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The Digital Iron Curtain: How Russia’s Internet Could Soon Start To Look Like China’s



The Digital Iron Curtain: How Russia's Internet Could Soon Start To Look Like China's

Like much else about the country, Russia’s internet has long straddled East and West.

Russian citizens, unlike their Chinese counterparts, have been able to access US tech platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, though they have been subject to censorship and restrictions — the defining feature of China’s internet model.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has increasingly isolated the country in recent days, could also prove to be the death knell for its presence on the worldwide web.

On Friday, as sanctions on Russia tightened and fighting in Ukraine continued to intensify, the Russian government said it had decided to block Facebook, citing the social network’s moves in recent days to impose restrictions on Russia-controlled media outlets.

While Facebook is by no means the largest platform in the country, blocking it may be a symbolic move to indicate that President Vladimir Putin’s government is prepared to go after big global names if they don’t toe the party line. (Instagram and WhatsApp, which are more popular in Russia and also owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, have not yet been blocked). Already, the country’s main telecom agency, Rozkomnadzor, is exerting pressure on Google (GOOGL) over what it terms “false” information, and has reportedly restricted Twitter (TWTR) as well. Other platforms are choosing to halt operations on their own.

READ ALSO: Over 40 Russian Diplomats, Families Leave US Due To War In Ukraine

Being cut off from Russia may not pose an existential threat to western tech platforms, some of which count their audience in the billions. But these moves have major implications for the ability of Russians to access information and express themselves freely. At a more fundamental level, it could also further accelerate the fracturing of the global internet as we know it.

A digital Iron Curtain
Many of Russia’s recent curbs on western tech platforms stem from a “sovereign internet” law enacted by Russia in 2019 that allows Roskomnadzor to more tightly control internet access in the country and potentially sever its online ties to the rest of the world altogether.

A law passed by Putin’s government on Friday further ratchets up the hostility to western services, making it a crime to disseminate “fake” information about the invasion of Ukraine, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The law prompted several news outlets, including CNN, to suspend their coverage from within Russia. TikTok also cited the new legal environment in announcing its decision to prevent new uploads and livestreams on its platform in Russia.

Other tech companies previously dialed back their presence in Russia amid the Ukraine conflict. Apple, Microsoft and Intel stopped all sales and restricted services in the country, while Google, Twitter, Netflix (NFLX), Spotify (SPOT) and Meta have blocked or restricted Russian state-run media outlets and, in some cases, halted advertising in the country altogether. Cogent Communications, one of the world’s largest internet traffic hosts, reportedly began cutting off some Russian service providers from its network on Friday.

It’s a perfect storm that could lead Russia to finally seal off its population from the rest of the global internet, much like China already has.

“The crisis is definitely a flashpoint, and likely a turning point, for western platforms operating in Russia,” Jessica Brandt, policy director for the Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told CNN Business. “Moscow will no doubt continue pressing platforms to take down unflattering content, using all the leverage at its disposal. If the companies comply, public backlash elsewhere around the world will be intense,” she added.

The term used to refer to the two countries’ respective censorship apparatuses is also similar — where China has its Great Firewall, Russia’s has been dubbed a digital Iron Curtain. But while there are many similarities between the two, there are also some key differences that raise doubts about Russia’s ability to maintain its own standalone digital ecosystem.
Can Russia’s internet survive without western tech?

While China has spent decades building up its far-reaching censorship capabilities and has almost always blocked most western tech platforms from operating in the country, Russia is trying to make that switch while fighting a war. Russia’s ability to deploy the same level of technology as China is questionable, whether it’s making western platforms completely inaccessible or even censoring specific content and topics in real-time as the Chinese government frequently does.

“I think one nuanced difference between Russia and China is that China has the technical capability — their Great Firewall is very sophisticated and Russia doesn’t have as much of that,” said Xiaomeng Lu, director of the geo-technology practice for the Eurasia Group. “As much as they [Russia] want to do a comprehensive, full blockage, I think technically there are some challenges.”

