Facebook giving China a censorship tool?

The New York Times reported this week that Facebook has ‘quitely developed’ a censorship tool, specifically for the Chinese government to suppress content on their platform. The piece writes:

“the social network quietly developed software to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas, according to three current and former Facebook employees, who asked for anonymity because the tool is confidential. The feature was created to help Facebook get into China, a market where the social network has been blocked, these people said. Mr. Zuckerberg has supported and defended the effort, the people added” – New York Times

The report goes on to say, that Facebook intends to grant that capability to a 3rd-party, who will “have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds“.

In short, they’re creating a censorship on demand for China, in exchange for access to the worlds largest market.

Censorship in an encrypted world

While Facebook have neither confirmed nor denied this, this will give China special priviledge to the platform, one that no other nation currently has. Today, most governments face an all-or-nothing approach to censorship on encrypted sites like Facebook, Google and Wikipedia. China famously censor of all Wikipedia on days leading up to the anniversary Tianamen square massacre, simply because they have no ability to censor specific pages.

If I were browsing for chicken curry recipes on Wikipedia, while you were researching political dissent on the same site, our traffic would look identical to anyone ‘sniffing’ along the line. These ‘in transit’ censorship attempts are failing, and for Governments like China, a ‘block the whole damn thing’ approach is the only alternative.

This new tool however, will grant them granular control, to block specific posts and news on the social network,because the censorship now will occur at source, rather than in-transit. It is a radical shift in the way censorship will be performed on the internet, not just in China, but across the world.

It’s also worthwhile to note, that other governments have tried these ‘all-or-nothing’ approaches as well, including Brazil who famously blocked all of Whatsapp (also owned by Facebook) for 72 hours, because a Judge was ‘unhappy’ that Whatsapp responded via email and in English. Fortunately for Brazilians, the ban didn’t last that long.

Whatsapp is a private communications tool, and Facebook is a social network–the similarity is that they both use encryption and this is problematic for governments. In the case of Whatsapp, the two ends of the encrypted channel belong to users, and Whatsapp would be unable to provide any content of communications within that channel–even if it wanted to. In the case of Facebook, since one end belongs to the company–it is able to provide some control.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to Facebook and censorship in China–but first let’s take a look at Facebook. Continue reading

Hate Speech is defined by private companies

FirstAmendmentYou don’t have a right to freedom of speech.

Obviously true if you’re Malaysian, but even Americans only enjoy a liberty in freedom of speech and not an absolute right.

The difference is clear, liberties are protections you have from the government, while rights are something you have from everyone.

So if someone threatened your right to live, the government is obligated to intervene and protect that right, because your right to live is a protection you have from everyone, whether it be a common criminal, abusive husband or Ayotollah Khomeini.

On the other hand you only have a liberty in freedom of speech (at least in an American context), which means that the government can’t prevent you from speaking, or penalize you for something you said.

However, the government is under no obligation to ensure your speech gets equal ‘air-time’, a newspaper may decline to publish your article, an auditorium may elect to deny you their roster, and online platforms like Facebook may choose to remove your post–all of which do not violate your freedom of speech, because freedom of speech is protection only from the government (state actors) and not from private entities.

And like all liberties and rights, freedom speech is not absolute. Under strict conditions even the US government can impose limits to what they’re citizens can say, or penalize them for things they have said.

In the case of freedom of speech, a liberty defined in their first amendment, those strict conditions are very strict indeed. In order for the government to infringe on the freedom of speech, it must demonstrate a imminent danger that will result in a serious effect.

In other words the government must be able to prove that if the speech were given freedom, there would be an imminent threat of something serious. Both the imminence and seriousness must be proven, failing which the government cannot infringe on that speech. This is indeed a very tall hurdle to climb, and based on my cursory research no case has ever reached this limit. Continue reading

Our Communication Minister must be mistaken

Our newly appointed Communication Minister has come out all guns blazing in directing the The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to ask social media giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter soon to block “false information and rumours” on their platforms.

That in itself is quite frustrating, but what really got me scratching my head was his claim that “that social media providers acted on 78 per cent of MCMC’s request for removal of content last year, with Facebook taking action on around 81 per cent of its request.”

Reuters reported that:

A Google spokesman in Kuala Lumpur said the Internet giant was “always in conversation with” the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission but he declined to comment on the request from the government on curbing content.

Facebook and Twitter were not immediately available for comment.

