — email addresses.

While a couple of years old, the leaked data could provide valuable information to cybercriminals who use people’s personal information to impersonate them or scam them into handing over login credentials, according to Alon Gal, CTO of cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock, who first discovered the entire trough of leaked data online on Saturday.

“A database of that size containing the private information such as phone numbers of a lot of Facebook’s users would certainly lead to bad actors taking advantage of the data to perform social engineering attacks [or] hacking attempts,” Gal told Insider.

Google Maps Plans Greenest Route To Your Destination

Google Maps plans to start highlighting journeys and directing drivers to routes that it calibrates to be the most “eco-friendly” based on a range of factors. Here’s how it will work. Google Maps plans to start highlighting journeys and directing drivers to routes that it calibrates to be the most “eco-friendly” based on a range of factors. The calculation of the default route that potentially generates the lowest carbon footprint would be done by assessing factors such as traffic data, congestion history, and even road inclines.

The Alphabet-owned search engine said in a blogpost that the feature would be launched first in the United States sometime later this year, “with a global expansion on the way”. Once launched, the default route that would show up on the Google Maps app will be the “eco-friendly” one. Users will have to opt out of this if they wish to take an alternative route.

Google said that when alternative routes “are significantly faster”, the mapping app will offer options, and let users compare estimated emissions on the default and alternative routes. The new feature, Google said, is part of its commitment to fight climate change.
While the tech major did mention plans for a “global expansion”, it did not offer specifics with respect to the launch timelines in specific geographies such as India.

Google is also reported to be making “new map layers for weather and air quality” that are set to roll out in the coming months on both Android and iOS. Google plans to launch the weather layer globally and release the air quality layer first in Australia, India, and the US, according to a report in The Verge.

For its new route plan, Google said it used emissions data based on testing across different types of vehicles and roads in the US, and subsequently concluded that for about 50 per cent of the analyzed routes, it was able to offer a ‘greener’ alternative without any significant tradeoffs.

“What we are seeing is for around half of routes, we are able to find an option more eco-friendly with minimal or no time-cost trade-off,” Russell Dicker, a director of product at Google, said.The search major said it used emissions data based on testing across different types of cars and road types, extrapolating insights from the US Government’s National Renewable Energy Lab. Its data incorporates details such as slopes and inclines from its own Street View cars feature alongside aerial and satellite imagery.

Also, from June 2021, Google will start warning drivers about travelling through low emissions zones where some vehicles are restricted, as is the case in countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.In another new feature slated for launch later this year, Google Maps users will be able to compare travel options — car, cycling, public transport etc — in one place instead of having to switch back and forth between different modes with evaluating travel options.The scope of these features could be progressively widened to include Asian cities such as Jakarta, it indicated.

Banned From Social Media, Trump Launches A New Website

Donald Trump, the former president and first lady, Melania Trump, have launched a website to serve their personal offices. The website, 45office.com, comes after Trump’s ban from social media sites in the aftermath of the January Capitol insurrection.

The site features a lengthy biography for the former president that starts, “Donald J. Trump launched the most extraordinary political movement in history, dethroning political dynasties, defeating the Washington Establishment, and becoming the first true outsider elected as President of the United States.”

It also includes more than a dozen pictures of himself, in which he is depicted boarding Air Force One, greeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and, yes, kissing a baby. Other photos are of the president and Melania Trump dancing at the inaugural ball and at black tie dinners in the White House. The website makes no mention of his two impeachment trials. It does reference how “the coronavirus plague arrived from China,” and says that Trump “acted early and decisively to ban travel from China and Europe, which saved countless lives.”

As of Tuesday, Covid-19 has killed at least 550,371 people and infected about 30.3 million in the United States since last January, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

Trump has largely remained off the internet since the January 6th Capitol insurrection that killed five people and led the Justice Department to charge at least 150 people with insurrection, a number that could increase to 400 or more. In its aftermath, Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter and other social platforms, such as Snapchat.

The former president will return to social media in two to three months on his own platform, according to Jason Miller, a long-time Trump adviser and spokesperson for the president’s 2020 campaign. The new platform will attract “tens of millions” of new users and “completely redefine the game,” Miller added.

Following Trump’s ban on Twitter, Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, intervened to stop the efforts of aides who attempted to get Trump on fringe social media platforms such as Parler and Gab.

Visitors to the former president’s website can also request a personalized greeting from the president and the First Lady, or request that the Trumps attend an event. Due to the high number of requests, the greetings page says it will take up to six weeks for processing.

As for having the Trumps attend an event, the website said it there would be no status updates “due to the volume of requests President and Mrs. Trump receive. Requests must note if media will be present and if there will be any notable attendees.”

— CNN’s Jazmin Goodwin contributed to this report

India’s New Internet Rules Are ‘Digital Authoritarianism’

The Indian government must suspend sweeping new Internet regulations, 10 international NGOs said in an open letter Thursday. The new rules, brought in by executive order in late February, give the Indian government an arsenal of muscular new powers that will force tech companies and news outlets to comply with government surveillance and censorship demands.

The rules increase the pressure on U.S. tech companies including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to comply with what the letter’s authors say is an increasingly authoritarian Indian government—or risk losing access to India, their biggest market in the world, which many see as key to future growth.

The Indian government had been preparing the new rules for years, but published them amid an escalating protest movement by Indian farmers that has captured both national and international attention. In February, the Indian government clashed with Twitter over the company’s refusal of a government request to remove hundreds of posts by activists and politicians about the protests, with the company saying they constituted freedom of expression. After the Indian government threatened Twitter employees with jail time, Twitter eventually re-blocked most of the posts.

“Why the government brought this up now is deeply linked to the farmer protests,” says Raman Jit Singh Chima, the Asia-Pacific policy director at Access Now, one of the groups that signed the open letter criticizing the rules. “After the pushback they received from social media firms, who were contesting orders they were receiving, the government definitely wants to send a clear signal that ‘we are going to regulate you, and if you push back, it will result in more regulation overall.’”

India’s new rules come at a time when tech platforms are facing threats of regulation by Western governments over content including hate speech, misinformation, and incitement to violence. But the Indian rules are more worrying, the open letter says, because they are part of a wider push toward “digital authoritarianism,” including Internet shutdowns and arrests of journalists. Although the Indian rules also contain useful provisions like mandating transparency in cases when user content has been removed, they come with no clear mechanisms for tech companies to push back against potentially unlawful government demands.

“The rules change the fundamental Internet experience for any average user in India,” says Apar Gupta, executive director of India’s Internet Freedom Foundation. “Social media companies, streaming platforms and online news portals are now being brought under some level of direct government supervision,” he says. “These rules are a very stark illustration of a desire of the government to control the online conversation. They extend forms of regulation over areas that enrich any kind of democracy, and encourage self-censorship.”

What do the new rules say?

The rules force companies to remove content that the government says is illegal within three days of being notified, including content that threatens “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India,” public order, decency, morality, or incitement to an offense. The rules also state that platforms must hand over information about users to law enforcement upon request.

Encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp—which is owned by Facebook—will also be forced under the new rules to keep information on who the “first originator” of any message is, and provide it to the government upon demand. WhatsApp is already facing similar legislation in Brazil, its second-biggest market after India. And Western intelligence agencies have also pressured encrypted platforms to build “backdoors” into their messaging services.

