By Associated Press | Updated: 21 August 2021
Taliban websites that delivered the victorious insurgents’ official messages to Afghans and the world at large in five languages went offline abruptly Friday, indicating an effort to try to squelch them.
It is not immediately clear, though, why the sites in the Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, English and Dari languages went offline Friday. They had been shielded by Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based content delivery network and denial-of-service protection provider.
Cloudflare has not responded to emails and phone calls seeking comment on the development, which was first reported by The Washington Post. The Cloudflare shield prevents the public from knowing who exactly hosts the sites.
Also Friday, the popular encrypted messaging service WhatsApp removed a number of Taliban groups, according to Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremism.
The websites’ disappearance may just be temporary as the Taliban secures new hosting arrangements. But the reported removal of the WhatsApp groups followed the banning of Taliban accounts by Facebook, the service’s parent company, on Tuesday after the US-backed Afghan government fell to the Taliban.
WhatsApp spokesperson Danielle Meister did not confirm the removal but referred The Associated Press to a statement the company issued earlier this week saying it was “obligated to adhere to US sanctions laws. This includes banning accounts that appear to represent themselves as official accounts of the Taliban.”
Katz said via email that she hoped the removal of the Taliban websites is just a first step to diminishing its online presence.
Unlike the Taliban of 20 years ago that the U.S. drove from power in Afghanistan, today’s Taliban is immensely media savvy and its online infrastructure “inspires and mobilizes” al-Qaida and other extremist Islamist factions, said Katz.
“Tech companies should do what they can to get ahead of this problem as soon as possible, as the group’s online presence is stoking a newly emboldened jihadi movement worldwide,” she added.
Twitter has not removed Taliban accounts and the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has more than 300,000 followers there. The company indicated Tuesday that as long as such accounts observe its rules — including not inciting or glorifying violence — they will remain up.
Like Facebook, Google’s YouTube considers the Taliban a terrorist organization and prohibits it from operating accounts.
The Taliban is not on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the US has imposed sanctions on it.
Big Tech: New Step to Curb Firms’ Power Advanced by US Senate Panel
By Associated Press | Updated: 22 January 2022
The US Congress has taken a new step toward reining in the market dominance of Big Tech companies. Bipartisan legislation advanced by a Senate panel would bar the dominant online platforms from favouring their own goods and services over those of rivals. It could, for example, prevent Amazon from steering consumers to its own brands and away from competitors’ products on its giant e-commerce platform.
The bill also could bring restrictions for Google’s search engine, which accounts for about 90 percent of web searches worldwide and routinely places its services at the top of search results.
The legislation won a 16-6 vote in the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and was sent on to the full Senate. The action marked a new turn in Congress’ effort to curb the dominance of the tech giants and anticompetitive practices that critics say have hurt consumers, small businesses and innovation.
Lobbying by Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, Amazon, Apple and other tech giants was intense ahead of the US Senate panel’s action.
Google Asks Judge to Dismiss Most of Texas Antitrust Lawsuit
By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2022
Google asked a US federal judge on Friday to dismiss the majority of an antitrust lawsuit filed by Texas and other US states that accused the search giant of abusing its dominance of the online advertising market.
Google said in its court filing that the states failed to show that it illegally worked with Facebook, now Meta, to counter “header bidding,” a technology that publishers developed to make more money from advertising placed on their websites. Facebook is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
The states had also alleged that Google used at least three programs to manipulate ad auctions to coerce advertisers and publishers into using Google’s tools.
Google responded that the states had a “collection of grievances” but no proof of wrongdoing. On some allegations, Google argued the states waited too long to file its lawsuit.
“They criticize Google for not designing its products to better suit its rivals’ needs and for making improvements to those products that leave its competitors too far behind. They see the ‘solution’ to Google’s success as holding Google back,” the company said in its filing.
Google asked for four of the six counts to be dismissed with prejudice, which means that it could not be brought back to the same court.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said they would press on with the fight. “The company whose motto was once ‘Don’t Be Evil’ now asks the world to examine their egregious monopoly abuses and see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil,” he said in a statement.
