Hard Numbers: China blasts to space, Facebook removes fake Ethiopian accounts, Tokyo lifts pre-Olympic state of emergency, Gbagbo returns to Ivory Coast
3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars.
1.1 million: Facebook has taken down pro-government fake accounts followed by roughly 1.1 million users ahead of a contentious election in Ethiopia on June 21 amid the ongoing civil war in Tigray. The accounts have been linked to Ethiopia's cyberintelligence agency, and posted content critical of opposition parties including the nationalist Tigray People's Liberation Front.
12: Japan will lift a COVID-fueled state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures on July 11, just 12 days before the Tokyo Olympic begin. Most Japanese people oppose holding the games while the pandemic is still raging, one of the main reasons Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's popularity has hit record lows in recent months.10: Laurent Gbagbo, former president of the Ivory Coast, has returned to the country 10 years after he was ousted from power during a brief yet bloody civil war sparked by Gbagbo's refusal to step down when he lost the 2010 presidential election. Gbagbo was the first former head of state to go on trial at the International Criminal Court, which acquitted him in 2019 of crimes against humanity linked to the disputed election that left some 3,000 dead.
Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:
No more Netanyahu? Is Israel on the verge of new leadership?
Oh, we've seen this story before. I saw one commenter from the Israeli press saying, "Even a magician eventually runs out of rabbits to pull out of hats," but I'm not sure. Assuming that Netanyahu can't get this government together and it'd be knife-edge if he can and it won't last very long, the idea that the opposition could pull it together is also pretty low. It would be like seven parties together in a coalition, incredibly hard to do, which means Israel may be heading for a fifth election, which would be a problem except for the fact that their economy is doing pretty well right now and their vaccinations are fantastic. So, no, he might still be there for a bit.
Is Scotland moving toward independence?
I do think that it's becoming a much bigger risk. Remember, when the Scots voted against independence, it was because they wanted to stay in the EU. Now, if they want to stay in the EU, they have to leave the United Kingdom. Big elections coming up, also knife-edge in terms of what the outcome is going to be. But eventually the percentages in Scotland are for a referendum. The question is how they can have one legally and whether the Supreme Court in the UK would vote in favor of that, would allow them to do it. If they don't, would they have some kind of a rogue referendum that doesn't have the agreement of the UK and therefore it wouldn't have full legitimacy? How does Boris Johnson respond in the next couple of years? Does he provide more home rule, more decentralization of power? Brexit just keeps on giving, including the potential unwind of the UK, and don't even get me started long-term about potential Ireland reunification.
Do you expect Trump to be allowed back on Facebook?
So, here's the thing, if you look at the cases that this compliance board has reviewed so far, the orientation has been overwhelmingly towards liberal interpretations of free speech and the impact of the punishment meted out. That implies that Trump would be allowed back. Having said that, if you look at who these people are, not a lot of folks that are very oriented towards Trump, and they understand the direct impact that having Trump be reinstated would have for the US politics. And do they really want to be responsible for that? If you asked me on the basis of values and consistency and rule of law, I would say he'll be reinstated. Having said that, on the back of pragmatic implications and what this means for all these people and for the company and for the country, I would say he probably isn't. So, I really don't know. But my God, it is really important, and of course, These are a bunch of well-respected, but nonetheless random people that have been appointed without any particular governance implied, by a privately held corporation, one of the most impactful decisions, politically, for the United States right now with of course, zero representative governance or democracy behind it. That is a sign of our times.
Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:
How big of a blow is Apple's new privacy feature to companies like Facebook, who depend on tracking users?
The long-awaited update, including enhanced privacy features, actually empowers those users to decide not to be tracked. So that's great news for people who are sick of how the data trail they leave behind on the web is used. But it has to be said, that simple feature settings changed by Apple cannot solve the problem of misuse of data and microtargeting alone. Still, Apple's move was met with predictable outrage and anti-trust accusations from ad giant Facebook. I would anticipate more standard setting by companies in the absence of a federal data protection law in the United States. That's just to mention one vacuum that big tech thrives on.
Why are social media algorithms being scrutinized?
Now frankly, I wish they would be much more systematically scrutinized by academics or overseen by independent regulators. And that would require more access to data and information as a precondition for both evidence-based lawmaking and the public's ability to learn. Grillings of a select group of tech CEOs before Congress cannot be a substitute for laws and the rule of law to actually guide tech governance.
Hard Numbers: Israel PM hopeful, Facebook board punts on Trump, Japan’s COVID squid, US population declining
28: Yair Lapid, leader of Israel's opposition Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, has 28 days to form a new government. President Reuven Rivlin tapped Lapid after incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to cobble together a governing coalition by Tuesday's midnight deadline, further prolonging Israel's political stalemate.
6: Facebook has six months to decide whether to reinstate or permanently ban former US president Donald Trump on its platform, its oversight board has ruled (or punted, depending on your view). Facebook dropped Trump for his role in inciting the US Capitol insurrection on January 6.