WhatsApp did not respond to TIME’s request for comment, but its head Will Cathcart said the company was “still digesting them and understanding what they actually mean, or don’t mean,” in an interview on Big Technology, a podcast by journalist Alex Kantrowitz.

Cathcart suggested that WhatsApp may be prepared to bring legal cases in India if the rules meant breaking the end-to-end encryption that the chat service is based on. “If you’re talking about break[ing] encryption, it’s really hard for me to imagine being comfortable with it,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine even how you ask people to do that, I think it’s such a fundamental threat. So, we’ll stand and we’ll make our case, and we’ll argue.”

Facebook and Signal (an end-to-end encrypted messaging app that is growing in popularity in India) did not respond to TIME’s requests for comment.

In a statement, Twitter said: “We are studying the updated guidelines, and we look forward to continued engagement with the Government of India to strike a balance between transparency, freedom of expression, and privacy … We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizen’s fundamental rights and reinforces online freedom.”

India’s new rules also say that companies must appoint a resident Indian citizen to be a “chief compliance officer” who will be criminally liable for any failure to comply with the rules. “India’s worst-kept secret is that if you work in the Internet industry, you will face arrest threats and threats of prosecution on a regular basis,” Chima says. “They’re just trying to codify this in one place. The idea is that if you have one person, you can put them under so much pressure that it will force compliance.”

The open letter by the 10 activist groups called on tech companies to resist the new rules. “They should interpret and implement legal demands as narrowly as possible, to ensure the least possible restriction on expression, notify users, seek clarification or modification from authorities, and explore all legal options for challenge,” the letter said.

As well as social media and streaming platforms, the new rules also impose strict new limits on digital news platforms—where a small handful of Indian publications have managed to remain critical of the government. In March, India’s democracy rating was downgraded from “free” to “partly free” by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, which cited among other factors the government’s “rising intimidation of academics and journalists.”

Under the new rules, digital publications will be subject to oversight by government-run committees, with the power to block publication of stories, remove stories, or even shut down entire websites. One of the 10 signatories of the open letter on Thursday is Reporters Without Borders, an NGO that campaigns for press freedom worldwide.

“Digital media has been quite outspoken, and I see this clearly as a way to bring it to heel, to control it, and perhaps intimidate it,” says Sidharth Bhatia, a founding editor of The Wire, a leading online publication that regularly publishes content critical of the Indian government. “It is executive overreach of the worst kind.”

The new legislation could result in critical reporting being silenced, Bhatia says. “Let’s say we’re about to publish a story about somebody powerful,” he says. “In a normal journalistic way, we will probably send a message before publication saying we would like your point of view. That person could very well go and say ‘I fear they will publish a very damaging story against me, and it’s libelous, etc.’” If that were to happen, he says, the case would be escalated through two committees, that contain no representatives of the digital media, until it is heard by a senior bureaucrat in India’s Ministry of Information. “At that level, you’re not likely to want to go against the government,” Bhatia says.

The publisher of The Wire is challenging the government’s new rules in the Indian court system—a challenge that a Delhi high court judge upheld on Tuesday, with the case adjourned to April 16.

Bhatia says that if the new rules are allowed to stand, they will have a “terrible chilling effect” on Indian journalism. “There is already talk within the media of journalists self-censoring,” he says. “More and more will say it’s not worth the trouble.”

Hundreds In New York Rally Against Anti-Asian Hate

More than 300 people joined some of New York’s top elected officials and community leaders on Saturday afternoon to speak out against the increase in anti-Asian violence in the city and nationwide on Saturday, Feb 27th.

The Rise Up Against Asian Hate rally, organized by the Asian American Federation (AAF), took place at Foley Square in downtown Manhattan, two blocks from where a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed on Thursday night.

The rally was joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as victims of violence against Asian-Americans.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, Schumer said: I’m proud to stand with the @AAFederation at today’s #RiseUpRally in New York City to stop hatred against Asian-Americans.

“The surge in attacks against Asian American communities is alarming, ignorant, and dangerous. We cannot and will not tolerate racism and discrimination.”

Addressing the rally he said: “Bigotry against any of us is bigotry against all of us … We must redouble our fight. We must stand strong.

“New York, we love diversity. We know the more of us who are together from every different background in race, creed, colour, orientation and gender, the stronger we are. We love immigrants.”

Among the speakers was a recent victim: 61-year-old Filipino-American Noel Quintana, whose face was slashed on the subway earlier this month. “I called for help, but nobody came to help,” he said. “If they took a video of this, the perpetrator would be identified easily.” He urged people to be safe and aware, and to record and report incidents. As he walked off the stage, the crowd chanted his name.

Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents New York’s 6th District and authored a resolution in the House last September to denounce hatred against Asian-Americans, said, “We need to make sure that we are not fighting racism with more racism. That we are fighting racism with solidarity. That we are not ever, ever pitting one group against the other. It is everyone against racism. We are American, too.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer harshly criticized former President Donald Trump, whose use of terms like “Chinese virus” and “kung flu” for the coronavirus helped fuel anti-Asian sentiment over the past year. “Bigotry against any of us is bigotry against all of us,” Schumer said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that “anyone who commits an act of hate against the Asian-American community will be found, will be arrested, will be prosecuted.”

Attorney General Letitia James, who AAF Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo referred to as an “ally,” urged the community to report incidents to authorities. “Come to my office so that we can do something about it. Come to my office, so that we can go after those individuals who hate us, and shut them down,” she said.

James and many others shared messages of unity with the AAPI community. They also endorsed Yoo’s calls for more directed action, saying, “We need a patrol which is staffed by police officers. A full-time, dedicated bureau … that patrol the streets, patrol the subways and keep the Asian community safe from harm.” The AAF and a larger group of organizations have called for community-based solutions to combat bias incidents and hate crimes against Asian-Americans, including recovery programs, language services, mental health services and more.

According to data collected by AAF, Stop AAPI Hate, the NYPD and the NYC Commission on Human Rights, nearly 500 Asians in New York were targets of bias incidents or hate crimes in 2020, ranging from verbal to physical assaults, including acid attacks. The community has suffered a significant rise in unemployment since the pandemic began. Nationwide, at least half of Asian Americans continued to experience cases of direct racism, nearly 1 in 5 of which were physical assaults.

Celebrities have also gotten involved. Actor William Lex Ham, who has been leading marches and rallies across the country since last summer, made an appearance on Saturday. Actress Olivia Munn tweeted out a video of an attack on a woman in Flushing, New York. Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu put up a $25,000 reward for the identification of a suspect who fatally shoved 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee to the ground in Oakland, California. Governments have made an effort to stand with the community, passing resolutions at the state and federal levels. But these, and President Biden’s executive order in February denouncing anti-Asian hate, are largely symbolic, and more concrete action is needed, activists say.

Late last year, the NYPD established an Asian Hate Crimes Task Force. In California, another state that has seen an exponential rise in attacks against the AAPI community, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will devote nearly $1.5 million to tracking anti-Asian hate crimes.

Bhumi Pednekar Joins Efforts By UNESCO To Educate Girls On Menstrual Hygiene

With an aim to raise awareness and educate girls on menstrual hygiene management, UNESCO has joined the #KeepGirlsInSchool mission, being supported by Bollywood actress Bhumi Pednekar.

