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Facebook is Failing Iranians, and Iran’s Leaders Are About to Launch a Censored Internet

Social media platforms are harming Iran due to their ignorance of Iranian culture and the nation’s primary dialects.

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Photo of Mahsa Alimardani, Iran program officer for Article19, from March 2018 by ITU Pictures

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – A lack of cultural understanding by Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms is a prevailing reason for inaccurate content moderation in Iran, Middle East experts said.

Moreover, and they said, Iran’s proposed international internet replacement, the National Information Network, is dangerously close to coming into effect.

Speaking at a Thursday event of the Atlantic Council designed to draw attention to the current status of social media in Iran, a human rights expert said that Big Tech’s chronic misunderstanding of the Persian language leads to censorship of content that is either entertainment-based or posted by Iranian activists.

Panelists at the event also highlighted a new report “Iranians on #SocialMedia,” as the inspiration for the discussion.

Facebook “needs someone who actually understands what is going on on the ground,” claimed Simin Kargar, a human rights and technology research fellow at Digital Forensic Research Lab. Because the company don’t employ or contract with such people, said Kargar, the platform and its sister Instagram are inappropriately censoring posts in the country.

Because of the platforms’ negligence in understanding and adapting to local concerns, the Iranian people are not benefiting from the internet.

And – because Iran also heavily monitoring and censoring the internet within its borders, the Iranian people end up being hindered by the double-whammy of Iranian and Facebook censorship, Kargar said.

Iranian censorship and Facebook censorship

Mahsa Alimardani, a researcher with the human rights organization Article19, agreed that misconceptions due to language are a dangerous foe. She made this comment when asked what America can do to help and whether American sanctions have played play a part in the rise in content moderation.

All panelists at the event said that while American sanctions against Iran impact the internet in the country, they are not responsible for what is currently happening in Iran.

However, Alimardani also blamed Meta, the new corporate name for the company that runs Facebook and Instagram, for improper and excessive content moderation.

She said Facebook currently flag anything related to the Iranian guard after the Trump Administration created a list of dangerous people that should be restricted on social media. She disagreed that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps should be listed as a foreign terrorist organization.

Is the National Information Network a new model for authoritarian regimes?

The National Information Network, the new censored internet that Iran is currently working to implement, had been planned to launch in March. Alimardani said she believes that the release will be postponed because of disagreements about who within the government will control content moderation, and the impact the firewall could have on Iranian tech companies.

Alimardani highlighted the unique nature of the Iranian law that created the national internet. Instead of being voted on by the Iranian Parliament, the legislative body deferred action on the creation of a permanent national internet only until after an experimental period with the firewall, she said.

Yet the government has been pushing its own online streaming and video platforms. These platforms are part of the government’s attempt to incentivize an Iranian national “internet.”

Throwing cheap broadband into a censored internet to sweeten the pot?

Essentially, said Kargar, the government is promising more bandwidth at a lower cost through the National Information Network. The new network is also appealing to Iranian consumers because the NIN will primarily be in the country’s major dialect.

Holly Dagres, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs and the author of the “Iranians on #SocialMedia”, also spoke on the NIN. She said it would take Iran back to the Middle Ages, and also limit communication with other Iranians and with the outside world.

Reporter Ashlan Gruwell studied political science at Brigham Young University. She has immersed herself in principles of American politics and voter behavior. She also enjoys traveling internationally and hopes to visit the Nordic Region of Europe next.

China

New Leadership and Priorities for Republican-Led Energy and Commerce Committee

The new chair renamed three subcommittees, hinting at the GOP’s goals for the coming term.

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Photo of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2018 by Gage Skidmore, used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2023 — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., recently named chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced on Wednesday the new Republican leadership and membership of each subcommittee, giving insight into which members of Congress will be at the forefront of key technology decisions over the coming term.

McMorris Rodgers also announced changes to the committee’s structure, renaming three subcommittees and shifting some of their responsibilities. The changes aim to “ensure our work tackles the greatest challenges and most important priorities of the day, including lowering energy costs, beating China and building a more secure future,” McMorris Rodgers told Fox News.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J. — now the committee’s ranking member after serving as chair for the past four years — announced on Friday each subcommittee’s Democratic membership and leadership, and named Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., as the vice ranking member for the full committee.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., who will serve as the committee’s vice chair, is a vocal critic of Big Tech. In 2021, he was one of several Republicans who championed major reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The committee’s new names hint at some of the ways that the committee’s priorities may shift as Republicans take control. The former Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee is now titled the Innovation, Data and Commerce Subcommittee and will be chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., alongside Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Bilirakis and McMorris Rodgers have already announced the subcommittee’s first hearing, which will focus on U.S. global technology leadership and competition with China.

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee, now led by Chair Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Ranking Member Doris Matsui, D-Calif., also emphasized competition with China in the announcement of a hearing on the global satellite industry.

Latta has previously spoken out against the total repeal of Section 230, but he has also expressed concerns about the extent to which it protects tech companies. In an April 2021 op-ed written jointly with Bilirakis, Latta accused social media platforms of engaging in “poisonous practices… that drive depression, isolation and suicide.”

The Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Minerals Subcommittee, formerly known as the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Bill Johnson, R-Ohio and Ranking Member Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

The Energy Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee, formerly known as the Energy Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and Ranking Member Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

The Health Subcommittee will be led by Chair Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will be led by Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Ranking Member Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

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Asia

Dae-Keun Cho: Demystifying Interconnection and Cost Recovery in South Korea

South Korean courts have rejected attempts to mix net neutrality arguments into payment disputes.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Advisor in Dae-Keun Cho, a member of the telecom, media and technology practice team at Lee & Ko.

South Korea is recognized as a leading broadband nation for network access, use and skills by the International Telecommunications Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

South Korea exports content and produces platforms which compete with leading tech platforms from the US and China. Yet few know and understand the important elements of South Korean broadband policy, particularly its unique interconnection and cost recovery regime.

For example, most Western observers mischaracterize the relationship between broadband providers and content providers as a termination regime. There is no such concept in the South Korean broadband market. Content providers which want to connect to a broadband network pay an “access fee” like any other user.

International policy observers are paying attention to the IP interconnection system of IP powerhouse Korea and the lawsuit between SK Broadband (SKB) and Netflix. There are two important subjects. The first is the history and major regulations relating to internet protocol interconnection in South Korea. Regulating IP interconnection between internet service providers is considered a rare case overseas, and I explain why the Korean government adopted such a policy and how the policy has been developed and what it has accomplished.

The second subject is the issues over network usage fees between ISPs and content providers and the pros and cons. The author discusses issues that came to the surface during the legal proceedings between SKB and Netflix in the form of questions and answers. The following issues were identified during the process.

First, what Korean ISPs demand from global big tech companies is an access fee, not a termination fee. The termination fee does not exist in the broadband market, only in the market between ISPs.

In South Korea, content providers only pay for access, not termination

For example, Netflix’s Open Connect Appliance is a content delivery network. To deliver its content to end users in Korea, Netflix must purchase connectivity from a Korean ISP. The dispute arises because Netflix refuses to pay this connectivity fee. Charging CPs in the sending party network pay method, as discussed in Europe, suggests that the CPs already paid access fees to the originating ISPs and should thus pay the termination fee for their traffic delivery to the terminating ISPs. However in Korea, it is only access fees that CPs (also CDNs) pay ISPs.

In South Korea, IP interconnection between content providers and internet service providers is subject to negotiation

Second, although the IP interconnection between Korean ISPs is included in regulations, transactions between CPs and ISPs are still subject to negotiation. In Korea, a CP (including CDN) is a purchaser which pays a fee to a telecommunications service provider called an ISP and purchases a public internet network connection service, because the CP’s legal status is a “user” under the Telecommunications Business Act. Currently, a CP negotiates with an ISP and signs a contract setting out connection conditions and rates.

Access fees do not violate net neutrality

South Korean courts have rejected attempts to mix net neutrality arguments into payment disputes. The principle of net neutrality applies between the ISP and the consumer, e.g. the practice of blocking, throttling and paid prioritization (fast lane).

In South Korea, ISPs do not prioritize a specific CP’s traffic over other CP’s because they receive fees from the specific CP. To comply with the net neutrality principle, all ISPs in South Korea act on a first-in, first-out basis. That is, the ISP does not perform traffic management for specific CP traffic for various reasons (such as competition, money etc.). The Korean court did not accept the Netflix’s argument about net neutrality because SKB did not engage in traffic management.

There is no violation of net neutrality in the transaction between Netflix and SKB. There is no action by SKB to block or throttle the CP’s traffic (in this case, Netflix). In addition, SKB does not undertake any traffic management action to deliver the traffic of Netflix to the end user faster than other CPs in exchange for an additional fee from Netflix.

Therefore, the access fee that Korean ISPs request from CPs does not create a net neutrality problem.

Why the Korean model is not double billing

Korean law allows for access to broadband networks for all parties provided an access fee is paid. Foreign content providers incorrectly describe this as a double payment. That would mean that an end user is paying for the access of another party. There is no such notion. Each party pays for the requisite connectivity of the individual connection, nothing more. Each user pays for its own purpose, whether it is a human subscriber, a CP, or a CDN. No one user pays for the connectivity of another.

Dae-Keun Cho, PhD is is a member of the Telecom, Media and Technology practice team at Lee & Ko. He is a regulatory policy expert with more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications and ICT regulatory policies who also advises clients on online platform regulation policies, telecommunications competition policies, ICT user protection policies, and personal information protection. He earned a Ph.D. in Public Administration from the Graduate School of Public Administration in Seoul National University. This piece is reprinted with permission.

Request the FREE 58 page English language summary of Dr. Dae-Keun Cho’s book Nothing Is Free: An In-depth report to understand network usage disputes with Google and Netflix. Additionally see Strand Consult’s library of reports and research notes on the South Korea.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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China

Unrealistic Fears About Chinese Tech Distract From Real Privacy Concerns, Panelists Say

Panelists argued that ethical concerns about digital privacy and AI are not unfounded, but rather unfairly targeted at certain countries.