25 million: A Japanese town has spent 25 million yen (almost $229,000) in COVID relief money to build a life-size statue of a giant squid. The mayor's office hopes the attraction will help boost tourism, but netizens complain it's a waste of funds needed to help local economies recover from the pandemic.4: The number of births in the US dropped by 4 percent in 2020, double the average rate of decline in the past six years, according to new CDC data. This means that America's population is now below replacement levels, with more people dying than being born each day.
Hello, it's Marietje Schaake here, and this is Cyber In :60. A little bit about me. I work at Stanford University. Before that, I spent 10 years as a member of European Parliament and continue to be involved with a number of not-for-profit boards, including as president of the Cyber Peace Institute.
Now, in this series, we're going to look under the hood of the internet, zoom in on technology to show you why the topic of cyber is both personal and geopolitical, touching on your freedoms, your rights, our economy, our security, and so much more.
Now, with that, I have your first question of the week ready to go, which is, "Are Europe and the US at odds when it comes to the ongoing Big Tech regulatory battles?"
I would say yes, but they may also complement each other. Of course, there is a different starting point. The US traditionally strong on national security, the EU on the other hand very much focused on rights protections. But along those different lines, combined you can see the contours of a democratic governance model to deal with technology, and that is what I do think we need in light of the shared challenges that the EU and the US face coming from China, but also from the growing power of tech companies, the privatization of governance, and both erode democracy.
Second question, "What is happening between Facebook and Australia?"
Well, poof, we've seen a lot of flip-flopping. Facebook overnight removed links to news sites in Australia as a hardcore last ditch lobbying effort, but then new talks with the Australian Government happened and now there seems to be a lull in the fight.
Third question, "As the investigation into the SolarWinds cyber hack continues, what have we learned?"
Well, we've learned how connectivity brings along new vulnerability and that a blind reliance on tech companies and the software that they sell is very risky.
I think I have to leave it at that. Thank you so much. My name is Marietje Schaake. That was your Cyber In :60. Well, I think it was more like 120 seconds, but see you again soon.
What We’re Watching: Facebook refriends Australia, Biden on Afghan fence, Philippine labor for COVID jabs
Facebook "refriends" Australia: Last week, Facebook abruptly blocked news from appearing on Australian users' feeds after Canberra proposed a law requiring Big Tech companies pay news outlets for sharing their content. Facebook came under fire globally for banning news sharing in Australia, including crucial public health announcements on COVID. Now, five days later, Facebook has reversed course to suddenly lift the news ban. "Facebook has re-friended Australia," Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said after speaking with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. So, what changed? The two sides say they have reached a compromise, though some details remain murky. The Australian government will make several amendments to the Big Tech bill — including one that will allow Facebook to circumvent the new code and avoid hefty fines — if the social media platform shows a "significant contribution" to Australia's local journalism scene. In theory, this would require Facebook to prove it has cut enough deals with Aussie media companies to pay them for content — but what constitutes "enough" remains unclear. Frydenberg said Australia has been a "proxy battle" for the rest of the globe on Big Tech regulation. Indeed, Europe and the US have been fastidiously taking notes.
Afghan peace talks resume: After a month-long break — during which America inaugurated a new president — US-brokered peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are finally scheduled to resume on Tuesday in Doha, Qatar. This comes as the Biden administration is reviewing the tenuous peace deal brokered by the Trump administration and the Taliban last year, which stipulates a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of all US combat forces in Afghanistan if the Taliban stop launching deadly attacks (spoiler: they have not). Washington has yet to commit to pulling out some 2,500 US troops that remain there, but US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested this week that more progress is needed before a decision can be reached. The Taliban, for their part, are adamant that the US withdraw without further delays. This puts Biden in a tough spot: he supports the previous Trump administration's move to end American involvement in Afghanistan after two decades of war, but worries that a hasty withdrawal will clear the way for the Taliban to push aside the US-backed government and again take over the country. As the May deadline fast approaches, Joe Biden can't stay on the fence for much longer.Filipino nurses for European vaccines: In the latest twist to the Philippines' messy vaccine rollout, the government has now offered to send additional nurses to Germany and the UK... in exchange for an unspecified amount of jabs for Filipino overseas workers. Berlin and London have yet to respond to the bizarre proposal, which comes as Manila seeks to ship more of its labor force to shore up their remittances for the ailing domestic economy. Interestingly, the offer was made public a day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shocked the country by blocking planned purchases of the Pfizer and Moderna jabs to make way for his preferred choice of China's Sinopharm vaccine, which (surprise!) is being pushed by Duterte's own special envoy to China, a former TV host who has applied to be a local distributor for Sinopharm. And it gets better: the same envoy also admitted being inoculated months ago with smuggled doses of the Chinese jab, along with members of Duterte's own security detail. We're watching to see which professional group — seafarers, perhaps? — the Philippines will pitch next as part of its new labor-for-vaccine program.