 

The movement, launched by feminine care brand Whisper, begins with shedding light on the impact of 2.3 crore girls dropping out of school due to lack of period education and protection.

 

According to studies, even today, 71 per cent of adolescent girls in India remain unaware of menstruation till they get their first period. This affects their confidence and self-esteem adversely, leading to 2.3 crore adolescent girls dropping out of school every year, at the onset of the puberty. In addition to this, the ongoing pandemic has led to the closure of schools and lack of structured learning process, making these girls even more vulnerable to dropping out.

 

According to the UNESCO, the global pandemic has impacted 74 crore schoolgirls, and could severely affect their return to school.

To bring to light the struggles of young girls as they reach puberty, Whisper and

 

UNESCO released a film that illustrates the journey of the playful innocence of a schoolgirl with boundless dreams coming to a grinding halt due to the lack of period education and protection. The film underscores the importance of empowering young girls to achieve their full potential and not let periods get in the way of 2.3 crore dreams.

 

Continuing to share her support for the cause, Bhumi Pednekar said: “For the past one year I have been working closely with Whisper to drive awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene education and protection. This gave me an understanding of the on-ground reality of crores of girls who drop out of school and unfortunately give up on their dreams of becoming a pilot, doctor, teacher, designer, etc. Every girl in India should be able to complete her education like I did and not have to drop out just because of periods. I strongly believe that empowering young girls with menstrual education and protection will give them wings to transform into leaders of tomorrow. It is great to see that Whisper and UNESCO are enabling this change at a ground level, which will not only accelerate the cause but also encourage wider participation. I urge everyone to come forward and be part of the #KeepGirlsInSchool movement.”

 

Emphasizing UNESCO’s commitment to right to Education, Eric Falt, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka, said: “During puberty and the start of menstruation, a girl’s confidence and self-esteem can be affected in many different ways, sometimes even leading to her dropping out of school. UNESCO and Whisper are on a mission to change that. The #KeepGirlsInSchool initiative builds on our strong commitment to ensuring everyone’s fundamental right to education. Investing in girls’ education is an investment for society as a whole.”

 

Sharing her thoughts on the movement, Chetna Soni, Senior Director and Category Head, P&G Indian Subcontinent, Feminine Care, said: “Whisper believes in empowering girls and women to unleash their confidence and ensure that nothing comes in the way of achieving their dreams. With this mission, we continue to challenge the barriers surrounding menstrual hygiene through education and multi-stakeholder engagement to advocate for change.

 

To widen the impact, we are delighted to be joining hands with UNESCO to further our force for female good movement #KeepGirlsInSchool. We strongly believe that we all have a role to play in breaking menstrual stigma and normalizing periods so nothing can come in the way of girls fulfilling their dreams and achieving their full potential.” (IANS)

Why Journalists In India Are Under Attack

A month after taking office in the summer of 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India’s “democracy will not sustain if we can’t guarantee freedom of speech and expression”.

Six years on, many believe, India’s democracy looks diminished, by what they say are persistent attacks on the freedom of the press.

Last year India dropped two places and was ranked 142 on the 180-country World Press Freedom Index, compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders. It’s an unflattering commentary on a country that often prides itself on a vibrant and competitive media.

The latest crackdown has happened after violence during a recent rally by farmers to protest at a raft of agriculture reform laws. One protester was killed and more than 500 policemen injured in the clashes.

Now police have filed criminal charges – including sedition and making statements inimical to national integration – against eight journalists who covered the protests in Delhi.

The cause of the protester’s death – at the rally on 26 January – remains disputed. While police say he died when the tractor he was driving overturned, his family alleges that he was shot. His family’s account, which has been published by various newspapers and magazines, appears to have become the basis of these charges.

Some of the journalists were involved in reporting or publishing the story, and others only shared it on social media.

Six of them – and a prominent opposition Congress party MP who is accused of “misreporting” facts surrounding the death – are facing cases in four BJP-ruled states.

“Is it a crime for media to report statements of relatives of a dead person if they question a post-mortem or police version of the cause of death?” Siddharth Varadarajan, editor-in-chief of The Wire and one of the journalists charged by police, said.

Rights groups and many fellow journalists are outraged. “The Indian authorities’ response to protests has focused on discrediting peaceful protesters, harassing critics of the government, and prosecuting those reporting on the events,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The police cases, the Editors Guild of India said, were “an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media”.

A case in point, many say, is Caravan, an investigative news magazine which has often been in the crosshairs of Mr Modi’s government.

Ten sedition cases have been brought against three of its senior-most editorial staff – the publisher, editor and executive editor – in five states for a story and tweets relating to the death of the protester. One of the magazine’s freelance reporters was arrested from a protest site for “obstruction”, and released on bail after two days. The magazine’s Twitter account was suspended for a few hours in response to a legal notice by the government, citing objections based on public order.

Last year, four of Caravan’s journalists were attacked in two separate incidents while reporting on the aftermath of religious riots and a protest concerning the alleged rape and murder of a teenager in Delhi. “There is a narrative here which is very dangerous. We live in polarised times where critics of the government are branded as anti-nationals. It is the job of journalists to ask questions to people in power,” Vinod Jose, executive editor of Caravan, told me.

The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) denies that journalists are being targeted and believes that much of what is happening is part of “orchestrated propaganda” against the government.

“All journalists with avowed political affiliations and evident slant against the government have continued to write and speak freely in newspapers, television, and online portals,” Baijayant Panda, national vice president of the BJP, told me.

Mr Panda says police have filed complaints against journalists in a “couple of recent cases” because there have “been serious criminal allegations of fake news peddling in a riot-like situation, with the intent of fanning violence”.

He pointed to the case of a senior anchor of a leading news network who was taken off air and his pay docked because of an “incorrect” tweet relating to the death of a protester.

“This was not just blatant peddling of a false narrative, but one that had real and imminent potential to inflame large-scale violence. The said journalist and others of his ilk have also had a pattern of promoting such false narratives on earlier instances, and in fact have had to apologise on the record after being taken to court by affected parties,” Mr Panda said.

He said some state governments, run by political parties opposed to Mr Modi’s government, and “for whom these journalists have shown unabashed sympathy, have in fact been hounding journalists with the blatant misuse of power”.

Critics say a number of journalists seen as sympathetic to the government have consistently got away with broadcasting and publishing inflammatory material, often targeted at minorities.

Also, they wonder why the colonial era sedition law is being so widely used to crack down on dissent. An overwhelming majority of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising politicians and governments over the last decade were registered after 2014, when Mr Modi took power, according to data compiled by the website article14. Opposition politicians, students, journalists, authors and academicians have borne the brunt of the repressive law.

In a polarised environment, journalists are more divided than ever before. Much of the mainstream media, including a clutch of partisan news networks, is seen to be uncritical of Mr Modi’s government. “India, the world’s most populous democracy, is also sending signals that holding the government accountable is not part of the press’s responsibility,” a report by Freedom House said.

