Tag: Internet

Internet shutdowns cut millions off

By Hanna Duggal for Al Jazeera

Over the past year, billions of people all over the world have relied heavily on Internet connectivity to keep in touch with family and friends, learn online, work from home and get vital information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet over the course of 2020, 29 countries intentionally shut down or slowed their internet communications at least 155 times, according to a new report published by Access Now, a non-profit digital rights group.

“We are extremely concerned how government authorities are using internet shutdowns as a systemised tool to repress democratic expression, even in the middle of a global pandemic,” Raman Jit Singh Chima, senior international counsel and Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now said.

Most shutdowns: India
Authorities in India shut down the internet 109 times over the course of 2020, mostly in Indian-administered Kashmir, which accounted for almost 90 percent of all internet shutdowns in India last year.

From January 2020 till February of this year, the internet in Indian-administered Kashmir was throttled to 2G, making life very difficult for many students in the state who had been moved to remote learning as a result of COVID-19.

“We weren’t able to attend our online classes regularly,” said Bazillah Ayoub, 24, a student at the Model Institute of Engineering and Technology in Jammu.

“We had a lot of issues – we were asked to submit our assignments which were sometimes 15MB or above that, which got uploaded after one or two hours. Due to that, we all have backlogs in our subjects because we have not submitted our assignments on time,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.

Internet shutdowns in Indian-administered Kashmir are a regular occurrence, with authorities citing precautionary measures as the main justification.

“Shutdowns are used to suppress voices of dissent,” said youth activist Kanwal Singh, 30. “We have been a conflict state for the last 70 years.”

People in Indian-administered Kashmir experienced one of the longest internet shutdowns in the world with a complete blackout from August 2019 to January 2020, after which the throttled speed of 2G was allowed. The authorities recently restored 4G services in Indian-administered Kashmir after 18 months.

Last year, India’s Supreme Court ordered a review into Kashmir’s internet shutdowns, stating that they were unconstitutional and violated India’s telecoms rules.

“Any government or authority is not doing charity by restoring the 4G services,” said Singh. “When the government restored 4G services everyone started celebrating, but the point is this is not charity. This is our right and everyone’s right because this is guaranteed by the Indian constitution.”

Elsewhere in Asia
In addition to India, the governments of Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam also blocked access to the internet in 2020.

Myanmar has imposed the longest shutdown recorded to date, which continued from 2019 through 2020 and up to early February this year in Rakhine and Chin states.

As mass protests continue in the country, internet services remain precarious, despite full internet access being restored by authorities in Rakhine and Chin after a military coup last month.

In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugee camps were cut off from high-speed internet for 415 days. The Rohingya Students Network said people in camps were unable to access vital health information during COVID-19 because of internet throttling.

Europe’s shutdowns
During the August 2020 Belarusian election, the government blocked social media channels including WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber and Twitter as well as VPNs and Tor browsers.

Despite this, protesters took to the streets to contest Alexander Lukashenko’s presidential victory. As a result, the government imposed a full internet shutdown from the night of August 9 to August 12, 2020.

Belarusian journalist Hanna Liubakova, who has been covering the protests in Belarus, told Al Jazeera, “It was very difficult to verify information and do fact-checking because we received a lot of user-generated content.”

“Telegram channels became really important for citizens because that was the only platform that kind of worked a little bit at least,” said Liubakova. “It became the main source of information for so many people and the trend continues right now.”

An increased number of internet shutdowns have been deployed in areas of conflict. During last year’s war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan shut down social media and communication to citizens for six weeks. The government said it had been done to prevent Armenian provocation.

In the Middle East
The country with the most internet shutdowns in the Middle East in 2020 has been Yemen, a country mired in armed conflict and humanitarian crisis. These shutdowns exacerbated the situation, making access to information and communication – both by Yemenis and by international organisations attempting to work in the country – very difficult.

In January 2020, 80 percent of internet capacity was cut in Yemen following reports of sabotage to fibre optic cables by Houthi rebels.

Jordan experienced three national shutdowns in 2020. The government restricted Facebook Live during a teachers’ union protest in July and August 2020. The Ministry of Education also blocked communication applications such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook during national exams.

Other Middle Eastern countries that shut down the internet include Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Algeria.

Africa’s shutdowns
Internet and telecommunication services have been shut down across several African countries including Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda.

