Internet Shutdowns, The Ugly truth

And how you can survive them

Credits: Please Shut Down, illustration by Emmanuel Hyronimus

Internet access is nowadays a fundamental human right coined by the UN Human Rights Council, adopted in 2016 by resolution.

 

However, not all governments respect it, especially not around elections. Across Asia and Africa several governments tried to silence speech through what is called “an internet shutdown”, where access to certain platforms, especially social media, is either restricted or blocked, altogether.

 

If you read through the first statements of the 32nd session of the UN resolution, the document outlines the importance of preserving internet access as a fundamental human right, “recognizing that the spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies”.

 

So having an open and free online environment is not only a matter of rights, but also a condition for progress.

 

Not only the right to freedom of opinion and expression, or the right to privacy in the digital age, but also innovation and influencing elections is at stake, in the opposite scenario.

 

In the case of innovation, let’s take the example of net neutrality. This concept argues in favor of keeping an unobstructed online environment as a sine qua non for online freedom, but also innovation and it sure makes a strong case.

 

Imagine that broadband providers had the liberty of picking favorites, of deciding which service you may or may not access while using their internet service. They could limit or even block access to some products or services, while creating “fast lanes” for others, thus controlling information flow and traffic. New technologies might never see the light of day.

 

 

To go even further, imagine your ISP blocking or limiting access to services like Youtube, when Youtube came to shape 18 years ago. Had that been the case, Youtube as we know it, might not even exist today, or not at the same scale, maybe not at all.

 

Internet shutdowns on the other hand are a different kind of evil, meaning that they usually happen around or during elections and that they usually don’t last long as the economic costs could quickly spiral into hundreds of millions of dollars. However, no less than 134 internet shutdowns occurred in India alone, in 2018. 2019 recorded 19 shutdowns already in the same country, the most recent, just a few days ago “following the terrorist attack against the militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s (Pulwama district, India, 14th of February 2019) in which 45 CRPF personnel died and many others got injured when a Jaish suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a CRPF bus, Jammu observed a complete shutdown and Mobile Internet services were suspended on 15th February 2019” (source).

 

So be wary when you hear the “fake news”, national security, public safety reasoning as this may only be a manipulating maneuver to conveniently stop protests from happening and ultimately control elections. And as the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

 

Credits: Mindshots VII, illustration, Sergio Ingravalle

Let’s also set some expectations before we go on, you can’t really escape a total internet shutdown.

 

Not really, but you can always try Firechat. Take the example of the “Occupy Central” movement in Hong Kong protests back in 2014, when the concern that the government might cut reception, made protesters head to Firechat, an app that does not require a network to work, functioning on a peer to peer mesh network. The protesters used Firechat to exchange information, figure out which road was blocked by the police and coordinate. There are limits however in using your phone as a “walkie-talkie” that for the sake of the argument we needed to point out.

Not counting Firechat, escaping a total internet shutdown can be a very daunting task.

For partial shutdowns, however, there are plenty of solutions that you can use in order to overcome limitations.

 

 

 

 

We’ll list the best that we can think of, below:

1. Become Security Savvy

be aware of the websites you visit and whether they use an SSL certificate, these are the https sites, providing secure browsing while on a particular website.

2. Use a VPN Service like MyIP.io or any other that you trust

a reliable VPN service that keeps your data extra safe, traveling through a tunnel encrypted from end to end, so nobody, not even your ISP will be able to make sense of it, since all your information will go through the VPN server and not your ISP’s. You will also be able to bypass geo-restriction.

3. Use encrypted messaging apps like Signal or any other that you trust

use encrypted messaging and voice-calling similar with Telegraph or Wire.

New Year’s Online Security Resolutions

12 Months in Retrospect

2018 this gotta staaahp!

Credits: Low Meiling, Dreamer

Fighting the urge of posting yet another facebook post reading “2018, this gotta staaahp!” as I reminisce this year in all its glory is something I can definitely shake. Or can I? Looking back at 2018, as cliche as it may be if you do that in late December, means you too have been sucked by the new year’s resolutions current. So try not to fight it as it swallows you whole, after all, making resolutions kind of makes sense.