Many believe India is becoming unsafe for journalists. Sixty-seven journalists were arrested and nearly 200 physically attacked in 2020, according to a study by Geeta Seshu for the Free Speech Collective. A journalist, who was on his way to cover the gang rape of a girl in Uttar Pradesh state, has been in jail for five months.

Journalists – especially women critical of the government – face fierce online trolling and threats. Delhi-based freelance journalist Neha Dixit says she has been “stalked, openly threatened with rape and murder, viciously trolled”, and an attempt made to break into her apartment. This week, the police arrested a law student for allegedly sending death and rape threats to Rohini Singh, another freelance journalist.

The protection afforded to freedom of expression in India has never been robust, according to Tarunabh Khaitan, vice-dean of law at Oxford University.

Although this is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom, its scope was drastically restricted by the First Amendment under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951. It was then that India’s government “discovered that mouthing platitudes to civil liberties was one thing, and upholding them as principles was quite another,” notes Tripurdaman Singh in his book Sixteen Stormy Days.

And the colonial police and criminal justice system inherited from the Raj continues to see “human rights as an obstacle rather than their first duty to defend”, says Prof Khaitan. India’s Supreme Court, too, has had a poor track record on protecting civil liberties in comparison with courts in many other democracies, he says.

“The biggest sufferers are the two truth-seeking institutions whose autonomy from political as well as corporate power is critical to a democracy: the media and the universities. The role of these knowledge institutions is to challenge power and seek discursive accountability from power. But once captured, they serve as the instruments of power instead. Weak protection of free expression makes it relatively easy to capture or compromise them,” Prof Khaitan told me.

India’s media was gagged for 21 months when then prime minister Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties and imposed a nationwide Emergency in 1975. “What is unusual about our current political moment is that, unlike a formal emergency that undermines rights openly, all our rights are supposed to still be functional. There is no formal suspension of rights. But their corrosion in practice has become overwhelming. We are living in an extra-legal, informal, emergency. During a formal emergency, a citizen can perhaps hope that things will go back to normal once it is lifted,” says Prof Khaitan.  “How do you even ‘lift’ an informal emergency, one that was never promulgated in the first place?”

(Picture: New Indian Express)

Stop Facebook From Tracking You On Apps And Websites

Facebook was recently under fire for having access to a lot of user data than it really needs for basic functioning. There are a few ways to stop allowing Facebook to track your daily activities or data. You can turn off most of the permissions for Facebook that are not required for it to operate properly. For this, you just need to visit the settings section on your phone > Apps & notifications > Facebook > Permissions.

Users are also advised to disable ‘Off-Facebook activity’ if they don’t want the social media giant to track the apps or websites they are using. Though, Facebook will still be able to get some of your data as third-party apps or sites to share your data with Facebook as they use the company’s tools to track your usage. Facebook claims it will never ask third-parties to share the health or financial data of users.

The company itself says, “We receive activity from businesses and organisations who use our business tools so that can better understand how their website, app, or ads are performing. We use your activity to show you relevant ads and to suggest things you might be interested in.”

While Facebook has clearly stated its intention, you don’t really know if your data is safe. Last year, Facebook admitted sharing users’ data with third-party developers.

So, what data is Facebook collecting?

If you visit a site or an app, Facebook knows when you opened it or logged in, searched for an item, what item you added to a wishlist or cart, made a purchase or donation. So, if you are using an online banking app or the MakeMyTrip app to book flight tickets, Facebook can see all your activity and target ads to you accordingly. On Facebook, it knows your purchase history, contacts, search history, ads or products you interact with, precise location, physical address and more.

Android: How to stop Facebook from tracking your activities

Step 1: Open the Facebook app on your smartphone and tap on the hamburger icon, which is located on the top right corner of the screen.

Step 2: Scroll and tap on ‘Settings & Privacy.’

Step 3: Visit settings > scroll > tap on off-Facebook Activity

*Once you land on this page, it will show you which apps or sites you have visited and are sharing user data with Facebook. You can tap on each app to get additional information on what data is being shared, and what Facebook is doing with all of it. The app also lets you download all your activity details. For this, you need to tap on the three-dotted button located in the ‘Off-Facebook Activity option.’ Then, tap on ‘Download your Information’ of your off-Facebook activities.

Step 4: Tap on Clear History. This will make sure that you delete all the data that Facebook has collected. Once you clear the history, you will see all the apps disappearing from the top of the screen.

Step 5: Now to disable the option, you need to tap on ‘More options’ and then ‘Manage Future Activity.’

Step 6: Tap again on Manage Future Activity and tap on Future Off-Facebook Activity.

The iOS users can also follow the same steps. The only difference is you will find the hamburger menu at the bottom of the screen once you open the Facebook app on your device.

What will happen if you disable ‘Off-Facebook’ activity’?

Once you turn off the ‘Off-Facebook activity’ option, a Facebook user won’t get personalised advertisements based on their daily online activity. If you want your ads to be personalised, you basically have to pay for it with your data.

(From: The Indian Express; Picture: Reclaim The Net) 

India Uses Muscle Power To Silence Voices of Journalists

India continues to use “force” to silence the media across the nation. Journalists around the nation are being silenced when they write/report about policies nof the government that are not democratic and not in the interests of the larger public. 

The FIRs were filed across three BJP-ruled states against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K. Jose, and one unnamed person. On Saturday night, the Delhi police also filed a similar case.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has registered an FIR against journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, for “provocative” tweets over the death of a Rampur farmer during the tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day. The FIR, registered by the Rampur police, invoked Sections 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (inciting for violence) of the Indian Penal Code, Varadarajan said in a tweet. 

The tweet referred to the FIR had quoted the grandfather of the deceased farmer alleging that one of the doctors who conducted the autopsy told him that the man died of a bullet injury, along with a link to the full story. The Wire article included statements by the police and doctors rejecting the claims. Varadarajan described the FIR as “malicious prosecution”.

The development follows FIRs against television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Caravan’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K Jose; and Qaumi Awaz’s editor Zafar Agha for ‘misleading’ tweets on the death of the farmer. 

 “This is a clear case of overreach by the police and administration of the state governments which allowed the registration of the FIRs. If sedition charges are going to be invoked at the drop of the hat, where will we head to?” T.K. Rajalakshmi of the IWPC told The Wire.

The sedition cases that have been slapped on journalists for sharing “unverified” news during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26 reeks of a conspiracy, observed a host of media and journalists’ bodies at a press conference on Saturday.

The joint press meeting was organized by the Press Club of India (PCI), the Editors’ Guild of India, the Press Association, the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), the Delhi Union of Journalists and the Indian Journalists Union, which was packed with the country’s best known journalists.

The FIRs have been filed in relation to the reporting of the farmers’ tractor rally, held on January 26 in Delhi, in which some early reports had suggested that a young farmer had died from a police bullet. Later, it was claimed that he died because his tractor overturned.

The PCI has expressed shock over criminal charges being pressed against journalists even as a reliable post mortem report in the case has not yet come out. “This is a pathetic excuse on the part of the concerned state governments. In a moving story, things change on a regular basis. Accordingly, the reporting reflects the circumstances, when large crowds are involved and the air is thick with suppositions, suspicions, and hypotheses, there can sometimes be a divergence between earlier and later reports. It is criminal to ascribe this to motivated reporting, as is sought to have been done,” the PCI said in a statement.