In Ethiopia, 100 million people were plunged into a complete media blackout for two weeks following protests after the killing of Oromo musician, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa.

In Kenya, there were at least two reported internet disruptions in 2020 after two telecommunications towers were destroyed in Mandera County by the Somali armed group, al-Shabab.

Latin America
Internet shutdowns have also occurred in Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba.

In 2020, the Cuban government blocked access to Telegram, WhatsApp, Twitter, and other social media platforms for three days following rare large public protests decrying curbs to civil liberties.

What are the reasons behind internet shutdowns?
Governments have justified internet shutdowns citing fake news, precautionary measures, public safety and national security among other reasons.

The actual reasons for shutdowns have stemmed from political instability, elections, protests, communal violence, information control and exam cheating.

Seven countries including India, Guinea, Belarus, Burundi, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania and Togo shut down the internet during an election period in 2020.


AWS outage takes out a chunk of the Internet

By Jay Peters for The Verge

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s Internet infrastructure service that is the backbone of many websites and apps, experienced a major outage affecting a large portion of the Internet.

“Kinesis has been experiencing increased error rates this morning in our US-East-1 Region that’s impacted some other AWS services,” Amazon said in a statement to The Verge. “We are working toward resolution.” And, ironically, in a notice on the AWS Service Health Dashboard, Amazon said the issue has apparently “affected our ability to post updates” to that dashboard.

A number of apps and services have posted on Twitter about how the AWS outage is affected them — it seems the issue is fairly widespread:

  • Flickr
  • Adobe
  • Anchor
  • RSS
  • The New York subway

Downdetector.com also showed spikes in user reports of problems with many Amazon services.


How to delete yourself from the Internet

By Dave Johnson for Business Insider US

If you use the Internet in any capacity, your personal information is scattered everywhere online. You can get a sense of this by Googling your own name — you leave small traces of yourself with social media, online purchases, e-mail accounts, and more.

How to delete yourself from the Internet
It’s not easy, but it’s possible to erase most of your personal information footprint from the Internet. It might not even be advisable; employers, for example, expect to be able to find you online and may perform a background check, in part, with online searches. But if you’re intent on deleting yourself from the Internet, here’s how you can do it.

  1. Remove yourself from social media
    Your social media presence has the largest impact on your online footprint, so you should start here. It’s important to delete your accounts, not just log out or stop using them. Virtually all social media platforms have a formal process for closing your account. For example, see our article on how to deactivate your Facebook account. Visit every social media site you’ve used — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, and so on, and repeat the removal process. Most will completely delete your content within a short time, such as 30 days.
    If you’re not ready to commit to deleting all your social media, you can make your accounts private on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
  2. Delete yourself from people-finder and data collection sites
    Data collection sites — more commonly referred to as people-finder sites — make it their business to store enormous amounts of data about everyone, and a quick search probably shows that sites like Spokeo, Whitepages, and BeenVerified know who you are (and will sell that information to anyone who wants it). That’s barely half the problem because these data collectors don’t just sell data directly online — their primary business model is selling vast quantities of data to large organisations.
    You can manually delete yourself from these sites one at a time (many have opt-out pages, like this one at Spokeo) but it’s a Sisyphean task. You can hire an online service like Delete Me or Privacy Duck to do that for you. Be aware, it’s not cheap. Delete Me costs $129 per year, while Privacy Duck starts at $500 per year. And you’ll want an ongoing subscription because deleting your content from data collection sites is often only temporary, and you can find yourself reappearing in their database months later.
    Depending on where you live, you might have additional legal options.
  3. Delete your online shopping accounts
    The same is true for online retailers. Every website where you have made a purchase keeps some record and profile of you, so you should visit each site, such as Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, and anywhere else you have created an account and request deletion. Many retailers don’t include a link anywhere on their site for this. If you can’t find one, reach out to customer service. For example, you can contact Amazon’s customer service to request your account be deactivated and deleted.
  4. Remove old forum posts, comments, and discussions
    If you’ve gotten this far, your online presence is now probably fairly thin. But don’t forget about any presence you’ve left on websites in the form of comments, discussions, and forum posts. These will be the most difficult to remove, though — there’s no standard way to remove comments from a forum or at the bottom of any article, so your only viable option is to reach out to the website’s owner or site manager and request your content be deleted.
  5. Deactivate your e-mail accounts
    You’ll want to save this one for last, because you may need e-mail to stay in touch with websites you are trying to remove yourself from. But if you truly want to wipe your online presence clean, you will have to deactivate and delete your e-mail accounts as well.