Fortunately, we don’t need to ask Google, Facebook or twitter about these specific request, because this information is already publicly available. All 3 social media platforms publish transparency reports that detail any and all government request made to them, and whether or not those government request were acted upon.

And as it turns out the data that our Minister has doesn’t quite tally up with the information published by the platforms. According to the Facebook transparency reports (found here and here), the Government of Malaysia made 36 content removal request, and 46 user account request. Of these, less than a quarter were acted on by Facebook, unfortunately Facebook doesn’t provide the details about the specific Government agency making the request or which specific request were acted upon. But, as you can see, the numbers are fairly small (a mere 36 content removal request over an entire year), and the success of those request are quite slim as well (less than 25%).

With twitter things get even more interesting.

In 2014, the government made 3 User account request to twitter, of which all 3 were rejected that’s a resounding success rate of 0%. And in the first half of this year, it had made 1 removal request, which was also rejected. Twitter doesn’t quite like the request from our government, and the government doesn’t make that many either.

I could go on with Google, but you get the picture.

The government is not having ANY success with the removal request, so why bother trying.

A more pertinent question is why is the Minister making these numbers up? Either he’s been given false information, or he’s just making shit up at this point. There is a possibility that maybe he’s telling the truth, through some math-magic, maybe the MCMC makes a smaller fraction of the request to Facebook, and maybe those have a success rate of 80%, but that’s unlikely, and it would be a insignificant number anyway.

My theory is that when you have Ministers who are appointed based on their loyalty to a certain someone, as opposed to technical knowledge of the area they’re supposed to be administering, you will continue to get this sort of this bullshit.

When technical merit, takes a backseat to political connections and allegiances–you’re bound to end up with people who don’t know anything. Something we all should be very very worried about.

Full disclosure:Google actually had one request for the 2nd half of last year, and complied with that request, resulting in a 100% compliance. However  over the entire reporting history, Google complied with 17 out of 31 request, nowhere near the numbers the good Minister has.

Much ado over a tweet

ETP Roadmap former prime minister tweetIn case you’ve missed it. The official twitter handle of the ETP, @etp_roadmap, recently made a serious blunder. In a tweet sent out at 1.00pm on the 6th of January, they tweetedFormer Prime Minister Najib Razak: Energy and Food Subsidies are no longer sustainable”. Now the blunder of course was the word ‘Former’ and it was only a full one hour later (or an eternity in twitter time) was the tweet deleted and an apology issued.

Obviously everyone jumped on the matter and soon people were making fun over what was a silly but common mistake. What I find particularly disturbing is the manner in which Pemandu is getting flak for this. Surely this is something to joke about, share with your friends and have a laugh, but to attack someone over a typo is ridiculous.

The pro-government bloggers are the ones leading the charge, using this as a platform to launch their claims that Pemandu is Anti-Najib and Anti-Government, that Pemandu comprises of over-paid consultants that aren’t worth the chairs they occupy in Putrajaya, and I’m OK with that. Any government agency that utilizes public funds is open and fair game to constant scrutiny, it’s how we make them accountable.

But to take out all their frustrations on a single tweet–and then to call for the resignation (or firing) of the person in charge of the twitter handle is just wrong–particularly since this was an obvious mistake, and an apology was issued–if you want to continue attacking Pemandu go ahead, but don’t attack the individual running the handle, that person was just doing their job, and in every job–people make mistakes.

We’ve seen a lot of these personal attacks, and I’m fine when people personally attack politicians. It comes to the territory when you’re a politician, but when you’re just a ‘cari makan’ guy or gal working for a government agency, being villified and attacked by high profile bloggers can take it’s toll on you. Just a few months ago, the entire pro-BN blogosphere had set their phasers to kill and trained them onto a single girl from Pemandu, posting up her private photos from facebook on their blogs, making accusations that she was a drunkard, and vilifying here because she had a foreign boyfriend. I mean–to attack someone personally, and use the vast attention their blogs get to do it–is just bullying.

It’s a bunch of bloggers who have some serious traffic–using that influence as a platform to attack a single individual that is just a employee of a government agency is just lame. If they took pot-shots at policies implemented by Pemandu, or questioned the salaries the Pemandu folks get, that’ll be fine, but to invade the privacy of one individual you don’t agree with, and then publicly (VERY publicly) launch what I can only describe as a concerted attack–on one single girl….c’mon la, have some fucking courtesy.