There are writers and media personnel, human rights defenders and activists, academics and others, from every corner of the country, who despite all odds, face fascists fearlessly. They are the ones genuinely concerned about what is happening in the country today, writes Cedric Prakash in “Facing Fascists Fearlessly. 

The Editors Guild of India had termed the FIRs an “attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media”, and demanded their immediate withdrawal.

WhatsApp vs Signal vs Telegram: Which is More Secure?

Facebook-owned WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy updates have prompted unhappy users to look for alternative apps. Find out which of the three most popular messaging apps is more secure. Whatsapp currently is the largest messaging service in the world with over 2 billion monthly active users. Following that, Telegram accounts for 400 million and Signal stands at a ballpark of 10-20 million monthly active users. Simply looking at the raw numbers would suggest that WhatsApp is hugely popular and almost ubiquitous while Telegram is catching up and Signal seems to have just joined the million downloads race. However, numbers do not often tell you the entire story, hence here we do a comprehensive comparison of the three app’s security and features.

Whatsapp

WhatsApp offers almost every feature you might need. You get support for group chats with up to 256 members. You can also broadcast messages to multiple contacts at the same time. It also supports voice and video calls, both for individuals and groups. However, for group video calls, you are restricted to 8 users at any time. Further, WhatsApp also offers a Status feature (also called WhatsApp stories) similar to Instagram stories.

Whatsapp also allows you to share all sorts of files and documents, but there are file size limits to adhere to. For photos, videos, and audio files, the limit is 16 MB. However, documents can be up to 100 MB. You can also share live location with your contacts and I am sure many users find this feature helpful.

And since WhatsApp is meant for general users, it offers seamless backup and restore functionality through cloud services like Google Drive and iCloud. And the best part is that cloud backup is completely free.

Telegram

Telegram app offers so many features that it’s incredible. Similar to WhatsApp, you get the basics such as chats, group chats, and channels. However, unlike WhatsApp’s 256 member limit, Telegram brings support for groups with up to 200,000 members. It also offers multiple group-specific features such as bots, polls, quizzes, hashtags, and a lot more which can make group experiences a lot more fun.

The app also offers a unique feature, self-destructing messages (like Snapchat) which is great if you’re sending messages that you don’t want to remain on the recipient’s device for eternity. The size limit for sharing files on Telegram is a whopping 1.5 GB. The app now has both voice and video call on Android and iOS devices, which is great because video call support was a big omission from the app.

Signal

Signal offers its users secure messaging, voice, and video calls and all communications are end-to-end encrypted. Further, you can create groups, however, you don’t have the option to broadcast messages to multiple contacts at once. Plus, Signal has recently added support for group calling as well.

It has a feature similar to the self-destructing messages of Telegram. The best feature of Signal is “Note to Self”. Unlike WhatsApp, you don’t have to create a single-member group to send notes to yourself. On Signal, the feature is available natively and you can jot down your thoughts and ideas while messaging with your friends and family.

Apart from that, Signal allows you to relay voice calls to its servers so your identity remains concealed from your contacts. The feature is somewhat similar to what a VPN does. There are also emojis and some privacy stickers, but they are very limited in comparison to WhatsApp and Telegram.

Security:

Whatsapp

The end to end encryption (E2E) introduced in 2016 on WhatsApp is available on every single mode of communication that the app enables. So all your messages, video calls, voice calls, photos, and anything else you share are end-to-end encrypted. WhatsApp uses the E2E protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems, which is the name behind Signal messenger. That’s a good thing, because the Signal protocol is open source, widely peer-reviewed, and is generally considered one of the best protocols for implementing end-to-end encryption in messaging platforms.

However, WhatsApp does not encrypt backups (cloud or local). Also, it does not encrypt the metadata which is used to carry communication between two endpoints. This is one of the major criticisms of WhatsApp’s security model. While metadata does not allow anyone to read your messages, it lets authorities know whom and when you messaged someone, and for how long.

All in all, WhatsApp does a pretty decent job of ensuring security for its users. That being said, WhatsApp has suffered a couple of major privacy nightmares, especially the recent issue with group chats getting indexed on Google search. That issue has been fixed, however, it was not a good look for the messaging app.

Telegram

Telegram does offer some level of protection to its users. While Telegram supports E2E encryption, it’s not enabled by default. The only way to use E2E encryption on Telegram is to use its secret chats feature. However, Telegram states that it manages its message storage and decryption keys in a way that one would require court orders from multiple legal systems around the world to be able to access any of your data. The company says that it has shared 0 bytes of data with third-parties and governments to this date.

Telegram groups are not encrypted because Secret Chats are only supported for single-user communication. Moreover, Telegram’s desktop client doesn’t support E2E encryption on any platform other than macOS.

Signal

Signal is by far the best when it comes to security, be it on the back-end or the user-facing side of the service. Signal uses the open-source Signal Protocol to implement end-to-end encryption. And just like WhatsApp, the E2E encryption covers all forms of communication on Signal.

Signal goes one step further than others and encrypts your metadata too. To protect user privacy from all corners, Signal devised a new way to communicate between the sender and the recipient and it’s called Sealed Sender. Basically, with Sealed Sender, no one will be able to know not even Signal who is messaging whom, which ensures ultimate privacy. Signal by default encrypts all the local files with a 4-digit passphrase. And if you want to create an encrypted local backup then you can do that as well. The app now also supports encrypted group calls.

All in all, in terms of security and privacy protection, Signal stands head and shoulder above WhatsApp and Telegram and that makes it the most secure messaging app between the three.

What data does each app collect?

Following is the list of data that each of the three messaging apps collects from their users:

WhatsApp
Device ID
User ID
Advertising Data
Purchase History
Coarse Location
Phone Number
Email Address
Contacts
Product Interaction
Crash Data
Performance Data
Other Diagnostic Data
Payment Info
Customer Support
Product Interaction
Other User Content

Telegram
Contact Info
Contacts
User ID

Signal
None. (The only personal data Signal stores is your phone number)

(Story Courtesy: India Today; Picture Courtesy: Tech Life)

Trump Scrambles To Find New Social Network After Twitter Ban, As White House Prepares To Blast Big Tech

Twitter’s decision to ban President Trump mere days before the end of his term sparked a fierce political backlash among his most fervent allies on Saturday, sending some of his supporters — and the White House itself — scrambling to find another potent tool to communicate online.

Many prominent conservatives — including Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rush Limbaugh, the leading voice in right-wing radio — reacted to Trump’s suspension by blasting Twitter, quitting the site outright or encouraging the president’s loyal following to turn to alternative services. Trump himself signaled he is in negotiations to join other social networks, and he raised the possibility he could create a new online platform on his own.

For now, the White House is considering an early push as soon as Monday against Twitter and other tech giants, blasting it for having silenced the president’s ability to reach supporters while calling for fresh regulation against Silicon Valley, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Trump, who is apoplectic about being banned, plans to spend the final days of his term in office railing against the industry, the person said.

Yet Trump’s threats also underscore his reliance on the very social media sites he has long disparaged for perceived political biases. On Twitter, the outgoing president frequently leveraged his more than 88 million followers to savage his rivals, boost allies, and sometimes spread falsehoods on a viral scale.