Unlike China, millions of people in Russia have been accustomed to accessing global tech platforms, and completely cutting them off from those platforms is a step the Russian government under Putin has refrained from taking so far. But that is rapidly changing as the war and resulting western sanctions continue to escalate.

READ ALSO: US Orders Deployment Of Troops, Weapons In Europe To Support NATO

“Completely shutting it down, I think, risks some kind of backlash politically for the government,” said Lu. However, she adds, “that type of fear is losing out to the fear of longer-term regime survival.”

Russia’s dependence on outside technology has been on full display as foreign companies sever ties in response to western sanctions. Texas company Sabre and European counterpart Amadeus kicked Russia’s biggest airline, Aeroflot, off their global ticketing and reservation systems last week. The country’s central bank also announced that Apple Pay and Google Pay will no longer support cards of several Russian banks.

Russia does have alternatives to global tech platforms such as the search engine Yandex and the social network VK, which have tens of millions of users. But Lu says it is not “as vibrant an ecosystem as China,” which has several tech giants including Tencent (TCEHY), Alibaba (BABA) and Weibo (WB) that rival their Silicon Valley counterparts.

The Russian platforms are also facing their own collateral damage from the Ukraine invasion and resulting western sanctions. Yandex warned last week that the stock market meltdown from sanctions could prevent it from paying its debts, and Vladimir Kiriyenko, the CEO of VK’s parent company, is among the individuals sanctioned by the US government.

On Monday, Dutch investment firm Prosus announced it would write off its investment in VK — worth around $700 million — and asked its directors on the company’s board to resign.
While the Russian government appears more than ready to expel western tech platforms from its digital borders, the same can’t be said for the Russian people.

READ ALSO: China Warns US Over Oil, Gas Ban On Russia

“The Russian government stands to gain from Big Tech’s exit,” said Brandt. “It’s the Russian people that will lose enormously if they are stripped of access to non-government news and information and denied means to organize.”

There are already signs that Russians are seeking ways to evade internet blocks. Five of the top 10 downloaded apps in the country last week were virtual private network (VPN) apps that allow users to create more secure internet connection. Downloads of the most popular VPN apps during that period collectively spiked more than 1,300%, according to app tracking platform Sensor Tower.
One way or the other, the digital Iron Curtain appears to be dropping.

Lu admits it is hard to predict exactly how quickly a complete severing of Russia’s internet from the world will take place, but recent development indicate it could happen in “weeks or maybe even days.”



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Nigeria Approves Elon Musk’s Starlink As Internet Service Provider



Nigeria Approves Elon Musk's Starlink As Internet Service Provider

The number of internet service providers in Nigeria has risen to 38 as Elon Musk’s Starlink has joined them.

Musk’s internet service was listed among the approved list four months after the billionaire announced to his 200 million followers on Twitter that the Nigerian government had approved the operation of Starlink.

Recall SpaceX representatives had met with Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) representatives in May 2021 to discuss operational licence with the Nigerian telecommunications regulator.

Starlink was included alongside 37 other Internet Service Providers on Wednesday, increasing the number of ISPs issued license to operate in Nigeria to 255 as of September 2022, up from the 187 reported in December 2021.

READ  ALSO: Elon Musk’s Son Seeks Court’s Approval To Change Gender, Name, End Relationship With Father

While the number of ISPs continues to rise, the linternet subscription market is dominated by Mobile Network Operators (MNO), MTN Nigeria, Airtel, Glo, and 9mobile.

Other ISPs have been struggling against the telecom giants, but the entry of Starlink into the data subscription market poses new challenge for MTN Nigeria, Airtel, Glo and 9mobile, due to the deep pocket Musk’s company comes with.

Unlike other ISPs that will depend on the existing bandwidth capacity in the country, Starlink owns 3,000 satellites through SpaceX, and is already providing internet service to about 40 countries, with only about 500,000 subscribers accessing the infrastructure globally.

READ  ALSO: Twitter Shares Jump 3% On Reports It could Accept Elon Musk’s Bid

MTN Nigeria, Airtel, Glo and 9mobile are competing with cheaper data offers, which other smaller ISPs find impossible to compete against, but with Elon Musk ready to spend between $20 billion and $30 billion, according to his statement in June 2021, to provide cheaper data, Starlink is bringing the fight to the Mobile Network.