Facebook Scandal

Starting with Facebook scandal in April and following with net neutrality repeal in May, 2018 was ringing alarm bells in online security and rightly so with a double sworded twist, both on the technology and law enforcement standpoints. Digital privacy concerns culminated however this summer, when both Russia and China decided to ban VPN services, thus preventing government censorship to be undermined by virtual private networks any longer or by other anonymous browsing tools.

In spite of the orwellian scenario, it’s not yet clear how the censorship ordeal will play out in 2019 and there are still a lot of VPN services that still work in China and Russia.

The EU Copyright Directive

The link tax, censorship machines and the so called posible balkanisation of the web, happening this fall at the request of the EU Copyright Directive raised a lot of concerns under three articles that seemed to have control of informational flow at stake. If passed in January of next year, in the current form, the bill might damage the way we use the internet and online freedom of expression in a major way.

Failing to redefine these articles, might lead to permanent surveillance, damaging the open and free internet as we know it with great implication on innovation, proving that sometimes the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

Net Neutrality

Just as in the case of net neutrality repeal in the USA, these articles of the EU directive are seen as enemies of innovation. Advocates of net neutrality argue in the favor of keeping an unobstructed online field as a vital part of innovation. Their concern is very valid and should be a cause worth fighting for all of us.

New Year’s Security Resolutions in 2019

In the sharing, internet economy, data is the currency, an informational and economic asset capable of traveling the speed of light in a vacuum, when going through state of the art optical fibers. Able to operate at 99.7% the speed of light according to researchers at the University of Southampton in England. (source: Extreme Tech)

The digital world is now creating tangible value from big data so expect internet privacy to take an even more prominent route in the future.

Nowadays, security must come in layers, not only in the corporate environment, but on a personal level also.

Here are a few things you might want to consider for an overall improved security of your online privacy and data.

Get a VPN service for all your devices:

The number one thing you need to get in line with is having a VPN connection. It’s really simple to use and just like that poof! your data travels through an encrypted tunnel, safe from prying eyes and encrypted all the while. You basically need to pay a monthly subscription and rock on. It’s important that you don’t chose a free VPN as free VPN services are sure to get their profits elsewhere and it’s usually on your broadband expense. So avoid using unreliable free services that offer protection, but are in fact jeopardizing it.

Taking hold of your own digital footprint requires savvy, educated users, that know their rights and are not willing to compromise when it comes to their own privacy.

It’s easy to understand why more and more people resort to using a VPN service, rather than letting their information “fly” to unknown servers where they can be stored indefinitely.

Password Managers

Another simple step you can take to ensure your passwords are strong and that you have them all in order. Passwords managers are not written in stone, so naturally they can be hacked, but is far less likely to have your password hacked than it is to have one and the same password for multiple platforms and have your data compromised by relying on your memory alone.

2Factor Authentification

We know it can be annoying to have an extra layer of access when you’re in a hurry, but remember you will not be prompted with a 2fact auth method if you don’t switch devices often.

Back Up

Back up is the most obvious security measure that you can take, but people are often just not doing it. Regardless if you back up locally on a hard drive or in the cloud, you can do the extra mile and encrypt everything before backing up your data and you can be certain that your data is safe or that you can at least do a roll back to the most recent version previously saved.

Taking a few measures to securely navigate the valley of post-truth are of the essence in fearing no evil. Keeping our heads clear and taking action to protect the digital environment we expose ourselves to on a daily, without having to go to extreme lengths to do so, is the way to go in 2018.

Having a VPN in place is the smart approach to getting around all this. Think at a VPN as the middleman between you and the internet, where your ISP can only see a bunch of encrypted traffic. And since your VPN knows as much as your ISP would, it’s very important to choose a reliable one with a zero log policy and a strong encryption.

Services like MyIP.io will offer you a self-managed VPN platform, delivering fast, secure and reliable VPN service . This platform caters to a wide demographic through three channeled directions: Personal, Dedicated and Business, so it makes for a wonderful choice for corporate or personal use at the same time. Whatever provider you may chose, remember that the smart approach is to use a VPN service that you feel is the best match for you. Until then, stay smart, use a VPN!

Attention Hijacking, AI, Elon Musk and Other Revelations

The Rise Of Surveillance Capitalism. The truth.