The Texas lawsuit had two other claims based on state law and made against Google which were stayed in September. The search giant did not ask for them to be dismissed on Friday but may in the future.
The lawsuit is one part of a long list of antitrust investigations and federal and state litigation against the Big Tech platforms.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Yemen Goes Offline, Loses Internet Connection After Saudi-Led Airstrikes
By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022
Yemen lost its connection to the Internet nationwide early Friday after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted the contested city of Hodeida, an advocacy group said, plunging the war-torn nation offline.
NetBlocks said the disruption began around 1am (3:30am IST) local and affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly that controls Internet access in the country. TeleYemen is now run by the Houthi rebels who have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since late 2014.
Yemen faces “a nation-scale collapse of Internet connectivity” after an airstrike on a telecommunications building, NetBlocks said.
The San Diego-based Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis and San Francisco-based Internet firm CloudFlare also noted a nationwide outage affecting Yemen beginning around the same time.
Over 12 hours later, the Internet remained down.
The Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the strike on the telecommunications building had killed and wounded people. It released chaotic footage of people digging through rubble for a body as gunshots could be heard. Aid workers assisted bloodied survivors.
Meanwhile, Al-Masirah said another early Friday airstrike on a prison in Yemen’s northern Saada province also killed and wounded people. There was no immediate independent confirmation of how many people were hurt in either attack.
The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels acknowledged carrying out “accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia” around Hodeida’s port. It did not immediately acknowledge striking a telecommunication target as NetBlocks described, but instead called Hodeida a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis.
The undersea FALCON cable carries Internet into Yemen through the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen. The FALCON cable has another landing in Yemen’s far eastern port of Ghaydah as well, but the majority of Yemen’s population lives in its west along the Red Sea.
A cut to the FALCON cable in 2020 caused by a ship’s anchor also caused widespread Internet outages in Yemen. Land cables to Saudi Arabia have been cut since the start of Yemen’s civil war, while connections to two other undersea cables have yet to be made amid the conflict, TeleYemen previously said.
A Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war in 2015 to back its ousted government. The war has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes killing civilians and targeting the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis meanwhile have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country.
The war reached into the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, on Monday when the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi, killing three people and wounding six.
Pegasus Spyware: Israel’s Attorney General Orders Probe of NSO Claims
By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022
Israel’s attorney general said Thursday he was launching an investigation into Israeli police’s use of phone surveillance technology following reports that investigators improperly tracked targets without authorisation.
In a four-page letter, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he had not yet found evidence substantiating the claims in the Israeli business daily Calcalist, which said police monitored the leaders of a protest movement against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mayors, and other citizens without court approval. But Mandelblit said many questions remained unanswered, and that he was forming an investigative committee headed by a top deputy.
The specific cases mentioned by the newspaper “raise a very troubling picture,” he said, but don’t provide “sufficiently concrete information” to identify the cases of alleged misuse.
Mandelblit’s letter came a few hours after Israel’s police chief said he had ordered an extensive investigation into the newspaper’s claims. In a report this week, Calcalist said police had used the NSO Group’s Pegasus hacking software to surveil some of Netanyahu’s political opponents, as well as a raft of other alleged misuses of the technology.
The police have dismissed the report as inaccurate and said they only operate according to the law. But the publication drew an outcry from lawmakers and prompted multiple investigations by various Israeli authorities into the allegations.
The NSO Group does not identify its clients and says it has no knowledge of who is targeted. The company says its products are intended to be used against criminals and terrorists, and that it does not control how its clients use the software. Israel, which regulates the company, has not said whether its own security forces use the spyware.
The Israeli spyware company has faced mounting scrutiny over its Pegasus software, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe. In November, the US Commerce Department blacklisted NSO, barring the company from using certain US technologies, saying its tools had been used to “conduct transnational repression.”