This is where deleting yourself from the Internet may be wildly impractical — virtually everyone needs an e=mail account to exist in the 21st century. But you can remove all but one account, perhaps, and make that your single conduit to the Internet. Every e-mail service has a different way to deactivate accounts.


Source: Business Insider 

Information apparently drawn from a massive leak of its data is “on the Internet”, credit bureau Experian admitted on Tuesday night.

To date the company has insisted it had contained the breach, after handing over data on millions of South Africans, and bank account details of businesses, to someone it describes as a fraudster.

Now it says it will work to stop the further spread of the information.

As part of its investigation, “we have identified files which we believe contain Experian data relating to the incident on the internet,” Experian said in a statement.

“We continue to investigate these files and will take all steps available to us to reduce further dissemination if possible.”

It also claimed – in direct contradiction to a timeline it has confirmed – to have taken “immediate steps to make sure that individuals and businesses in South Africa could take steps to protect themselves” once it became aware of the breach.

Experian announced the breach publicly in August, and banks started to issue warnings to their customers that the leaked information may be used to scam them.

What the company failed to mention, until questioned by Business Insider South Africa, was that it had handed over the information in late May, and noticed it had done so nearly two months later, in July.

It took nearly another month to investigate and obtain a private seizure order to recover the hardware on which the data had been stored.

Only after that did Experian tell consumers about the breach.

Having seized the hardware, the company said, it had contained the incident.

“We have been monitoring the various platforms (i.e. the dark web) to ascertain whether the data is being offered for sale. We also employed a leading digital forensic investigator to assist us with our efforts,” Experian said, when Business Insider asked how it knew the information had not been sold or distributed in the nearly three months it was with the “fraudster”.

“Also, from our internal investigations we ascertained that the fraudster conducts an insurance and credit services market place and uses the information to contact consumers in order to offer services to consumers.”

Experian has not said how it initially failed to detect the spread of the information, or exactly how it intends to contain the data this time around.


By Jamie McKane for MyBroadband

The global COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdowns implemented by various countries have resulted in an explosion in broadband usage as more people work from home than ever before.

ISPs and infrastructure providers have had to adapt to this rapid shift in broadband traffic.

South African fibre networks, for example, provided customers with up to double their fibre line speeds through their Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

As a result of these lockdowns implemented around the world, the average broadband speed of many countries decreased substantially as networks struggled to meet the demand.

Cable.co.uk has published a report comparing average download speeds during national lockdowns around the world, factoring in the stringency of the lockdowns implemented in each country.

The research combined data from OxCGRT’s stringency index, which tracks government lockdown measures that specifically limit the behaviour of populations, with data from over 364 million broadband speed tests courtesy of M-Lab.

The region where broadband speeds dropped the most during lockdown was Central America, with an average drop of 26.03%.

“Only one of the six countries qualifying in this region experienced a rise (Costa Rica at +0.82%),” Cable.co.uk said.

“Meanwhile, Panama (-48.99%), Guatemala (-14.30%), Honduras (-3.69%), Mexico (-2.35%), and El Salvador (-0.01%) all experienced drops in speed of varying severity.”

South Africa broadband speed drop
South Africa saw a marginal average broadband speed drop of just over 5% during the period from 18 March to 30 June 2020, according to the report.

This was in line with other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, apart from Angola, which saw a significant increase of 117.19%.

It should be noted that a number of African countries were excluded from this comparison due to their lack of inclusion in the OxCGRT stringency index or their insufficient number of tests.

South Africa’s statistics are summarised below:

  • Average broadband speed change: -5.48%
  • Mean lockdown stringency: 57.31
  • Number of speed tests: 7,074,978
  • Average download speed during lockdown: 14.85Mbps
  • Average download speed outside of lockdown: 15.71Mbps
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 13 of the 14 qualifying countries recorded drops in measured internet speeds during their lockdown periods, with an average decrease of -14.24%.

“Angola bucked the trend in the region, showing a surprising increase of 117.19% during its lockdown period,” the report said.

“Meanwhile, Madagascar (-37.71%), Cote d’Ivoire (-30.77%), Ghana (-24.58%), and Nigeria (-20.84%) experienced the largest drops in measured speeds during their respective lockdowns.”

