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India wants a neutral Web, and Facebook’s Internet.org can’t be a part of it

shutterstock_160868918_India

It’s been a little over two weeks since a major public debate on the issue of net neutrality kicked off in India, and things have been hotting up ever since.

We reported that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently released a paper outlining the framework for over-the-top services (OTTS) like search engines, video platforms and social networks, and invited citizens to voice their opinions on the licensing of internet services in the country.Since then, savvy Indian Web users have been hard at work getting the word out. One Change.org petition has received nearly 240,000 signatures.Meanwhile, SaveTheInternet.in helps users send a lengthy plea in support of net neutrality to the TRAI with a couple of clicks.

Local comedy act All India Bakchod also launched a video that features the team’s well-known stand-up comedians explaining the issue and urging viewers to write to the TRAI by April 24.

To date, the regulator has received over 600,000 emails from netizens voicing support for net neutrality. Unfortunately, SaveTheInternet India’s investigation has shown that the TRAI’s paper includes misleading edits of quotes from The Economist’s articles on net neutrality, which are biased towards telecom operators and internet service providers (ISPs). So it’s not clear if the organization can be completely trusted to accurately represent people’s sentiments in its report.

Ultimately though, it’s not the TRAI that will pass legislation or make amendments. That’s down to the Department of Telecommunications, which is part of the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology.

The regulator can only make recommendations to the DoT, which can apply or ignore them as it sees fit.

The ministry has set up a committee [PDF] to consider net neutrality. It will publish a report in the second week of May.

Once it has made a decision, the DoT can make changes either by amending the license agreements [PDF] it makes with mobile and broadband providers, or by issuing a notification to them under the IT Act (2000).

The department could also consider amending the IT Act itself to add stronger net neutrality provisions. However, that would need to go through parliament and would take significantly longer.

Zero-rating services

Over the past few days, the debate has focused on mobile operator Airtel’s upcoming Zero services, which lets companies pay to offer their internet services to users at no charge — including those who don’t even have a data plan.

This is what’s called a zero-rating service. While it does bring the benefit of free internet access, it violates net neutrality principles, as the bouquet of sites and apps available are controlled by providers.

For the ISPs themselves, there’s plenty of money to be made. Content providers and online services will have to bear the cost of data usage by consumers, and ISPs can dictate how much those audiences are worth.

This makes it hard for companies with limited budgets to compete with established players. It also limits users’ choice of sources of information and services.

Major online retailer Flipkart was said to be in talks with Airtel to sign up for Zero and allow mobile users to shop online through the company’s app without incurring data charges.

Twitter and Facebook users began to attack the e-commerce giant for disregarding net neutrality, and even posted 1-star ratings and negative reviews to its Android app on Google Play.

The company then announced that it is no longer considering signing up to Airtel Zero.

Similarly, Cleartrip, a travel ticket platform that lets users book seats on flights, buses and trains, has opted out of Facebook’s Internet.org program. The company was joined in its decision by others on the platform like NDTV, Times Group and Newshunt.

Cleartrip clarified its stance in a statement:

“The recent debate around #NetNeutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast. What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA.So while our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org.”

Even Facebook acknowledges that Internet.org is in its own interests. On a recent earnings call, Facebook’s finance chief Dave Wehner said, “I do think that over the long term, that focusing on helping connect everyone will be a good business opportunity for us.”

Wehner explained that if Facebook becomes one of the top services in these countries, “then over time we will be compensated for some of the value that we’ve provided.”

Leo Mirani of Quartz makes a great case against zero-rating, as it allows services to dominate Web experiences for users. He takes the example of Facebook:

“If the majority of the world’s online population spends time on Facebook, then policymakers, businesses, startups, developers, nonprofits, publishers, and anyone else interested in communicating with them will also, if they are to be effective, go to Facebook.That means they, too, must then play by the rules of one company. And that has implications for us all.”

However, Mark Zuckerberg believes otherwise and still stands behind Internet.org. In an article in today’s Hindustan Times, the Facebook CEO said:

“Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity.Eliminating programmes that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.”

My take on zero-rating is that it may indeed offer short-term benefits, but in the long run, could end up empowering telecom operators to control what we see online and how we use the internet.

If the idea is to bring free Web access to those who can’t afford it right now, there are other ways to go about it — such as offering limited data for free, or subsidising internet access — without creating a walled garden of services and content.

Privacy

In order for internet providers to ‘manage’ bandwidth and internet speed for various kinds of traffic, such as VoIP calls and streaming video, they will have to monitor your browsing activity… closely.

