I want us to think about the ramifications of this new reality: In three of the four most populous countries in the world, governments have now given themselves the power to order that the internet be cleared of citizen posts that the authorities don’t like.
Indonesia – the world’s fourth most populous, democratic country – is in the process of implementing what civil rights organizations describe as overly broad regulations to demand the removal of online speech that officials see as a disturbance to society or public order. Most of the major internet companies, including Google, Meta, Netflix, TikTok, Apple and Twitter, have agreed to abide by the rules for now.
Regulations in Indonesia are another sign that strict online controls are no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as China, Iran, North Korea and Myanmar. They are also increasingly becoming the domain of democracies that want to use law and the Internet to shape citizens’ discussions and beliefs.
In free societies, there has long been a tug of war about freedom of expression and its limits. But one of the perennial questions in the internet age is what governments, digital companies, and citizens should do now that the internet and social media have made it easier for people to share their truth (or lies) with the world and more attractive to citizens. Leaders to close everything.
What is happening in three of the four largest countries in the world – China, India and Indonesia; The United States is the third largest – the simplest. It fits with the classic definition of censorship. Governments seek to silence their outside critics.
Officials in Indonesia have said their new regulations are necessary to protect people’s privacy, remove online material that promotes child sexual abuse or terrorism, and make the internet a welcome place for all.
Governments sometimes have legitimate reasons to shape what happens online, such as preventing the spread of dangerous misinformation. But Devi Sivaprakasam, Asia Pacific policy advisor for global digital rights group Access Now, said Indonesia’s rules are a fig leaf the government uses to stifle press and citizen protests, with few checks on that power.
Regulations require all kinds of digital businesses, including social media sites, digital payment companies, video games and messaging apps, to constantly search for online material that violates the law and pull it down within hours if it is discovered. The authorities also have the right to request user data, including people’s communications and financial transactions. Companies that fail to comply with the law can be fined or forced to stop operating in the country.
Sivaprakasam told me that Indonesia’s new regulations, which have not yet been implemented, “raise serious concerns about the rights to freedom of expression, association, information, privacy and security.”
Access Now has also called for other blanket Internet censorship laws in Asia, including those in Vietnam, Bangladesh and India.
(My colleagues reported today that the Indian government has withdrawn a proposed data protection bill that privacy advocates and some lawmakers said would have given authorities too broad powers over personal data, while exempting law enforcement agencies and public entities from the provisions of the law.)
It is getting more and more difficult trying to decide what to do about these laws. Companies in technology and other industries tend to say they are required to comply with the laws of the countries in which they operate, but they sometimes back down, or withdraw from countries like Russia, arguing that laws or government interpretations of them violate people’s fundamental freedoms.
Access Now and other rights groups have said that companies should not acquiesce in what they see as violations of international human rights and other standards in Indonesia.
Executives of US Internet companies said in private that the US government should do more to stand up to excessively stringent government controls on online expression, rather than leave it up to Google, Apple, Meta and Twitter alone. They argue that US companies should not be put in the position of trying to independently defend citizens of other countries from abuses by their own governments.
There are, of course, less clear questions about when and whether governments should have a say in what people post. Countries like Germany and Turkey have government control over online information, employed in the name of eliminating hateful ideologies or maintaining the health of society. Not everyone in those countries agrees that these are reasonable Internet restrictions, or agrees with how these restrictions are interpreted or enforced.
The US Supreme Court may soon consider whether the First Amendment allows government authorities to dictate speech rules on Facebook and other large social media sites, which now make those decisions mostly on their own.
The original ideal of the Internet was that it would help tear down national borders and give citizens capabilities they never had before to challenge their governments. We’ve seen a version of that, but then governments wanted more control over what happens online. “Governments are very powerful, and they don’t like being displaced,” Mishi Chaudhry, a lawyer who works on Internet users’ rights in India, told me last year.
Our challenge, then, is to allow governments to act in the public interest to shape what happens online when necessary, while calling out to them when authorities abuse that right in order to maintain their power.
Tip of the week
The art of buying used tools
Are you interested in buying a used computer, phone, or other device? It’s great to save money and be kind to the planet – as long as you don’t buy lemons. Brian X Chena consumer technology columnist for the New York Times, has his own story about buying used products the smart way.
My wife recently wanted a new iPad Pro to create illustrations, and maybe send emails occasionally. frown.
The largest version of the tablet costs $1,100. Add an Apple Pencil for drawing on the screen ($130) and a keyboard ($100 or more), and we’ve spent $1,330. Instead, I did some work and bought everything used. My price was $720. Here’s how I did it.
I started by searching for used iPad Pros on eBay. Models released in 2021 were still very expensive – $850 or so. The 2020 models were much smaller. I ended up buying a 12.9-inch 2020 iPad Pro with 256GB for $600. That’s half the price of the new model, which has less data storage.
I was careful. I bought the iPad described as “in good condition” from a seller whose reviews were 100 percent positive. The seller has included a 1-year warranty and a 30-day return policy. To my delight, the iPad arrived days later and looked like new.
I couldn’t find a good deal on Apple Pencil on eBay or Craigslist, but I did on Facebook Marketplace. I found a seller who lives near me with five star reviews. His profile showed a picture of him with his girlfriend, and he was very polite in our conversation. I felt comfortable. We met during lunchtime in the parking lot of Takeria, and I paid him $70 through Venmo.
The last step was to buy a keyboard. Apple sells its own models, but I chose one from Logitech. I found one on Amazon listed in “like-new” condition, which means the keyboard has been purchased before and returned with an open box. It was $50, compared to $115 for a new one. When the keyboard arrived, it looked immaculate and worked perfectly.
Conclusion: There is an art to buying used products. There is some risk involved, but you can reduce your odds of being robbed by looking for online sellers with high ratings, generous return policies, and product guarantees. And when it comes to personal interactions, feel good – and meet in public. The money saved was well worth the effort for me.
Should you buy a refurbished phone? (Consumer Reports)
Before we go…
They even compared their army to a losing football team: On Chinese social media, many people have taken the rare step of mocking their government for not taking military action to stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. My colleague Li Yuan wrote that the online reaction showed that the nationalism encouraged by the CCP could also turn against the government.
Buyer Awareness: People looking for weight loss treatments have plenty of options for telehealth companies. Stat News reports that the default options can be great, but experts also worry that some sites can be ineffective or produce recipes just for profit.
have feelings About votes: The Twitter app now makes sounds similar to aliens when people update their feeds. Input Mag explores why sounds matter in technology and product designs.
hug for this
Take a look at this Hungry goats that do a good job of eliminating invasive plants. (I’ve shared videos of goats in Riverside Park in New York before, but I can’t get enough of them.)
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