Cable.co.uk consumer telecoms analyst Dan Howdle said that they measured an average global broadband speed drop of 6.31%, which is a significant departure from the normal trend.

“Our annual global broadband speed tracker has demonstrated global increases of around 20% year-on-year since 2017,” Howdle said.

“For the majority of countries in this study to be moving in the opposite direction during their COVID-19 lockdowns, then, is all the more significant.”

“While it is impossible to attribute direct causality, our study shows a high correlation between lockdown periods around the world and dips in measured internet speeds, with some regions of the world measuring the most substantial drops, and others more or less unchanged,” Howdle said.

Important undersea cable breaks – again

By Stefan Mack for Briefly

The West African Cable System (WACS), an undersea Internet cable which is critical to South Africa’s communications infrastructure, has broken again.

The cable had broken earlier this year and resulted in a notable slowdown in SA’s internet speeds. A break has been reported in the cable, but it is not yet clear where the break is or if the damage is in the underwater part of the cable. The repairs would take longer and be more expensive underwater. If the break is on land it would be significantly easier and cheaper to repair.

The damage to the cable could leave some internet users without access, depending on the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Earlier this year, the same cable was damaged when pressure from a mudflow from the Congo River into the ocean.

Undersea cable repair could take up to a week

By Lisa Isaacs for IOL 

As gale-force winds let up slightly in Cape Town on Monday, the ship expected to effect repairs to underwater cables that failed and left parts of the continent with slow Internet, departed from Cape Town Harbour.

Strong winds battered the Cape over the past few days, trapping the cable repair ship due to effect repairs on the West Africa Cable System (WACS).

The South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) undersea fibre cable was damaged near Libreville, Gabon, while WACS was damaged near the Congolese coast, causing slow Internet speeds across parts of Africa since last Thursday.

South African social media users reported problems with MTN’s and Vodafone’s networks.

The SA National Research and Education Network (SA NREN) tweeted yesterday afternoon that the cable vessel was finally on its way to the cable depot quay.

“The weather situation in Cape Town has improved and the port reopened. The cable vessel expects to shift to the cable depot quay.”

When the vessel has loaded and departed, the expected duration to the location of the break is around six days.

Fixing the break will take another week at least, according to the SA NREN.

Internet service provider Afrihost, in a network status update yesterday, said it had purchased additional international bandwidth on other undersea cables to restore internet services to as close to normal as possible.

“This means that we will not be reliant on repairs to the damaged cables to deliver better international speeds and latency.

“Our team is currently working through the night to implement the additional capacity this evening or early tomorrow morning.”

At the weekend, web company Amphibic Design said: “Service providers are diverting traffic through another undersea cable, SEACOM/EASSY, which runs alongside the eastern coast of Africa.

“This ensures that South Africans can still access the internet, but it is also slowing internet access. It is unclear when the cables will be operational again.

Both the WACS and SAT3 cables providing international connectivity between South Africa and international locations were knocked out on Thursday.

These breaks are having a major impact on internet connectivity.

The WACS cable lands in South Africa at Yzerfontein in the Western Cape and the SAT3/WASC system enters the country at Melkbosstrand.

On 2 October President Ramaphosa signed the Film and Publications Amendment Bill into law.

In the area of printed and audio-visual content, the Films and Publications Amendment Act provides for the establishment, composition and appointment of members of an Enforcement Committee that will, among other tasks, to regulate online distribution of films and games, and to protect children from disturbing and harmful content.

The Bill is also known as the “Internet censorship bill” by its detractors.

This extends – to online distributors – the compliance obligations of the Films and Publications Act and the compliance and monitoring functions of the Film and Publication Board to online distributors.

The Amended Act also revises the functions of compliance officers regarding entering and inspection of premises and facilities in which the business of the sale, hire or exhibition of films or games is being conducted.

The law further regulates the classification of publications, films and games and allows for the accreditation of independent commercial online distributors by the Film and Publication Board.

Through the Board, the law will regulate the creation, possession, production and distribution of films, games and certain publications with a view to protecting children from disturbing and harmful content.