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WASHINGTON, January 23, 2023 — The TikTok bans that have been implemented by several state governments and universities illustrate a misguided approach to tech policy that targets certain countries at the expense of addressing broadly applicable privacy concerns, said panelists at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday.

Some of the often-discussed security threats coming from Chinese tech products “are being imagined in a way that is completely detached from reality,” said Yangyang Cheng, a research scholar and fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. This misdirected focus diverts attention away from other concrete risks presented by artificial intelligence and social media, she added.

In December, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-WI, called for a national TikTok ban, calling the app “digital fentanyl” and claiming it was being utilized by the Chinese Communist Party to influence young Americans. Such allegations are unrealistic and xenophobic, Cheng said, but still have the power to broadly shape American society.

For example, several universities have now banned the use of TikTok on the schools’ Wi-Fi and equipment. Access to a particular social media app is not itself a fundamental right, but “fundamental rights with regards to academic freedom, freedom of expression, government’s role in a society are being shaped, and some fundamental freedoms are being infringed on… in the name of banning TikTok,” Cheng said. “That is the concrete harm here.”

The rhetorical focus on a potential TikTok ban and other “combative” issues takes away from more important discussions, such as the fact that the U.S. lacks comprehensive privacy legislation, said Kate Kaye, an independent tech journalist. Unlike the U.S., China has legislation allowing people to opt out of algorithmic social media targeting, she added.

Attempts to establish “very minor ethical guidelines” in U.S. artificial intelligence research have been met with significant pushback from researchers who question whether it is their responsibility to consider ethical questions or data privacy, Kaye said.

Cheng argued that ethical concerns about digital privacy and artificial intelligence are not unfounded, but rather unfairly targeted at certain countries. For example, the U.S. government has placed certain restrictions on Chinese digital surveillance firms, citing potential human rights violations, but similar technologies are being developed and used in the U.S. and Europe.

The “rhetorical China threat umbrella” has even been used to argue against such ethical regulations, with U.S. tech companies claiming that such restrictions will impede their ability to compete with their Chinese counterparts, Cheng said.

Concerns about economic competition are ‘repackaged’ as security risks

Potential risks related to technology can be divided into three categories, which are sometimes improperly conflated, Cheng said. First, technical risks can entail built-in design flaws that make devices or software vulnerable to hacking. While these problems are still complicated, they are relatively straightforward to observe and define.

Another category is regulatory risks, referring to the guidelines and restrictions that are placed on data collection, storage and usage.

Risks in these two categories are “not specific to any individual country or political system,” Cheng said. While the security concerns raised by the U.S. government about Chinese tech companies like Huawei and TikTok are “not necessarily unfounded,” those same risks are present in products from several other countries, she added.

“There is an overemphasis on the policing or surveillance capabilities of the Chinese state, without seeing the reality that data is being commodified and basically packaged as capital, so it can just be bought and sold relatively freely by data brokers and other third parties,” Cheng said.

This potential overemphasis on certain countries’ companies falls into the third risk category, which Cheng termed geopolitical risks. One such geopolitical concern expressed by some U.S. lawmakers is that it is harmful for a Chinese company like TikTok to have such a large market share.

However, this concern is sometimes couched in language about data privacy or security, Cheng said. “What we are seeing is that actual concerns about geopolitics or economic competition are being repackaged and somehow hand-waved to the first two types — technical or regulatory risks.”

Many of the national security conversations taking place in the U.S., on a bipartisan basis, are propelled by “profit-driven motives,” Kaye said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023, 12 Noon ET – Welcoming the Chinese New Year, Navigating a High Tech Cold War

Tensions between the U.S. and China are continuing to grow, and the battle over information technology and policy often appears to be at the heart of the conflict. Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei has been effectively barred from the U.S. market for over a year, and the Federal Communications Commission recently tightened restrictions with a new rule that will keep Huawei, ZTE and other companies from surveilling American citizens. Meanwhile, ByteDance’s TikTok has been banned from U.S. government devices, and some politicians argue that it also should be banned from the devices of its 100 million U.S. users. How will this power struggle play out over the coming year, and what are the implications of both countries’ decisions?

Panelists:

  • Dr. Yangyang Cheng, Research Scholar in Law and Fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center
  • Kate Kaye, Independent Tech Journalist and Writer
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Dr. Yangyang Cheng is a Research Scholar in Law and Fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, where her work focuses on the development of science and technology in China and US‒China relations. Her essays on these and related topics have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, WIRED, MIT Technology Review, and many other publications. Trained as a particle physicist, she worked on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for over a decade, most recently at Cornell University and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Kate Kaye is a tech journalist who tells deeply-reported stories with words and sound. Her work has been published in ProtocolMIT Technology Review, CityLab, OneZero, Fast Company, and many other outlets, and it’s been heard on NPR, American Public Media’s Marketplace and other radio programs and podcasts. Kate covered AI and data as senior reporter for Protocol until the publication suddenly shut down in November 2022.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Graphic by Adobe Stock

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As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

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