Photo Credit: The Matrix, movie screenshot

As the book Funky Business puts it “the internet is neither good or bad- the internet just is.” Noting a few possible scenarios of how we could use the internet to do harm or good, the book goes to show that the simple inventory of all the things that could go wrong with the internet, also means missing the point and a lot of opportunity.

Today, almost 2 decades after the release of Funky Business, several other important business books are heavily criticizing the market capitalism, raising cause for concern on what capitalism is turning into in the internet, digitalized age. These theories bring to the forefront more of the negative scenarios that could potentially turn dark, in the internet age, stating  valid reasons for concern.

Some of the predictions in these books have since come true, on both sides, good and bad, the whole nine yards.

We clearly see today how we are shifting to a new form of capitalism, something called “surveillance capitalism” as Soshana Zuboff predicted, e-business guru and former Harvard professor. This new kind of political and economical system predicted by Zuboff relies on a business model that is looking to hook us all together to this larger than life networks, constantly profiting off one valuable resource: our undivided attention, cashing in on customer data extraction.

Attention, a commodity that can be sold

Photo: Post-Truth Digital Art, Graphic Design, Illustration by Guillo H

But let’s just layoff for a while from books and theories and focus on attention (yeah, you read that right let’s focus on focus itself). You know how people usually say that “the internet offers free access to information” right? Well, think again. What if I told you that the information you are receiving, no matter the medium, is not really free. It comes at the cost of your attention. In other words, information consumes attention. And in the internet age, that means that attention is a commodity that can be sold. Now I know it all sounds straight out of a Morpheus meme, the charismatic Matrix character offering you a choice between the red and the blue pill, but it’s all true ( You hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability).

There are studies that show the exact dollar figure of your attention down to the hour. For Youtube for example, your attention can be estimated as being worth 4 cents an hour , for the company (You can read more on what is called attention hijacking in “The attention economy is eating our brains” by Dorian Peters here).

Not only does the internet age create products out of your gray matter, but it can also lead to excessive surveillance and the atomization of a police state, proving extremely dangerous in the wrong hands.

For the time being having a VPN in place is a real solution to overturn the effects of excessive surveillance or of any surveillance for that matter. Having your consumer data travel trough an encrypted tunnel from end to end, such a simple yet effective tool as a VPN can prove really helpful for anyone valuing privacy, while bypassing geo-restrictions to access content worldwide.

AI, a game of clones

3D Rendering Credit: Steve Barrett, Embrio III

But the latest word buzz in technology is not surveillance, nor is it attention, it comes in the form of AI. Perhaps many of us know Elon Musk’s technology endeavors, when it comes to electric cars, high speed transportation, reusable cargo rockets or solar panels through Tesla, Hyperloop, Space X and Solar City. However fewer have heard of his neurotechnology company Neuralink. Neuralink is a neuroscience company basically looking to build an interface for the brain.

 

In the HBO series Axios, Elon Musk shares a few revelations about AI technologies and how we could avoid the dangers and employ it instead for the greater good of humanity:

 

“Probably a bigger risk than being hunted down by a drone is that AI would be used to make incredibly effective propaganda that we’re not seeing like propaganda, influence the direction of society, influence elections. Artificial intelligence just hones the message, hones the message, checks, looks at the feedback, makes the message slightly better within milliseconds, it can adapt its message and shift and react to news.” Elon Musk, Axios, HBO serie, season 1, episode 3 – watch an extract of the interview here.

 

When asked about the interface to the brain Neuralink is trying to develop and when could such an interface implant be available, Elon Musks says: “It’s probably on the order of a decade. And by the way, you kindda have this already, in a weird way in that you have a digital tertiary layer in the form of your phone, your computers, you basically have this computing devices that form a tertiary layer on your cognition. Already.”

 

Easy to understand why so many studies show that we are in fact hard wired to like these digital constructs that could one day become a part of our biology.

 

All in all, we don’t know wether Elon is an enthusiast when he predicts one decade until these new technologies could be out on the market or if it’s in fact an accurate estimation of time. They laughed at Jules Verne and boy have they laughed at Elon.  In the end however, he seems to always have the last laugh, even if a little bitter.

 

 

Till then, reminding ourselves that attention is a finite resource, that putting our focus where we need it and leaving it there despite distractions is a job we have the responsibility to achieve on our own.