In My Day They Called It the "World Wide" Web

Last week, in an interview tied to the launch of his country’s new AI strategy, French President Emmanuel Macron threw down the gauntlet against the world’s largest tech firms. Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, he said, will have to submit to France’s will on questions of privacy, ethics, and responsibility for the economic consequences of their technologies. Signal’s in-house tech-guru @kevinallison explains what it means.


Whether or not tech giants bend to the French in particular, they do have to grapple with an increasingly kaleidoscopic political landscape today. And so, as a web-user, do you:

Say you take off in Chicago and land in Beijing. When you arrive, you can’t check a lot of US social media sites anymore, because China bans them. Fair enough, you’ll waste less time on Facebook anyway. Now you land in Moscow. You text a friend in Moscow to ask where you can get some Belarusian mozzarella (as one does) — by law that message will stay on a Russian server where it can be read the security services. You OK with that?

And it’s not just authoritarians cutting up the web. The EU’s rigorous privacy laws limit companies’ ability to send Europeans’ data across borders. Back in the US, meanwhile, if you’re not a citizen, authorities can ask you not only for your passport, but for your social media passwords as well.

This trend of regulatory fragmentation will accelerate as world leaders start to grapple more seriously with the ethical and economic challenges of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.

We sure are a long way from the 1990s vision of the internet as a public good that promised a post-national future. Where, exactly, we are going isn’t fully clear yet. But national governments will have a lot to say about it.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

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