ISPs can use what is called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to look at what sort of content you’re accessing online. The Centre for Internet & Society, a non-profit organization in India, queried two state-run ISPs about whether they used DPI; both BSNL and MTNL said they don’t deploy DPI on their networks.

It’s harder to coax such information out of private ISPs, but there’s reason to believe that some of them do. For example, Airtel mentioned its plans to charge mobile users different rates for VoIP services than their standard data plans last year — the only way they could implement such an initiative is if they actively kept tabs on your Web traffic.

It’s one thing for ISPs to monitor types of bandwidth for the purpose of creating different speed lanes, but such programs could easily lead to increased collection of data on users’ browsing habits. That data could then be sold to third parties or even stolen by hackers.

Is there hope for net neutrality in India?

It’s hard to say, because there are so many moving parts in the country’s massive and convoluted machinery. As mentioned above, both the DoT and TRAI are looking into the matter and will publish reports soon. However, the DoT is not legally required to take the regulator’s recommendations on board.

If it opts to amend license agreements or issue notifications — both of which are executive actions that don’t require new legislation — the government agency could settle the matter in less than a couple of months, based on its handling of previous cases.

But there is always the threat that the country’s rampant corruption could rear its ugly head, steering decisions in favor of organizations with deep pockets.

It’s heartening though that Indian Web users are coming together in greater numbers than ever before to fight for a neutral and open internet. The energy on social networks and blogs around the country is palpable. The net neutrality campaign in India won’t go down without a fight.

Thanks to Amlan Mohanty, a Bangalore, India-based IP lawyer.

Image credit: Shutterstock

WikiLeaks releases a searchable archive of hacked Sony Pictures emails and documents

wikileaks sony

WikiLeaks today released “The Sony Archives,” a searchable online database that the organization claims contains the 173,132 emails and 30,287 documents that were stolen as part of the 2014 Sony Pictures hack.

According to WikiLeaks, the archive details email exchanges between the company and the White House, with “almost 100 US government email addresses” in the database.

Some of the emails offer insight into the connection between Sony and the Democratic Party, such as Sony employees’ attendance at a fundraising dinner and campaigns to help get Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo elected.

“This archive shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange said in the press release. “It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geo-political conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there.”

Following the hack in 2014, the White House named North Korea as the attacker behind the hacks in retaliation for the release of the film “The Interview,” in which the main characters plot to kill Kim Jong-un.

Since then, President Obama has made moves against cyber threats, such as the establishment of a new cybersecurity agency and the recent order for the American government to authorize sanctions against individuals or entities who threaten US national security.

Many of the leaked documents also made headlines last year when they disclosed the titles and scripts of upcoming movies from Sony Pictures, the salaries of actors who appeared in “The Interview” and private email exchanges between celebrities and Sony, among others.

@WikiLeaks

Chrome 42 is out now, includes push notifications that can ping you even after you close the browser

google, chrome, chrome browser, push notifications, chrome 42

Chrome 42 has graduated to a stable release and is now available to download for Windows, Mac and Linux. In addition to the usual list of security fixes (45 in total) and under-the-hood changes for stability and performance, Google’s latest release includes its new Push API and Notifications API.

Together, these two new APIs allow websites to send notifications to web surfers even after they’ve closed or navigated away from said site. Obviously, there’s a fine line between being useful and obtrusive when dealing with notifications. Fortunately, Google mandates that developers must acquire consent for permission to use the Push API.

Once permission has been granted, developers are free to use Google Cloud Messaging to use a service worker to display said notification.

chrome google chrome browser push notifications chrome 42

As an example of how the new APIs could be used, imagine you’ve bid on something on eBay. Afterwards, you navigate away or close the browser window completely. If you are outbid on the item, you could get a notification on your desktop letting you know right away.

A number of the security fixes in Chrome 42 were found by security researchers through Google’s bounty program. Their awards (when applicable) are listed alongside the security fixes on the Chrome Release Blog if you want to check them out.

In the event your browser doesn’t automatically download and install Chrome 42 via the automatic update mechanism, you can snag the Windows version by clicking here (Mac and Linux versions here and here, respectively).

By

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Google Sites and Chrome For Dummies
Google Chrome Developer Tools: Beginners Guide + Video Course
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The Chrome Book (Fifth Edition): The Essential Guide to Cloud Computing with Google Chrome and the Chromebook

BitTorrent launches its own Web browser for Windows

bittorrent maelstrom

We knew that BitTorrent was working on its own browser, and now it’s here in beta form for Windows. Based on Chromium, Project Maelstrom is designed to decentralize the web in the same way that torrents do, relying on a people-powered network of sites and files rather than large server hubs.

