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Copying China’s Online Blockade

How other countries’ efforts to control the internet compare with China’s Great Firewall.

China’s government commands the “Great Firewall,” an elaborate system of technology and people that blocks foreign websites, contorts online conversations and punishes people for straying.

The controls are comprehensive. A huge government bureaucracy monitors online activity, and an army of volunteers report content to be censored and help spread positive messages about government initiatives. Companies are tasked with pulling material off the internet, and engineering teams are dispatched to build artificial intelligence tools to help. Contractors provide the manpower for industrial scale censorship.

Yes. It comes at the cost of the government’s energy and money and the permanent anger of a segment of the population, but it’s extremely effective in shaping what many think.

Each morning, people wake up to find new websites they can’t access. For now, it has been fairly easy for people to get around those blocks. The worry is that new technology from China could make the blocks more complete, though we’ve seen no evidence to date of China’s involvement.

Where democratic institutions are weak and there are challenges over a country’s future, powerful actors will both cut off the flow of information when it suits them and deploy the internet to spread information in their interests. China does both, and so has Myanmar. Though it might seem contradictory, censorship and disinformation go hand in hand.

The fear is that China will make the technology and techniques of its internet manipulation system readily adaptable by other autocratic countries. Myanmar is important to watch because if the generals control the internet without decimating the economy, it may become a model for other authoritarian regimes.

Sometimes the most useful technologies are cheap gizmos combined with human ingenuity. Here are three examples in the $15 to $30 range.

I attach a Tile to my obnoxiously thin Apple TV remote, which regularly disappears between couch cushions. I leave a Tile in my checked luggage to help me find it at the airport. And a friend who leaves a Tile in her car was able to track down the thieves who stole it and share that information with law enforcement.

I’ve found this gizmo surprisingly useful. Once, when I wasn’t home, my neighbor locked himself out of our building, and I was able to let him in by using the app to remotely open the garage door. It’s also great that my wife and I don’t need separate remote controls when we pull our bicycles out of the garage for a ride.

Category: Technology

Source: New York Times

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