Tech firms confront growing challenges from govts. over online freedom of expression

2015 opened with growing confrontation between governments seeking to restrict access to the internet, and technology companies doing business there.

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Article
23 December 2016

USA: 2678 employees of tech companies take a stance on proposed Muslim registry, vow to protect privacy & engage in responsible whistleblowing

Author: Leigh Honeywell, Never Again Tech

We, the undersigned, are employees of tech organizations and companies based in the United States. We are engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people. We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable. We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out...Today we stand together to say: not on our watch, and never again.

We commit to the following actions:

  • We refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin.
  • We will advocate within our organizations:
    • to minimize the collection and retention of data that would facilitate ethnic or religious targeting.
    • to scale back existing datasets with unnecessary racial, ethnic, and national origin data.
    • to responsibly destroy high-risk datasets and backups...
  • If we discover misuse of data that we consider illegal or unethical in our organizations:
    • We will work with our colleagues and leaders to correct it.
    • If we cannot stop these practices, we will exercise our rights and responsibilities to speak out publicly and engage in responsible whistleblowing without endangering users...
  • We will raise awareness and ask critical questions about the responsible and fair use of data and algorithms beyond our organization and our industry.

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Article
21 December 2016

US tech firms say they will not help govt. build registry of Muslims, if asked

Author: Nick Statt, Verge (USA)

Apple, Google, and Uber join list of tech companies refusing to build Muslim registry, 16 Dec 2016

Apple, Google [part of Alphabet], and Uber have all broken their respective silences on whether they would participate in helping build a Muslim registry for the incoming Trump administration, BuzzFeed reports... [An] Apple spokesperson said, “We think people should be treated the same no matter how they worship, what they look like, who they love. We haven’t been asked and we would oppose such an effort.”

...Google...[said], “In relation to the hypothetical of whether we would ever help build a ‘muslim registry’ — we haven’t been asked, of course we wouldn’t do this and we are glad...that the proposal doesn’t seem to be on the table.” Meanwhile, Uber responded to BuzzFeed with a terse “no”... Twitter...[was the first to say] it would never participate in such a project... Facebook...[also issued] a statement saying it had not been asked, nor would it agree, to helping build a Muslim registry... Microsoft...said..., “We oppose discrimination and we wouldn’t do any work to build a registry of Muslim Americans.”

Ride-hailing company Lyft, which like Uber could hypothetically be asked to hand over user travel data, said today it would refuse to participate with the government if it were asked for such data or other tools to build a Muslim registry, according to Inc. So too did publishing company Medium... And yesterday, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg signed a fast-growing industry pledge on behalf of his company Automattic, which oversees WordPress.com... One notable exception here has been Oracle...[which] has in the past counted the National Security Agency as a client. 

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Article
3 November 2016

New Zealand company playing an integral role in global mass surveillance, report says

Author: Ariel Bogle, Mashable UK

"Report: New Zealand company helps UK spy agency tap internet cables", 25 Oct 2016

A company headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand has played an integral role in global mass surveillance, according to a new report. Based on documents and emails leaked to The Intercept, Endace has quietly been selling its technology to government agencies, allowing them to gather vast quantities of "private emails, online chats, social media conversations, and internet browsing histories." [T]he company [is] producing technology that can help clients intercept and monitor online traffic. It boasts "100 percent accurate capture and storage of network traffic...According to a leaked client list, customers apparently include government agencies in Australia, Canada and Israel, [and] the Moroccan spy agency, which has been implicated in serious human rights abuses. One important customer...is UK spy agency, [the] GCHQ...The records of Endace sales are confirmed by internal GCHQ documents, provided by Snowden, which describe the company's data capture devices being used as part of mass surveillance programs... Documents...repeatedly mention the Endace products while discussing the capture of "internet-derived" data to extract information about people's usage of services such as Gmail, Hotmail, WhatsApp, and Facebook.

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Article
1 January 2015

Web Freedom Is Seen as a Growing Global Issue

Author: Vindu Goel and Andrew Kramer, New York Times

Government censorship of the Internet is a cat-and-mouse game. And despite more aggressive tactics in recent months, the cats have been largely frustrated while the mice wriggle away.

But this year, the challenges for Silicon Valley will mount, with Russia and Turkey in particular trying to tighten controls on foreign-based Internet companies. Major American companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google are increasingly being put in the tricky position of figuring out which laws and orders to comply with around the world — and which to ignore or contest.

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Article
1 January 2015

Facebook and Beijing - Mark Zuckerberg faces a dilemma if he wants to do business with China and its Communist censors

Author: Wall Street Journal

Can information companies participate in China’s huge market without selling their souls to the Communist Party? Facebook is the latest American tech firm to face this question, and critics are blaming the social-media giant for taking down a post about self-immolation by a Tibetan monk. The issue deserves more than easy condemnation...

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