“With Project Maelstrom, we aim to deliver technology that can sustain an open Internet; one that doesn’t require servers, that allows anyone to publish to a truly open Web, and that uses the power of distributed technology to scale efficiently,” explains BitTorrent’s Rob Velasquez on the company blog.

BitTorrent says 10,000 developers and 3,500 publishers have come on board with the project since a closed alpha launch in December. The aim is to get the web working more like BitTorrent does, with multiple copies of data spread across the globe, though the browser will of course open websites hosted in the regular way if you want it to. A fresh batch of developer tools has also been released into the wild.

There’s also a privacy motivation here: Distributed data means more control for users over their personal information, at least in theory, because you aren’t signing your data over to one company’s servers. It would also help promote net neutrality, with data being pulled in from multiple sources. Websites can be created and distributed in the same way as any other type of torrent, and (for now) are represented by a string of numbers and letters rather than a URL.

With the code based on Chromium, the browser looks very sparse and Chrome-like. As you would expect, there’s integrated support for any torrents you find on the web, like Thom Yorke’s latest solo album — click on one of the links and you’re good to go. Remember this is beta software, so there are likely to be one or two bugs, but if you want to give it a go you can download Project Maelstrom from here.

Check This:
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The Ultimate Digital Music Guide: The Best Way to Store, Organize, and Play Digital Music
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Torrent of Secrets

Look out for pepper-spraying drones in India

quadcopter drone

Protesting in India? Pay special mind to pepper-showering drones.

Rowdy forces in the Indian city of Lucknow would be advised to watch out – pepper-splashing drones are headed.

Lucknow police chied Yashasvi Yadav said for this present week that a group of cops has recently completed flight tests of five as of late obtained multi-rotor copters, all of which have been changed to convey the provocative spread.

Addressing news office AFP in a way that recommended Yadav was truly fairly content with his recently gained gear, the police cheid said, “The outcomes were splendid. We have figured out how to work out how to utilize it to unequivocally focus on the crowd in winds and congested regions.”

Yadav portrayed the shower as “extremely viable in mob control,” including that it can be controlled from distinctive statures “to have greatest results.” From what we think about pepper spread, those “most extreme results” will incorporate smeared or impermanent loss of sight, a copying sensation on uncovered zones, and breathing challenges.

The new machines, which convey high-res cams and up to 4.4 pounds (2kg) of splash, every expense around 600,000 rupees ($9,600) and will be prepared for utilization by the begin of May. They can be worked remotely to a separation of around 0.6 miles (1km), Yadav said.

The city, whose populace of a little more than two million makes it India’s eighth biggest, has had what’s coming to it of dissents as of late, some of which have been separated utilizing water cannons. Apparently the pepper spread is a less expensive option for the powers.

We’ve been getting a charge out of some stunning feature footage from quadcopters throughout the most recent year or somewhere in the vicinity, and wondering about a percentage of the fantastic things they can do, yet is this where things turn appalling for the multi-rotor machines?

Pepper splash is a typical piece of a cop’s ordnance, and is normally managed by hand from a little can or bottle. Showering it from an automaton takes the utilization of the operators to an entire new level, in every feeling of the significance. The inquiry is, currently the thought’s out there, will police divisions in different nations soon be setting requests for pepper-showering drones they could call their own?

[Via Yahoo]

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Snapchat overhaul presents new emoji framework and camera improvement

snapchat

When you open up the upgraded Snapchat, you’ll be welcomed by some surprising emojis. Rather than freely showing your most successive snap accomplices with the “Closest Friends” list, Snapchat is presently covering up emojis with clients to show who you’re nearest with.

Check This:

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5 Lesser-Known Free Sites for Watching TV Shows

Are you ready for some free TV and movies? Here are a few more sites for finding them.

You guys seem to like TV: my roundup of never-ending video sites got more than a few positive comments. With this in mind, today’s Cool Websites and Apps digs up a few more online video sites most people haven’t heard of. Give them a shot, then let us know about anything we’ve missed in the comments.

VintageCartoons.tv: Never-ending Retro Goodness

We begin with something really simple: a site that shows you classic cartoons. Just head to VintageCartoons.tv, then lean back and enjoy.

vintage-cartoons-free-online

Videos will keep playing, and you can skip anything you don’t like by pressing the channel-changing button (to the right of the video, to those who grew up with modern devices). Sure: full-screen would be nice. But this is a simple tool for quick diversions from another era.

