China is quite serious about using high tech surveillance on its citizens and assigning them social credit scores. Tech journalist James O’Malley recorded this video on a train between Beijing and Shanghai, offering subtitles:
The involvement of big American tech companies like Google is troubling to many, particularly when Google seems to prefer working with the Chinese government to working with the American government, if recent negotiations over a U.S. military defence contract are any guide:
In recent weeks, cloud competitor Google dropped its bid for the contract. Google cited a new policy not to use its technology for military purposes., a policy that came about after an employee uprising on the matter. Google also admitted it was dropping the bid because its cloud hadn’t yet achieved all the government certifications that the DoD was asking for.
Fox’s Bartiromo suggested that there’s some hypocrisy with Google’s policies: it doesn’t want to do work for the US DoD but Google is reportedly trying to return to the Chinese market with a search engine that the Chinese government can sensor. Julie Bort, “Larry Ellison agrees with his nemesis Jeff Bezos over one big thing: the ‘shocking’ way Google views the U.S. military” at Business Insider
But the problem is actually broader than that. There has been a definite uptick in digital authoritarianism worldwide, according to Freedom House, which assessed 65 countries:
Chinese officials have held sessions on controlling information with 36 of the 65 countries assessed, and provided telecom and surveillance equipment to a number of foreign governments, Freedom House said.
The report found 17 governments approved or proposed laws restricting online media in the name of fighting “fake news,” while 18 countries increased surveillance or weakened encryption protection to more closely monitor their citizenry.
According to the researchers, internet freedom declined in 26 countries from June 2017 to May 2018. Gains were seen in 19 countries, most of them minor.Agence Presse France, “Chinese-style ‘digital authoritarianism’ grows globally: study” at France24
One cause cited by Freedom House researcher Adrian Shahbaz will sound rather familiar: “While deliberately falsified content is a genuine problem, some governments are increasingly using ‘fake news’ as a pretense to consolidate their control over information and suppress dissent.”
Here’s the Freedom House study, which notes that “In almost half of the countries where internet freedom declined, the reductions were related to elections.” Also:
Many governments are enforcing criminal penalties for the publication of what they deem false news. In 2018, 13 countries prosecuted citizens for spreading false information. Rwandan blogger Joseph Nkusi was sentenced in March 2018 to 10 years in prison for incitement to civil disobedience and the spreading of rumors, having questioned the state’s narrative on the 1994 genocide and criticized the lack of political freedom in the country. Police in Bangladesh arrested media activist Shahidul Alam only hours after he live-streamed a video on Facebook in which he decried a disproportionate crackdown on protesters in August. Alam faces a prison sentence of up to seven years for spreading false news against the government under the ICT Act, which has been invoked to detain dozens of social media users over the past year.
Overall, governments worldwide are restricting the freedom of the internet, especially around election times, and the big social media companies are conspicuous by their silence.
See also: Would Google be happier if America were run more like China?
Google branches out into politics
Google powering China’s snoop culture
Senior Google scientist quits over Google’s censorship in China