Some controversial points around the bill deal with the following:

  • Revenge porn: any person who knowingly distributes private sexual photographs and films without prior consent and with intention to cause the said individual harm shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction. This includes a possible fine not exceeding R150,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years and/or to both a fine and imprisonment not exceeding two years. Where the individual is identified or identifiable in said photographs and films, this punishment rises to a R300,000 fine and/or imprisonment not exceeding four years;
  • Hate speech: any person who knowingly distributes in any medium, including the Internet and social media, any film, game or publication which amounts to propaganda for war, incites imminent violence, or advocates hate speech, shall be guilty of an offence. This includes a possible fine not exceeding R150,000 and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years; and
  • ISP requirements: If an internet access provider has knowledge that its services are being used for the hosting or distribution of child pornography, propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or advocating hatred based on an identifiable group characteristic it shall immediately remove this content, or be subject to a fine.

However, detractors say that the Bill is open to abuse, and may be used to curtail freedom of speech and increase censorship.

By Mark Sweney for The Guardian

The internet is about to lose its mantle as the fastest-growing sector of the global advertising market for the first time in two decades, as brands seeking risk-free space to spend their ad budgets turn to traditional media such as cinema, billboards and poster sites.

Next year the global internet advertising market, which is dominated by Google and Facebook, will surrender its position as the fastest-growing ad medium for the first time since the early days of the dotcom boom and bust at the turn of the century.

Internet advertising is forecast to grow by 10% globally next year, the lowest level since 2001, according to research by the global media agency group Zenith. The shrinking growth rate means that cinema advertising, which is forecast to surge more than 12% next year, will become the fastest-growing ad medium.

Major companies have expressed their concerns over digital scandals – such as Cambridge Analytica, “fake news” and ads appearing next to inappropriate YouTube videos such as extremist material – putting pressure on internet platforms.

The movie industry is experiencing a golden age, with UK attendance last year hitting its highest level since 1970 and global box office records being smashed, and advertisers are looking to cash in.

Investment in technology, from the special effects used in blockbuster movies to the plush experience of cinemas sporting leather reclining seats, sofas and restaurant menus, has fuelled a renaissance despite the proliferation of streaming services such as Netflix.

“From Wonder Woman to the Avengers, Black Panther or The Favourite you have such as diverse range of films with a captive audience that advertisers know they can get a specific message to,” said Tim Richards, the founder and chief executive of the international cinema chain Vue.

“What we are also seeing is that companies are getting tired of bombarding the internet with messages when they can’t be sure who is seeing them. Audiences have a higher level of trust and confidence on what they see on the big screen than something that may have been thrown at them on the internet.”

While the growth rate of internet advertising was always eventually going to slow with scale – in 2020 it will account for half of the $650bn (£520bn) spent on advertising globally – there are signs of a wider shift in the market. This month, the British competition watchdog launched a probe into the £13bn UK digital ad market.

The outdoor advertising sector – which includes billboards, the sides of buses and railway stations – is also expected to grow at a healthy 5% globally in 2020, bucking a downturn in ad spending on other media including newspapers and TV.

“Outdoor advertising is now very much a digital experience, it’s pixels not paste any more, and that’s attractive to brands,” said Phil Hall, the incoming co-managing director of media company Ocean Outdoor.

“But you also can’t ignore the issue of brand safety. Given the well-publicised issues faced by some of the digital giants outdoor advertising has a great pitch to advertisers about being a trusted haven for brands.”

Zenith’s report says that while much of the growth in internet advertising comes from small, local businesses that spend all their budgets on platforms such as Google and Facebook, the majority of big brands still prefer to spend most of their advertising money on traditional media.

Zimbabwe switches off the Internet

By Brian Latham for Fin24

When the Zimbabwean government ordered Internet service providers to shutter parts of the web in an effort to curb anti-government protests, it also plunged homes into darkness because people can’t pay their utilities online.

Most people in the southern African nation use Econet Wireless Zimbabwe’s Ecocash mobile-phone payment system for daily transactions.

They buy electricity in units of $5 or less and almost all domestic users are on prepaid meters, so many buy for $1 at a time.

According to Zimbabwe’s Finance Ministry, less than 5% of commercial transactions in the country involve cash, mainly because it’s hard to find. Instead Zimbabweans use Ecocash or bank cards.

“Tonight will be spent in darkness,” said 42-year-old John Pedzesai, who sells plants on a sidewalk in the capital, Harare.

Econet, Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile-phone company, declined to comment.

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