And Why An “Internet Kill Switch” May Not Exist
Periodically we like to share a few of the stories and posts from across the web that caught our eye. While there’s no editorial thread necessarily connecting all these together, it’s probably no surprise that several of the more provocative items we’ve found recently relate to the unrest in the Arab world.
Saudiwoman’s Weblog: For more than three years, Riyadh resident Eman Al Nafjan has been chronicling her life as a woman and a post-graduate student in Saudi Arabia’s capital and largest city. It’s a fascinating and often frank look into a society that’s largely closed to outside eyes, and notable for a nation that doesn’t always look favorably on critical opinions.
Her most recent post, “The Arab Revolutions Effect on Saudis“, details how Saudis are reacting to the turmoil in other Arabic nations. She notes:
“All over the country, all these Saudis who rarely watch or read the news and their only interests in doing so are for more local social openness or conservativeness (depending on their background), are now carefully observing what’s going on in neighboring countries. Saudis who didn’t know what the channel number for AlJazeera News was on their receivers now have it saved on their favorites list. University and high school students are now watching the news and social media feeds in their study breaks instead of a rerun of Friends. It’s a new atmosphere. The thing lacking is analysis or a discussion on what it means for us.”
PCWorld: Tech writer Mike Elgin takes the conventional wisdom that’s rapidly evolved around Egypt’s shutdown of the Internet and turns it on its head. ‘Kill switch? What kill switch?’ Elgin (in effect) asks, answering that while a data network or Internet service can be interrupted (or erased, in the Egyptian case), information will still seep in through the cracks:
“All these alternative routes to the Internet popped up in less than five days. The longer the shutdown dragged on, the more new ways to connect went online. It’s now clear that any sustained Internet shutdown could be circumvented no matter what.
“It’s also likely that freedom-of-information advocates worldwide will learn from the Egyptian shutdown and construct a series of services designed to circumvent such future attempts.”
It’s an interesting argument, although one that could be questioned in light of experiences in places like North Korea or Burma. Still, worth a read.
Danger Room: Over at Wired’s excellent blog chronicling technology, intelligence and the military, Spencer Ackerman takes a look at that Egyptian blackout and asks what many others are asking: where else might it happen, and is there anything that can be done? It turns out the US military has already been considering such a scenario, although the outcomes may be much more complex than just flipping on a switch.
While the US military has considered how it might deploy resources to return digital communications to a blacked-out region, Ackerman notes that doing so might be seen as an act of war:
“The trouble is, if a government follows Egypt’s lead and turns off the internet, it’s not going to be keen to see a meddling foreign power turn it back on.
“That act might not be as provocative as sending in ground troops or dropping bombs. But it’s still an act of what you might call forced online entry — by definition, a hostile one.
“In situations like Egypt, siding with an uprising against a longtime ally is a difficult choice, whether analog or digital. That might be why the military hasn’t done it. Asked about whether the Pentagon would consider deploying mobile connectivity to restore internet access for a social uprising, all a senior official would say is that such a situation was ‘hypothetical.’”
VOA Sports: Finally, VOA’s William Ide put together the piece we wanted to, except that he beat us to the punch. During last weekend’s Super Bowl game, the online discount start-up Groupon aired a :30 second ad that has come to define controversy.
A classic of bait-and-switch, the ad begins as what seems to be an earnest plea for greater Tibetan autonomy. Very quickly, however, it veers into what seems to be a crass plug for a Tibetan restaurant that Groupon members can get discounts at.
Super Bowl ads are not always known for their taste, but as William notes, this one immediately offended people around the world, who took to the Internet with their displeasure:
“On Facebook, some supporters of Tibet launched a group called “Shame On You Groupon, Double Donate.” Postings on the page included videos and information from human rights groups about China’s treatment of the Tibetan people.
“Others said people should just lighten up, and they noted it is not the first time that the advertising company Groupon hired – Crispin Porter and Bogusky – has used controversy to boost a company’s brand recognition.”
Groupon responded by sponsoring several Tibetan human rights organizations and inviting its members to donate at their website. But that’s unlikely to quell the problem.
In addition to upsetting the Tibetan diaspora community, Groupon angered the owner of the actual restaurant mentioned in the ad and – probably of greater concern – perhaps the Chinese government. As April Dembosky at the Financial Times notes, Groupon is trying to start up operations in China…and Beijing may not look too kindly on a business that is now supporting advocates for Tibetan independence.
The lesson? Perhaps just that comedy is hard. You can see the commercial and decide for yourself here – conveniently posted by Groupon at YouTube.