This vast online reach offered Trump an online megaphone that was unparalleled in American politics. But his rhetoric was also vitriolic — the consequences of which turned deadly after a mob of his supporters seized on his baseless tweets about the 2020 election and stormed the U.S. Capitol this week.

The president and his allies now face a daunting technical and logistical challenge in relocating to a new social network or setting up their own online hub, which is likely to be much smaller than the grand audiences Trump had enjoyed until recently. A shift away from mainstream platforms would mark a retreat to more insular conservative communities and threaten to exacerbate the partisan divisions in a country that Trump already had left on edge.

“For more casual supporters of the president, I think they will receive his messages less frequently,” said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who studies issues including disinformation.

“Obviously, he will have millions of hardcore supporters tuned into broadcast sources still carrying his messages, or [they will] go into whatever online space he occupies … but that is going to be a smaller, more devoted group,” Brooking said, expressing fears they may become “extremely radicalized.”

Trump’s removal from Twitter came as part of a broader reckoning late Friday across much of the mainstream Web, as tech giants including Apple, Facebook and Google took unprecedented steps to discipline apps, users and accounts seen as instrumental in stoking the violence that left lawmakers under lockdown earlier in the week.

Before it banned Trump, Twitter removed a slew of users affiliated with QAnon, a prominent conspiracy theory. Google-owned YouTube suspended channels associated with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former campaign manager. And Apple and Google both removed Parler, a pro-Trump app where users have threatened further violence, from their portals for smartphone software downloads. Apple announced its move late Saturday, saying the app is suspended until it improve its content-moderation practices. Amazon delivered the biggest blow Saturday, saying it would stop offering its web hosting services to Parler, a move that threatens to darken the conservative site indefinitely. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post).

The actions reflect a new vigor on the part of Silicon Valley to punish those that have peddled harmful content — from election disinformation to hate speech and violent threats. Congressional lawmakers, digital researchers and human-rights groups praised the moves this week, even as they decried them as too little, too late, coming near the end of Trump’s term.

But the bans amounted to a digital massacre in the eyes of Trump’s conservative allies, many of whom decried them as censorship. One of Trump’s top allies, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), pledged he is “more determined than ever” to try to terminate legal protections for Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, faulting them for censorship. Limbaugh deleted his Twitter account, and fellow talk-radio host Mark Levin also announced he would leave, encouraging users to do the same. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., posted a widely watched video on Facebook that warned supporters it is only a matter of time until social media companies “inevitably throw us all off the platforms they so heavily censor and regulate only one way.” He solicited Trump supporters to sign up for alerts on his website.

“I’ll let you know where I end up, my father ends up, where we can direct ourselves so we can keep this going,” Trump Jr. said. On Friday, Trump threatened to decamp to a new social networking serving almost immediately after Twitter banned him, vowing he would “not be SILENCED!!” — and promising a “big announcement soon.” More than any other social service, the loss of Twitter seemed to strike a personal note: Trump had been obsessed with the platform, and he loved to post a tweet and time how long it would take to command attention on television. He often would pull out his phone and say, “Watch this, bingbingbing,” recalled senior administration officials. And Trump regularly would tell senators, world leaders and others about his most popular posts, scrolling through his mentions for feedback and ideas. The White House on Saturday declined to comment on the president’s plans or timing.

Already, though, Trump’s team has been inundated with requests for him to join alternate social networks — and his emissaries have entertained conversations with other companies. But Trump has told allies he prefers to launch his own services, according to two aides, who cautioned it may be infeasible and expensive. He also plans to hammer lawmakers in the coming days for failing to repeal Section 230, a provision of federal law that spares tech giants from being held liable for the content posted by their users. Such a repeal could have backfired on Trump, some experts note, resulting in his removal from Twitter sooner.

Parscale, his former campaign manager, encouraged the president on Saturday to strike out on his own. “I believe the best avenue for POTUS is to use his own app to speak to his followers,” he said. If Apple or Google block the service, Parscale added, Trump has “a clear path to a victorious lawsuit against them.”

Even before the Capitol riot led to his suspension, Trump had weighed turning to other social media services. In the summer of 2019, aides to Trump at the White House and others on his reelection campaign discussed joining Parler, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump even invited Parler’s top executive to the White House as part of a broader social media summit that summer where he blasted Silicon Valley over unproven allegations that they censor conservatives online.

A locked, private account with the name @realDonaldTrump — the same username the president once had on Twitter — appears to have sat dormant on the site since this June. The president’s campaign — under the account Team Trump — also has had an active account on Parler dating back to 2018. On Saturday, the Team Trump account blitzed their roughly 3 million followers with posts that faulted Twitter for having censored the president. Parler did not respond to a request for comment.

Another conservative hub online, Gab, took to Twitter to reveal it had a “big call with someone very special” scheduled on Saturday. The company did not mention Trump or anyone else by name, but later tweeted a story mentioning the president’s negotiations with potentially new social services, fueling speculation.

Like other pro-Trump online communities, Gab departs from much of Silicon Valley by eschewing aggressive enforcement against content that its critics see as harmful, dangerous and violent. Asked about Gab’s tweet, the company’s chief executive, Andrew Torba, responded with an insult and otherwise declined to comment. Gab later tweeted Saturday that “threats of violence have no place” on the site, noting it has “tens of thousands of volunteer users” who monitor it.

Several advisers said they believed Trump is unlikely to quickly join an outlet like Parler because he feels it doesn’t have the influence. Earlier this year, the president himself also told aides from the 2020 campaign, the White House and the Republican National Committee that he would have his own platform, but repeatedly declined to name it, saying only it would be coming “soon.”

But the president also would face a daunting task in standing up his own social network, which could be an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. Social media sites are attractive to users only insofar as they manage to capture a large number of them and their friends. Trump may struggle to incubate such an audience given the overtly political nature of his digital endeavor, some experts said.

“It’s very hard to build a new network,” said Yochai Benkler, the co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “Maybe he’s so big and important he could get some millions of people to join a network. The economics will make it much more insular and internal. … Networks benefit from being an option for people to reach lots of different people.”

But Trump’s quest to rebuild his online reach — securing himself a prominent voice as he prepares to relinquish the presidency — marks only the latest effort on the part of Republicans to serve as their own information gatekeepers. The party and its allies dominated talk radio starting in the late 1980s, set their sights on cable news in the ’90s and in more recent years have stood up a wide array of websites that operate under the banner of conservative news. Social media, experts said, is simply the next frontier.

“The quote-unquote liberal bias of the media is not simply an assertion, it’s a taken-for-granted reality on the right,” said Lawrence Rosenthal, the chair of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, adding that many conservatives now see the same bias in Silicon Valley. “It is the current incarnation of something that has been taken for granted on the right for decades and decades.”

(Story Courtesy: https://oltnews.com; Picture Courtesy: The Day)

WHO ARE YOU?

This question, when I heard it for the first time, really raised my blood pressure with a bit of anger raged in my subconscious mind. He was staring at me as if I am a stranger, seeing him for the first time. I have been reading his favorite books and sometimes feeding him for the last few months, all turned futile and null today.
I have been volunteering in a reputed Retirement Home in Kentucky, often with my boss Robert Meihaus during our weekends. This Resident who has been an Executive Officer with Reserve Bank of India for more than 30 years is now under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. He very rarely speaks and his soft and feeble talks in Kannada and Hindi, could not be recognized by the Caregivers; that is where my services were of great importance to the facility.