In announcing his investigation, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that immediately following the report’s publication, police launched “a thorough internal investigation” that has yet to find any instances of unlawful surveillance. He called on the paper to provide “concrete details that will allow us to inspect the alleged incidents.”
Tuesday’s Calcalist article didn’t name any of the people whose phones were allegedly hacked, nor did it cite any current or former sources in the police, government or NSO. The report referred to eight alleged examples of the police’s secretive signal intelligence unit employing Pegasus to surveil Israeli citizens, including hacking phones of protesters, mayors, a murder suspect and opponents of the Jerusalem Pride Parade, all without a court order or a judge’s oversight.
Shabtai said that “if it turns out that there were specific instances in which regulations were violated, the police under my command will work to improve and correct,” pledging full transparency. At the same time, he defended the police’s lawful use of such technologies to combat crime.
Google Appeals EUR 2.4-Billion Shopping Fine at Top EU Court
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 21 January 2022
Google on Thursday appealed an EU court decision to uphold the bloc’s EUR 2.4 billion (roughly Rs. 20,255 crore) fine for abusing its search engine dominance.
The tech giant said it would go to the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, after the General Court confirmed in November a decision by the European Commission in 2017.
At the time, the fine was the European Union’s biggest ever. But it was later exceeded by a EUR 4.3 billion (roughly Rs. 36,290 crore) fine against Google over its Android smartphone operating system.
“After careful consideration, we have decided to appeal the General Court’s decision because we feel there are areas that require legal clarification from the European Court of Justice,” a short statement by the company said.
The case centres on Google’s shopping service and is one of three against the search engine giant currently moving through the EU’s drawn-out appeals system.
The new appeal could take up to two years to reach an outcome, stretching the case out to well more than a decade after the commission launched its investigation in 2010.
The court confirmation on Google Shopping was a win for the EU’s anti-trust supremo Margrethe Vestager, who burst onto the scene in Brussels by scrapping her predecessor’s more conciliatory approach to the US Internet giant.
Vestager had lost in the same court in a different major case, , Apple and Ireland, in which her teams had ordered the iPhone maker to repay EUR 13 billion (roughly Rs. 1,09,710 crore) plus interest to the Irish taxpayer. The EU has appealed that ruling.
The fine for Google came after seven years of investigation launched by complaints from other price-comparison services that saw traffic plummet against Google Shopping.
Big Tech: Bills Targeting Google, Facebook, More Firms to Go Before US Senate Panel
By Reuters | Updated: 20 January 2022
The US Senate Judiciary Committee is set to decide Thursday whether the full Senate should vote on two bills aimed at reining in tech giants like Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook.
Lawmakers are expected to consider an amended version of a bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, a Republican, that would bar tech platforms like Amazon from giving preference to their own businesses on their websites.
The amended version would expand the definition of the companies covered by the bill to include firms like the popular video app TikTok, according to sources familiar with the matter.
China’s Tencent, which owns messaging app WeChat, would also be covered by the bill, according to one source.
Two sources familiar with the matter said it was unclear that the Klobuchar-Grassley measure had the votes needed to send the measure to the Senate floor for final passage. The sources asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak about the matter on the record.
A second bill, led by US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, is also on the schedule. The Open App Markets Act would bar big app stores, like Apple, from requiring app providers to use their payment system and prohibit them from punishing apps that offer different prices through another app store or payment system.
This bill is on the schedule for the first time Thursday, which means that it is likely to be put off at least a week.
Both measures, and other bills aimed at Big Tech, have set off a firestorm of opposition from powerful business groups. The US Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley opposed the bill backed by Klobuchar and Grassley. “The companies that are being targeted are the very ones that had the scale and innovation to help us through the pandemic, whether that was enabling millions to work remotely, (or getting) essentials delivered to our front door,” he said.
The advocacy group Consumer Reports, said it would support the Klobuchar/Grassley bill to “reset the power asymmetry between Big Tech, consumers and small businesses.”
Both bills have a version introduced in the US House of Representatives.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
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