Governments around the world restrict online services, content and access

Governments around the world are finding it easier than ever to bring the internet, and the businesses that operate it, to the collapse.

Driving the news: Russia on Friday forced Apple and Google to remove an app that supporters of dissident leader Alexei Navalny had created to coordinate opposition votes in Russian elections.

  • Also last week, the Chinese government deleted almost all online content linked to one of her top movie stars as part of a larger campaign against celebrity power, the Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Complete internet shutdowns by governments seeking to cut citizens’ access to information for political reasons have become increasingly common, according to a study released by Axios earlier this month.

The big picture: Governments limit or ban apps, content, and connectivity itself – and big tech companies, as rich and powerful as they are, can’t or won’t fight back.

  • From the Arab Spring to the Black Lives Matter protests, the internet has helped organizers build grassroots movements and even, on occasion, topple governments.
  • But for now, at least, the roles have turned and technology is giving entrenched leaders and parties effective leverage to strengthen their power.

In Russia, According to a New York Times report, the government of Vladimir Putin threatened some Apple and Google employees with legal action if the companies did not act to remove the Navalny app, which the government had declared illegal.

  • The move came as the Russians went to the polls on Friday and followed weeks of government pressure on businesses.
  • Once the app, which distributed information to opposition voters on how best to deploy their ballots, was blocked, Navalny organizers began using Telegram to spread the word, but at the end of the day. end of the day, this service had withdrawn their account, too much.

In China, Actress Zhao Wei’s internet presence disappeared in late August, according to the WSJ. Movies featuring the star, who had 86 million fans on Weibo, have disappeared from online services. The government has provided no explanation as to why she appeared to have fallen out of favor.

Around the world, The nonprofit Access Now documented 50 internet shutdowns in 21 countries in the first five months of 2021.

  • Governments in countries like India, Belarus, Turkey, Myanmar and Ethiopia have sought to cut their citizens off from internet access or ban content and services they dislike.
  • In the United States, meanwhile, leaders of both parties have targeted online giants with complaints of censorship and disinformation, as part of a broad government effort to curb corporate power.

Between the lines: Businesses are not sovereign, so when governments take legal action against them, regardless of the motivation, they have little choice but to give in or cease operating in a particular country. .

  • The latter option is largely available in China, where most of the US-based internet giants have been sidelined or have chosen to opt out, and most online services are provided by companies. national companies that cannot take stakes and leave.
  • The Chinese model may well become more mainstream as governments seek control – and the technology powering internet services becomes easier to copy.

Our thought bubble: Organizing our online universe around centralized choke points like app stores and search engine monopolies does much of the up-front work for authoritarian governments seeking to quell dissent.

Go further: Nationalism and authoritarianism threaten the universality of the Internet

Veronica J. Snell

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