People need to standup for these guys, I’m by no means a fan of the government, but you need to make the distinction between THE government and government servants, the latter are just people like everyone else trying to do their jobs and get on with life, attacking and bullying them will get you nothing yet causes them severe distress.

Political parties don’t know how to engage

“There are many ways to reach out to the public, both political parties have a lot of space in Malaysia… It is unlikely we will have a debate, we need to engage with the people, the opposition will engage with people,” – Caretaker Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak

Caretake Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak told Veronica Pedrosa that he was unlikely to Debate Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim because there are other ways to ‘engage’ with people. Of course, I get annoyed at these statements, in America the Presidential elections are viewed as the cornerstone of democracy, they are a way for both candidates to debate and argue their ideas and for people to really understand the platform the candidates stand on.

However, let’s give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt and assume for now that there are other ways of engaging with people. How are the Barisan engaging? Besides hundreds of sms-blast to the public there seems to be little ‘engaging’ from the Barisan Nasional. In fact–I’ve replied to nearly 20 Barisan sms’s I received and did not receive a single response from any of them. Yes, I wasn’t expecting any–but you would think a political party that was interested in engaging the rakyat would at least respond to an sms from a voter?

You would think the Barisan Nasional, the most powerful political coalition in Malaysia, could respond to at least one of my 20 questions via sms–sent directly to phone numbers from which I receive promotional messages for the Barisan Nasional in the first place. You would hope, that if they were serious about ‘engaging’ they would engage me, a voter in Malaysia.

It seems the Barisan doesn’t really understand technology, with their resources and the technology we have today, they could have meaningful engaging conversations with the rakyat–instead they’re caught up in the old way of thinking of ‘I talk YOU listen’, and wrapping that way of thinking into new technology like IVRs or SMS or Email or Twitter doesn’t demonstrate anything other than the fact that they don’t understand technology.

I talk You listen isn’t engaging–it’s an ancient way of thinking that would fail to engage anyone in this day of age, but you can’t really expect much more from Barisan, after all their Deputy Minister of Information Communications only started blogging last week–and hasn’t updated his twitter since 2010.

BN Spam SMS 1 BN Spam SMS 2 BN Spam SMS 3 BN Spam SMS 4

Anwar may have changed Malaysia, but Mark, Larry and Sergey changed the world

Mark Zuckerberg Larry Page Sergey Brin

If Pakatan win the next election, I would recommend that they award the title of Tan Sri or at least Dato’ to the following:

Larry Page and Sergey Brin:

Co-founders of Google, who own both the video sharing site Youtube, and the blogging service Blogger.com. Without these two free services the message from the opposition would not have reached so many Malaysians, so effectively in such a short time-span. 12 years ago, before broadband or Google, the opposition were forced to resort to pamphlets and flyers, most of which was ineffective and expensive. Without Larry and Sergey, the Opposition would have not technology to spread their message to the masses. Anwar and Co’ owe more to the technology of Sergey and Larry than any amount of funds they may have obtained from any other party (foreign or domestic)

Mark Zuckerberg:

Founder of Facebook, the de-facto social network for Malaysian. Facebook is so famous even my mother uses it–and I recently received a friend invite from my mother-in-law!!

Facebook allowed the youtube videos and blog post from various opposition parties to be spread from friend to friend, without Facebook videos wouldn’t have gone ‘viral’. Together Facebook and Google were instrumental in allowing the opposition a platform to preach their good news in 2008–in 2013 they might just allow them to form a new government. 

Matt Mullenweg & The WordPress Foundation:

Matt is the creator of the blogging platform (and service) WordPress.

WordPress runs the blogs of many NGOs and even politicians–except Khairys. Even Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s website runs on WordPress.

WordPress took the publishing of blogs, and made it into an open-source platform that anyone could use–and pretty soon everyone was using it. Without wordpress, blogs like Harris Ibrahim’s The People’s Parliament would not be possible (although he may have still launched ABU), in fact it remains to be seen how social activism would have evolved if WordPress hadn’t made it easier for social activist to blog.

Jack Dorsey

Co-founder of Twitter, the micro-blogging platform that took the world by storm. Twitter allowed for politicians like Lim Kit Siang and many others to ‘micro-blog’ while on the road. This meant they could spread their message without sitting behind a computer screen writing long articles, but write short ‘tweets’ that could be spread virally in seconds. It also meant, that for the first time Politicians could actively engage the public while on the go.

