What We're Watching: WHO vaccine passports, Australia vs Big Tech, Nigeria's military shake-up

COVID immunity passport. Art by Gabriella Turrisi

Pros and cons of vaccine passports: As a growing number of countries roll out COVID vaccines, the World Health Organization has started working on a global "vaccine passport" certification that it hopes will be recognized across the globe. In theory, such a document would exempt global travelers from having to provide negative tests and undergo quarantines upon arrival. But here is where it gets tricky: While countries whose economies are heavily reliant on tourism like Greece are lobbying in favor of the effort so they can get tourists back in their hotels and restaurants, it's still unclear whether vaccinated people, who are protected from getting sick themselves, can transmit the virus to others. If some countries or regions jump the gun and lift restrictions for those with proof of vaccination, it could lead to a potential deluge of infections which would in turn result in fresh lockdowns and more economic turmoil. On the other hand, if vaccines do provide to be a safeguard against disease transmission, a global standard to verify who's gotten the jab could avoid the chaos associated with different nations' medical standards. The WHO has done it before with its famous "yellow card" that documents vaccinations against a range of diseases like rubella and cholera. Will it be able to come up with a paperless version that will be broadly accepted?


Australia takes on Big Tech: In the latest row in the Big Tech world, Google has threatened to cut off search engine access for all Australian users (19 million each month) after a proposed bill would require Google and Facebook to pay a licensing fee to media companies for sharing their content. Facebook followed up by warning it'll block Australian users from posting news stories to its feeds if the bill turns into law. Google says it's willing to negotiate, but that the Australian bill goes too far. Specifically, the tech giant rejects establishing an automatic arbitration model which would allow Australian courts to decide how much Google should pay if it can't reach an agreement directly with a publisher (this would open Google up to infinite financial risks, the company says). The row with Australia is surely a sign of what's to come around the globe. While the EU agreed to a bloc-wide copyright rule in 2019, some individual nations still need to pursue their own additional copyright laws — France recently did so and subsequently struck a deal with Google over licensing fees for content producers. But those who haven't done so yet will be watching the outcome of the messy dispute with Australia very, very closely.

Nigerian military reshuffle: In response to growing pressure to improve Nigeria's rapidly deteriorating security situation, President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power promising to oversee an era of safety and stability in Nigeria, has taken the bold step of replacing military commanders and the entire defense department. Although he didn't give a reason for the reshuffle, Buhari — a former general who led a military junta that ruled Nigeria in the early 1980s but was elected as a civilian in 2015 — has struggled to make progress on the multiple security crises facing the country. Nigeria is currently suffering a spike in jihadist violence from Boko Haram and Islamic State-affiliated groups, fresh attacks by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, bloody clashes between Christian farmers and mostly Muslim nomadic herders, and a resurgent separatist movement in Biafra. What's more, Nigeria is still reeling from the popular backlash against police brutality that sparked the #EndSARS protests last October. Interestingly, the new top brass is considerably younger than the previous military leadership, but it remains to be seen whether they can get the job done.

Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints from people who've been victims of tech support scams. But it's not just Microsoft's brand that the scammers leverage; fraudsters have pretended to be from a number of other reputable tech companies and service providers. These scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about how they work and how to avoid them.

To measure the scope of this problem globally, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for a new 2021 survey across 16 countries. Results from the 2021 survey reveal that, globally, fewer consumers have been exposed to tech support scams as compared to the 2018 survey. However, those people who continued with the interaction were more likely to have lost money to the scammers than we saw in our previous survey. To read the highlights of the survey, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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Was the world so focused on climate change that warning signs about the COVID-19 pandemic were missed? Historian and author Niall Ferguson argues that, while the climate crisis poses a long-term threat to humanity, other potential catastrophes are much more dangerous in the near future. "We took our eye off that ball," Ferguson says about COVID, "despite numerous warnings, because global climate change has become the issue that Greta Thunberg said, would bring the end of the world. But the point I'm making in DOOM [his new book] is that we can end the world and a lot of other ways, much faster." Ferguson spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview for GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

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13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?

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