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Steve Jobs Daughter Eve Reveals What To Expect From iPhone 14



Steve Jobs Daughter Reveals what To Expect From iPhone 14

By John Michael Ojo
The daughter of former Apple co-founder, Eve Jobs, has revealed what buyers should expect from iPhone 14 shortly after it was launched by the company on Wednesday.

Eve Jobs, who seemed not to be surprised  by the new iPhone 14, posted a meme  on her Instagram account which suggested the tech innovation is the same as the previous edition.

To the 24-year-old Jobs, people who upgrade from the iPhone 13 to the iPhone 14 aren’t getting anything different from its predecessor.

READ ALSO: Govt Alerts Apple Devices’ Users To Spyware

Jobs opinion was also corroborated by others in the comment section who also  pointed out the semblance between the iPhone 13 and 14, including screen size, refresh rate, storage, CPU and the cameras.

The iPhone 14 will be available in Malaysia on September 16 starting from RM4,199 for the original model, RM4,699 for the 14 Plus, RM5,299 for the 14 Pro and RM5,799 for the 14 Pro Max.

The only change in design from the iPhone 13 is a noticeable camera hole punch on the front display, according to Apple.


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Elon Musk’s Neuralink Brain Computer Startup Is Beaten Again



Nigeria Approves Elon Musk's Starlink As Internet Service Provider

Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain computing startup has yet to receive approval from the Federal Drug Administration to implant its technology in humans. However, Neuralink’s competitor, Synchron, has implanted its first device into the brain of a U.S. patient — in this case one with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that’s affected the patient’s ability to move and speak, as reported by Bloomberg.

The hope is that the patient will be able to browse the web and communicate through email and text just by thinking. The device would translate the patient’s thoughts into action through commands sent to a computer.

Synchron had already implanted its devices in four patients in Australia. These patients are reported by Bloomberg to have no side effects, and the device has allowed them to send messages through WhatsApp and make online purchases.

Synchron had received FDA approval in July 2021 to begin a human trial of its stentrode device to insert into the brain’s of six patients.

The stentrode can be inserted into the brain without cutting through the patient’s skull or damaging their tissue. A doctor makes an incision in the patient’s neck, from there the stentrode with the help of a catheter is placed into a blood vessel within the motor cortex, an area involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements.

Once the device is implanted, a second procedure connects it to a computing device implanted in the patient’s chest. The stentrode reads the signal produced by neurons firing in the brain and then it sends the signal to the computing device, which sends it to a computer or phone through Bluetooth.

Meanwhile, Neuralink is working to develop a surgical robot to implant its small, disc-shaped device into a patient’s brain. The device would then process and filter signals on the embedded computer chips.

And although its human trial in the U.S. is a first for Synchron’s device, it’s not a first in the field. The Utah array, a microelectrode array technology that is a small, silicone square with 100 needles that are pushed into the brain when implanted, has been the standard for relaying electrical signals from a brain to a computer since its development in 1992 by researchers at the University of Utah. Until last year, it was the only FDA approved BCI, or brain-computer interface, and it has shown significant results, like allowing paraplegics to control robot arms.

But the array is based in 1990s technology and can only cover a fraction of the brain’s 86 billion neurons.

Musk founded Neuralink in 2016 with the goal of developing a device that, after being implanted in a human brain, would allow a computer to translate a person’s thoughts into action. He wants not only to treat brain diseases and disorders but cure them.

READ ALSO: Investors Dump Twitter As Elon Musk Drops Buy Bid

Despite Musk’s ambition, Neuralink has yet to be tested on humans.

“Neuralink is working super hard to ensure implant safety & is in close communication with the FDA,” Musk tweeted in Feb. 2021. “If things go well, we might be able to do initial human trials later this year.”

Neuralink still has not conducted human trials.

Fortune has previously reported about Neuralink, including management upheavals and employee conflict. Its former president and biomedical engineer, Max Hodak, left abruptly and is now an investor of Synchron, according to Bloomberg.



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