Without twitter 83k people wouldn’t be able to see where LKS was, or more than 1 million people wouldn’t be able to see where Najib was (Although some of those followers are suspect)

Post-humous award to Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs may no longer be with us, but his legacy will remain with us forever. The iPhone–the worlds first truly ‘smart’ phone, allowed for people to connect on the go. Without the smartphone, twitter wouldn’t be possible and all the effects that twitter has had on our political landscape.


Anwar Ibrahim has changed the Malaysian political landscape–no doubt about it. Whether you support him or not, merely changes the fact on whether you accept it was good change or bad change, but everyone accepts that he’s changed it.

These guys however,–Larry, Sergey, Matt, Jack and Steve–they changed the world!

It’s quite clear if you want to change Malaysia, you’d want to join politics–but if you want to change the world–there’s only one place to be…Technology!!

Stay Tuned for part 2.

How many FAKE followers does Najib have on twitter?

A Social Media Analytics firm recently reported that nearly 50% of Justin Bieber followers on Twitter–were fake. This meant that nearly 18 million followers on Justins twitter account either belonged to no ‘real’ person or belonged to a spam account–and that dear readers is a lot of spam!

That’s like a newspaper saying its circulation was 100,000 a day, but it was only being read by 50,000 people.

Now of course, even if the first 18 million twitter followers were nothing more than spam bots, there’s still another 18 million ‘real’ followers that Justin has–and not many people have even 1 million twitter followers, let alone 18 million, so Justin still has twitter-cred.

However, that does beg the question–how many followers of our Prime Ministers twitter account–were real? For the uninitiated, the Prime Minister tweets at @NajibRazak and has nearly 1.4 Million followers, about 10 times less than Justin Bieber–but nearly 7 times more than his political rival Anwar Ibrahim (who has ‘just’ over 250 thousand followers).

So were these followers real? Continue reading

5 Lessons from Listen Listen Listen

Sharifah telling Bawani to Listen Listen Listen
For the past week or so, Malaysians have been completely engrossed by the “Listen Listen Listen” video, and barely a day went by without me hearing some lame joke about listening, speaking…and even sharks. Over the weekend however, I had some time to contemplate through the craziness and realize that underneath this viral video that took Malaysia by storm had some rather interesting lessons we could all learn from–that includes the sharks cause everyone knows sharks have got problems and Jaws really needs to shut up and listen. Continue reading

MACC says Facebook at work is Corruption

Effects of Facebook at the WorkplaceAccording to last weeks Star, MACC deputy chief commissioner Datuk Sutinah Sutan was reported to have said that Civil servants and staff of government-linked companies (GLCs) surfing social media or engaging in personal matters during working hours may be categorized as having committed corruption!!

The underlying logic to the argument seems plausible enough, Datuk Sutinah goes on to elaborate that:

“For instance, if a person spends three hours during his or her stipulated working hours for personal tasks, it can be deemed a form of corruption as the Government trusts and pays its employees to fully utilise the working period to complete tasks relating to the respective jobscope,”

Now while all this sounds good on paper, I think we need to delve deeper, because every time a broad statement such as this comes along it’s important to take a step back and analyze the evidence rather than rely on ‘common sense’. Common sense is after all–not so common (this reminds of the MACC lawyer who claimed the Teoh Beng Hock could strangle himself to death)

So here we have a situation where the MACC deputy chief seems to think that the social media habits of Government servants warrants a statement from such a high ranking officer and therefore logically this must be something of high consequences to the nation, much more than the RM250 Million soft-loan given to a company to sort out the nations beef issues. Continue reading

Instagram Camera: Coolest thing EVER!!

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about a cool card game based on Computer processes, in hindsight the only thing that post proved was that I’m a geek. The card game was funded through a crowdfunded initiative, and that was really what made it cool.

The instagram camera is cool on its own, and the fact that it’s currently  being crowdsourced through Indiegogo (a website similar to Kickstarter) makes the cool factor– cucumber cool.

In fact, as of now, it’s already reached $6,000 dollars from it’s $50,000 target in just one day. I’m willing to bet that this project will eventually reach it’s pretty low target of just $50,000 — easily.

There are however, some copyright concerns surrounding the camera, particularly since Facebook now own Instagram and they don’t even like wordpress developers building themes that ‘look’ like facebook, much less an entire camera that is based on a trademark they own.

If you choose to fund the project, you’re promised a discount on the final item, which the creator hopes to price at under $350 (that’s in US Dollars). However, based on the specs, that may be a bit difficult, we’re talking about a: Continue reading