Once I understood the depth of the disease tormenting his brain; gradually I became very patient and did spend my time according to his wishes. Every time I went to his room, miserably I was a stranger to him.
In the United States, an estimated 5.4 million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This catastrophic figure is growing rapidly with the aging population.
Let me reiterate some thoughts on this tormenting disease I recently read, which elaborates the importance of our Coconut Oil to deal and manage this hiding enemy, which might have already hooked some of our relatives, or maybe awaiting for us at the threshold to creep in at any moment.
One of them to be a model patient on this topic is Mr. Stevenson. His wife, Dr. MarIanne learned that her husband had severe Alzheimer’s disease. (Thanks Dr. Mary and Steve Newport)
“When the doctor examined her husband at the hospital, he asked Stevenson to paint a clock. Instead, he drew a few circles and then drew a few figures without any logic. It was not like a clock at all!.
The doctor pulled her aside and said: “Your husband is already on the verge of severe Alzheimer’s disease!”
It turned out that it was a test of whether a person had Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. MarIanne was very upset at that time, but as a doctor, she would not just give up. She began to study the disease. She found out Alzheimer’s disease was associated with glucose deficiency in the brain.
Her research says: “The dementia of the elderly is like having diabetes in the head! Before one has the symptoms of diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease, the body has already had problems for 10 to 20 years.”
According to Dr. Marianne’s study, Alzheimer’s disease is very similar to Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. The cause is also an insulin imbalance. Because insulin has a problem, it prevents the brain cells from absorbing glucose. Glucose is the nutrition of brain cells. Without glucose, brain cells die. As it turns out, these high-quality proteins are the cells that feed our bodies. But nutrition for our brain cell is glucose. As long as we have mastered the source of these two kinds of food, we are the masters of our own health!
The next question is, where to find glucose? It cannot be the ready-made glucose that we buy from the store. It is not from fruits such as grapes. She started looking for alternatives. Ketones are necessary for brain cells. Ketones cannot be found in vitamins. 
*Coconut oil* contains triglycerides. After the triglycerides in *coconut oil* is consumed, it is metabolized into ketones in the liver. This is the alternative nutrient for brain cells!
After this scientific verification, Dr. Marianne added *coconut oil* to her husband’s food. After only two weeks, when he went to the hospital again to do painting and clock tests, the progress was amazing.
Dr. Marianne said: “At that time, I thought, has God heard my prayers? Wouldn’t it be coconut oil that worked? But there is no other way. Anyway, it’s better to continue taking the*coconut oil*. Dr. Marianne clearly knew the capabilities of traditional medicine. 

This progress was not only intellectual but also emotional and physical.: “He could not do his running earlier, but now he can run. He could not read for a year and a half, but he can read again now after taking *coconut oil* for three months.”
Her husband’s actions had already begun to change. He did not speak in the mornings. Now she noticed a lot of changes: “Now after he gets up, he is spirited, talking and laughing. He drinks water himself and takes utensils for himself on his own.” On the surface, these are very simple daily tasks, but only those who have come to the clinic or have demented relatives at home can experience the joy: It is not easy to see such progress!
After frying the greens & onions in coconut oil, making cakes with coconut, after taking 3 to 4 tablespoons of coconut oil per meal, 2-3 months later, his eyes too can now focus normally.
Her studies proved that *coconut oil* can improve the problem of dementia in the elderly. Apply *coconut oil* to bread. When coconut cream is used, the taste is unexpectedly good.
Dementia is caused because nutrients cannot be transported to brain cells, and nutrients must be passed from the body to the brain by insulin. Especially for diabetic patients it’s not easy to get insulin secretion. “Nutrition cannot get to the brain. When brain cells are starved to death, they are deprived of intelligence.”
*Coconut oil* contains medium-chain triglyceride, which can supply nutrients to the brain without using insulin. So, it can improve Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. You won’t lose anything by trying this, as coconut oil is natural and has no side effects.
I also hear that many scientific studies are happening in clinical trials, to stop the hidden death clock that is inside each of our cells: because many experts affirm that the same death clock is the root cause of virtually all aging and chronic diseases.
Be not be scared to survive in an increasingly dangerous world: though we do not know what is in store for us!

Anshumali Shrivastava Discovers New Way to Filter Fake News

Using machine learning, a team of U.S. researchers led by Indian American computer scientist Anshumali Shrivastava at Rice University has discovered an efficient way for social media companies to keep misinformation from spreading online.
Their method applies machine learning in a smarter way to improve the performance of Bloom filters, a widely used technique devised a half-century ago.
Using test databases of fake news stories and computer viruses, Shrivastava and statistics graduate student Zhenwei Dai showed their Adaptive Learned Bloom Filter required 50 percent less memory to achieve the same level of performance as learned Bloom filters.
To explain their filtering approach, Shrivastava and Dai cited some data from Twitter.
The social media giant recently revealed that its users added about 500 million tweets a day, and tweets typically appeared online one second after a user hit send.
“Around the time of the election they were getting about 10,000 tweets a second, and with a one-second latency that’s about six tweets per millisecond,” Shrivastava said.
“If you want to apply a filter that reads every tweet and flags the ones with information that’s known to be fake, your flagging mechanism cannot be slower than six milliseconds or you will fall behind and never catch up.”
If flagged tweets are sent for an additional, manual review, it’s also vitally important to have a low false-positive rate.
In other words, you need to minimize how many genuine tweets are flagged by mistake.
“If your false-positive rate is as low as 0.1%, even then you are mistakenly flagging 10 tweets per second, or more than 800,000 per day, for manual review,” Shrivastava said.
“This is precisely why most of the traditional AI-only approaches are prohibitive for controlling the misinformation.”
The new approach to scanning social media is outlined in a study presented at the online-only 2020 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2020).
Shrivastava said Twitter doesn’t disclose its methods for filtering tweets, but they are believed to employ a Bloom filter, a low-memory technique invented in 1970 for checking to see if a specific data element, like a piece of computer code, is part of a known set of elements, like a database of known computer viruses.
A Bloom filter is guaranteed to find all code that matches the database, but it records some false positives too.
“A Bloom filter allows to you check tweets very quickly, in a millionth of a second or less. If it says a tweet is clean, that it does not match anything in your database of misinformation, that’s 100% guaranteed,” Shrivastava noted.
Within the past three years, researchers have offered various schemes for using machine learning to augment Bloom filters and improve their efficiency.
“When people use machine learning models today, they waste a lot of useful information that’s coming from the machine learning model,” Dai said.