Archive.org’s Movies and Films: Best of the Public Domain

VintageCartoons is pulling all of its videos from Archive.org, a site we’ve pointed out a few times. What we’ve never gotten around to mentioning is that they have a pretty impressive collection of public domain movies and TV shows.

archive-free-public-domain-movies

To repeat myself: everything offered is in the public domain so you’re not going to see any recent blockbusters. But if you’re a fan of vintage film there’s a lot to explore here. Charlie Chaplin is worth checking out for everyone, not just film buffs.

Archive.org is one of the best sites on the web, and classic movies are only the beginning.

Documentary Heaven: Compilation of Free Documentaries

There are a lot of great documentaries on YouTube, but it’s hard to find them all. Documentary Heaven compiles these all in one place, making it a great site to load up when you want something thought-provoking to watch.

documentary-heave-free-documentaries

There’s a lot to explore here, and new things are added with some frequency. Because these films are all on YouTube you could mark them for watching later, or even create a playlist for watching in VLC. Let me know about anything you find in the comments below, okay?

DocumentaryFilms.com: Even More Free Documentaries

Okay, sure, this one is similar to the last one, but if you like documentaries knowing about more than one site can only be helpful.

free-documentary-filmes

As with Documentary Heaven, most of the documentaries you’ll find are on YouTube. The films offered are pretty different, pointing to just how many documentaries you can watch freely on YouTube.

Popcornflix.com (US and Canada only): Little-Known Free Streaming Site

Netflix and Hulu are household names at this point, but how many of us have heard of Popcornflix? This site’s been around since 2011, and MakeUseOf hasn’t mentioned it once. This ad-supported site offers a variety of TV shows and movies, and it even offers apps for platforms like the XBox, Playstation and more. There’s a bunch of content for kids, including some you might remember from your childhood.

popcorn-flix-free-tv-online

 There’s also a lot of…garbage. Can’t think of how else to put it. You’re not going to find the latest and coolest shows – think more along the lines of syndicated re-runs than HBO Go – but there are movies and complete TV series to be found. Give it a shot.

10 Serious Things That Happened on April 1

The list of crazy April Fools’ Day stunts has been well-covered across the Internet, so I thought today we’d flip it a little. Here’s a list of things that actually happened on April 1, but that some people assumed were part of the day’s mischievous festivities.

1. When Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father on April 1, 1984, some people figured it was a hoax. Sadly, the public quickly found out that it was all too real.

2. Somewhat similarly, when comedian Mitch Hedberg died while on tour in 2005, many of his fans thought it was another one of his jokes. He died on March 29, actually, but it wasn’t released to news outlets until the 31st, and a lot of newspapers printed the story on April 1st.

3. Back in the day when Sega and Nintendo were bitter rivals, no one would have thought that their hit characters Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario would team up in a game. But that’s exactly what happened when “Sonic and Mario at the Olympics” was announced in 2007. Sega and Nintendo announced it via a joint press release a couple of days prior to April 1, but fans just assumed there was no way it could be true.

4. Google introduced Gmail in 2004. Given Google’s propensity for April Fools Day pranks, plenty of people assumed they were just kidding. At the time, free e-mail with a whole gigabyte of storage was a completely new concept. The following year, they increased it to two gigs.

5. Let this be a lesson to us all: If you want people to take your death seriously, don’t die on April Fools’ Day (to be safe, the days leading up to April 1 should also be avoided). When the media reported the death of King George II of Greece on April 1, 1947, the public largely thought it was fake. But he had really died of arteriosclerosis.

gremlin

6. Apparently the April 1, 1970, announcement of the AMC Gremlin was too laughable for people to consider real. After all, who would name a car that? And a car expected to compete with the VW bug was just silly. AMC was serious, though, and the Gremlin was produced from 1970-1978.

7. Also in 2003, two rival video game companies merged. Square was the company behind Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy (among other games) while Enix had versions of Tomb Raider and Riven (again, among lots of other things). But in truth, the two companies had been discussing and considering the merger for at least three years.

8. I doubt anyone thought this was an April Fools’ joke at the time, but I think it’s worth noting that Apple Computer was founded by Ronald Wayne and the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) on April 1, 1976. Hmmm….coincidence that Woz was voted off of Dancing with the Stars on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of Apple? OK, it was. And he totally deserved it. He may be a great guy, but his dancing was terrible.

9. On March 31, 1946, officials released a tsunami warning in Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands. Many didn’t take the warnings seriously, but when a tsunami did indeed devastate the next day, 165 people were killed.

10. Another Google incident that wasn’t a prank: in 2007, the company sent an e-mail out to its employees at a NYC office warning that a python was loose in the facilities. Definitely sounds like a prank, I know, but it was true: an engineer kept a ball python named Kaiser in his cube and Kaiser escaped. The e-mail to employees apologized for the awkward timing and assured them that this was no April Fool stunt.