The Truth Behind The Indian Farmers Protests: Experts Weigh In At Webinar By IAPC

“Media projection is more important on the Farmers’ agitation in India; and as a responsible media club, Indo American Press Club is prompted to impact the mainstream western media for global narrative,” Ambassador Pradeep Kumar Kapoor said while presiding over the Zoom Meeting hosted by Indo-American Press Club (IAPC) on “ What’s the truth behind the Indian Farmers Protest?” on Saturday 26th December 2020.
Since 26 November, farmers have been protesting outside Delhi’s borders, demanding the Farm Bills’ repeal. Indo American Press Club hosted several Zoom Meetings on this complex current issues facing the nation, with vibrant participation by diplomats and political analysts from different parts of the world.
Dr. Joseph Chalil, Chairman of Indo American Press Club introduced and welcomed the invited guest speakers. In his introductory remarks, Dr. Chalil shared with the audience about some of the initiatives under the new leadership, including the series of discussions by world renowned experts from around the world on several current topics including Indo-US Relationship under Biden-Harris administration.
Ambassador Pradeep Kapur, a Best Selling Author of Beyond Covid 19 Pandemic and former Ambassador of India to Chile and to Cambodia, and Secretary at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, was the chair leading the discussions. In his initial observations, he said that the struggle of the Indian farmers has gained much global attention, but remain uncompromised. Instead of holding on the ‘no discussions, until repealing all the bill’ both the farmers and the government need direct discussion for an amicable settlement.
Mr. Yogesh Andley; Director, WHEELS Charitable Foundation, Co-founder of Nucleus Software, explained the background of APMC and the evolution of Mandis nearly 50 years ago. He educated the audience as to how the rice and wheat procured at Rs.18 or Rs.19 reaches at Rs.35 at retail level, but distributed at Rs.2 or Rs.3 providing food security to millions of Indians. He also expressed the fear of the farmers that the private sector may buy at higher prices in the beginning, but lower down the prices dangerously.
Mr. Khanderao Kand, Director of the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS), a Washington DC-based think tank working on India and Indian-related studies on socioeconomic, political and international security matters, elaborated about how the Indian situation has changed from a poor country to an exporter of food products like rice and wheat. He condensed the view that the Indian government is not closing the ‘Mandis’, but encouraging to open more local markets in each village. He stated that the farmers are afraid that the new laws will lead to contract farming and losing their farmlands to few corporates eventually.
Mr. Vimal Goyal; CPA and also industrialist from Long Island, NY expressed a different perspective on economic considerations. He affirmed the view that the latest one is the most comprehensive farmers bill, as the farmers were left behind with no recognitions so far. He was of the opinion that this bill is going to promote the abundance of rice and wheat. He also mentioned that the poor farmers do not have resources of e-commerce or transporting facilities, and hence they have to resort on the greedy private middlemen, most often.
Dr. Nishit Choksi; a world renowned Interventional Cardiologist from Michigan raised the question who is actually leading the protest- the poor farmers or the greedy middlemen or dalaals?. He narrated the history that no development happened in Punjab or Haryana during the last 30 years, even though many rivers and dams are provided years back. According to him, these laws are nothing new, but good for the nation: the government should properly educate the farmers.
Mr. Narender Kapoor expressed his views to escalate the importance of the situations rather than concentrating on academic discussions. He alerted that the movement and agitation shall not be vulnerable to hijacking.
Dr. Shyam Klvekar from London urged that we need more communication with end-users. Many of the participants raised different questions and were answered by the learned panelists. Ambassador Pradeep Kumar Kapoor summarized the salient features of the diplomatic and analytical discussions.
Dr. Renee Mehrra, a tenacious broadcaster with a burning passion and one of the most prominent broadcast journalists in the tri-state area was the moderator of the event balancing the various issues and views expressed by the participants. The zoom meeting was concluded with the vote of thanks expressed by Ajay Ghosh, Founder President and Present Director of IAPC.

30 Writing Prompts about Love: What is a writing prompt?

A prompt is a writing exercise in the form of a single word, phrase, or even a photo used as a starting point to focus and practice creative writing. This exercise is important for writers of any level to expand their craft and explore new grounds. It can be the inspiration behind an idea, an article, or even a whole work of fiction. The point is to begin writing whether it is on the specific topic of the prompt or an entirely different one that you wander to.
Why use writing prompts?
Overcome writer’s block. There is nothing more daunting than a blinking cursor on your screen. Whether you are in the middle of your piece or trying to come up with something new, a prompt can get you going in a new direction. Resetting your brain to a new angle can be just what you need to finish your work or turn on a creative light bulb.
Expand creatively. Working with prompts can actually be a great way to start building your own ideas. Some prompts can lead you to new avenues that you have not yet explored as a writer. The more you wander into new territories, the more imaginative and creative your writing can be. In addition, the materials you end up writing following a prompt can in fact prove to be worth pursuing. You never know what could come out once you start writing, sometimes, it can be way more than you expected.
Form a habit. If you are an aspiring writer, you might be struggling with making a habit out of writing or finishing your pieces on time. Doing more and more writing exercises can be genuinely beneficial to improve your skills as well as help you write more regularly. The more you train your brain using these prompts, the easier you will find writing to be.
Get immersed in the community. During your search for writing prompts, you will encounter many blogs, forums, and Facebook groups that share ideas, review writing and offer support. Getting involved in these communities can be great for any writer in order to meet like-minded people and form meaningful relationships with fellow writers.
30 writing prompts about love and relationships
Writing about love may seem trivial to some, but it is actually one of the most sought-after genres of fiction. Love is at the core of the human condition, and it is what drives us to do a lot of what we do even if it is irrational or strange. That’s why love is at the center of any powerful story from Wuthering Heights to Star Wars.

It is not the easiest thing to write about love especially with so many clichés out there. To write a realistic and moving love story, whether it is romantic or Platonic, a writer must dig deep within themselves and be truly vulnerable in their expression. It means to look past the clichés and tropes and find the truth between characters.

Even if writing about love is not your forte or your preferred genre, a spice of love in your horror, thriller, or adventure piece of fiction is necessary for an emotional dimension to your storytelling.
So without further ado, here are 30 writing prompts that can inspire your next piece of writing:

  • Friends with benefits: happily ever after or a terrible idea?
  • Enemies forced to work on a common goal: will they or won’t they?
  • Their break up was a mistake but is it too late?
  • They are from different worlds. Can they find a way?
  • Lies have corrupted their relationship. Is there room for a second chance?
  • Forced apart by reasons beyond their control. Will they ever find their way back?
  • Afraid of rejection: what happens when you risk it all for love?
  • Fighting for a cause: romance within the wreckage
  • What happens when they reveal their true supernatural selves?
  • When time travel and love collide in a single second. Can they find each other?
  • They found love in a lucid dream. Can it become a reality?
  • Can love survive with a workaholic partner?
  • How to hold on to the person of your dreams?
  • How to choose the perfect partner for you?
  • How to make your partner feel loved?
  • Signs your relationship is healthy
  • Red flags that mean you need to run from your relationship
  • How does love make you a better person?
  • How can an unhealthy relationship affect you?
  • Communication: the key to a successful relationship
  • Love clichés that actually ring true
  • Unexpected places to meet new people
  • Finding love in a hopeless place
  • The most challenging parts of maintaining a relationship
  • The unforgivable sins of love, lust, and betrayal
  • How to save a failed relationship?
  • Can long distance really work?
  • How to revive romance in a dead relationship?
  • How to heal a broken heart?
  • The power of ‘I love you’

Love is all around us wherever we look. From the love our mothers give us to the support we shower our friends with finding the one, love is an essential part of your story. When you write characters, love has to be part of their story too. These prompts can help you find the angle of romance in your fiction piece or inspire you to write your own version.