Newsletter #31: Government imposed shutdowns of the Internet are on the rise. Plus stories about Bitcoin mining, China's BigTech Crackdown and Zoom v Teams power consumption.
Government-imposed Internet shutdowns are on the rise
"Between January 2019 and June 2021, 228 major internet shutdowns in 41 countries."
I just read this article yesterday.
It's not often that I feel like a metaphorical bucket of cold water has just been thrown over me. I must confess a high degree of ignorance when it comes to the subject of "internet shutdowns". I just didn't know it happened as much as it does!
In this extraordinary report from the digital civil-rights group Access Now, written in conjunction with Jigsaw, the think tank from Google (Alphabet), they document how authoritarian governments are literally turning off the Internet to stifle opposition and quash dissent.
Access Now trace the origins of Internet shutdowns back to 2007. The first widely known shutdown was in Guinea, but only about 1% of the population were affected.
However, the first nationwide closure of Internet borders, affecting 93% of the population, came during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Mubarak turned the Internet off for 5-days.
About 3,500 individual Border Gateway Protocol routes (these are the networks used to communicate across the global Internet) were withdrawn on orders from the Egyptian government. This action cut the country off from the rest of the world, bringing internal communication to a dead stop.
Since then, governments worldwide have carried out partial or nationwide shutdowns at least 850 times; 90% of them happened in the last five years.
The longest, and still ongoing, Internet shutdown is in Myanmar. It began in June 2019 when authorities blocked access in Rakhine and Chin states in western Myanmar amid an escalation in violence between the military and the Arakan Army.
Following a military coup in 1st February this year, access was briefly restored in the two states, while the rest of the country faced a new total shutdown on internet access. However, 5 days later access was again cut in the region and connections remain unreliable across the country.
The main driver for the shutdowns is to stifle dissent and criticism of the ruling Government during periods of unrest, oppression or elections. But the impact is felt more broadly amongst the affected areas, impacting healthcare, education, the economy and communications (reporting) with the outside world.
The Rise of the Splinternet
You may be reading this and thinking something like "interesting, but this doesn't affect me". To some extent, this is true. If you live in North America or Europe, the sheer volume of independent Internet Service Providers offers a significant level of protection against Government interference.
However, there are other implications, as David Mattin's explains in the latest issue of the must-read "New World, Same Humans" newsletter.
Mattins makes this point about the Access Now report;
"Rewind ten years and we believed that the internet would prove an unstoppable force for globalisation; nothing, we thought, could stand in the way of the unifying power of the open web. It’s clear now that we were wrong. The decade ahead will be shaped, instead, by the rise of the splinternet: the emergence of several Internets governed by nations or regional power blocks, each with its own rules and information filters. The primary split, of course, will be between China and the rest of the world."
I would add to Mattins point about China that we are already seeing the splinternet emerge in Russia, parts of the middle-east, and even "westernised" Singapore has its own restrictions on Internet usage (credit to Richard Turrin for helping me understand this).
I have included an update on China's BigTech crackdown later in this issue of Wiser!
Bitcoin Power Consumption Index
Did you know that the University of Cambridge is the second oldest university in the English speaking world?
It's over 900 years old and was established long before Bitcoin was a mere twinkle in Satoshi's eye. Now, the University maintains an Index that tracks and keeps a real-time assessment of the power consumption of Bitcoin.
I know you've read about Bitcoin mining power consumption concerns before in Wiser! but this latest research tickled my fancy and I wanted to share it with you.
First, it is worth understanding that measuring this is no easy task and the actual energy consumption for mining Bitcoin can only be estimated. But the team at the University of Cambridge have come up with great visual comparisons to help put this into context.
Like this one.
This shows that the power consumed by all the fridges in the USA is more than the global consumption of power by Bitcoin.
Bitcoin power consumption is typically compared to that of a country. According to the University of Cambridge, on a country comparison basis, the electricity consumption of Bitcoin is somewhere between Finland and Kazakhstan...but I prefer the comparison with American fridges!
Or this one... they also estimated that the electricity consumption of Bitcoin could have powered all the kettles in the UK making cups of tea over the last 20 years!
China's BigTech Crackdown Part 2: How China is redefining the relationship between BigTech, the people and the economy
Ed Note: Following on from the article last month on China's BigTech Crackdown, events in the region are moving fast. It's a story of the hare (China) and the tortoise (the West) and covers a wide range of topics from the role of BigTech, data sovereignty and user behaviour.
Because of the pace with which China is moving, and the consequences of China's actions on the West, I've made this a series of updates. This is part 2.
The complete long-form article (Part 2) is on the website and you need to be a premium member for full access. You can get a taste of the article here in the following summary. If you're tempted to read more, there's a link to the full article coming up. To sign up for full, unlimited access as a premium member, go here.
China's BigTech Crackdown: Part 2
Last week, China introduced a wide-ranging privacy and consumer protection law. This law is similar in many ways to GDPR in the European Union, except that it will give Chinese citizens significant consumer protections.
These define a set of standards for the coexistence of business, the people and the economy. They define the dynamics in all socio-economic relationships enabled and centred around the Internet.
In other words, China is redefining the standards for how Big Tech behaves, and what it can and can't do when it comes to using technology to serve/manipulate consumers.
Clampdown on Data Privacy
The new privacy law goes further than (just) consumer protection because there is a huge emphasis on national security, or to be precise, "data". The new law tackles the data sovereignty questions of "where is it" and "who controls it".
This was at the heart of the Trump administration's spat with TikTok/Bytedance a year ago. You may remember that Trump signed an Executive Order compelling TikTok's owners, Bytedance, to sell their North American operations.
It was a move that was more about posturing than protection and inevitably it never happened. But the point is that the battleground of data sovereignty was defined. And now China has made the move that defines what it means in China's Internet.
The new law requires that all data that is broadly defined as "critical information" is to be stored in China. This includes user data.
This has big ramifications for non-Chinese tech firms operating in China, such as Apple, the largest foreign business in the region. Because the new law prohibits foreign law enforcement agencies from accessing data of Chinese nationals without going through an onerous approvals process.
(Ed Note: Remember when the US took down 36 Iranian websites in June this year? It was in the name of the fight against terrorism but the point is that it was an action by a foreign government. As it turned out, this proved to be largely ineffectual and the response was (simply) to shift from .com to .ir domain names that were out of reach. In a splinternet, this would be the kind of action that would be much harder to undertake.)
To continue reading this article, with charts, links and videos, go here.
Saving the Planet
Zoom versus Teams: which one consumes the most power?
A couple of months ago I was on a call with Charles Radclyffe. He's a super interesting guy I've known a while and he's always telling me stuff about emerging tech and how it will impact our lives.
He told me that he was looking into the power consumption of Zoom versus Microsoft Teams. Which seemed an odd thing to be doing, until he explained that he'd observed his laptop running harder when on a Teams call than for Zoom. And he wanted to understand why.
Yesterday he published his observations in Forbes and he sent me the details overnight (which is why Wiser! is a few hours late today, sorry). The link to the article is at the end and it's a 2 min read. For now, here are the highlights:
- Teams uses 2-3 times more CPU time than Zoom for video calls
- You could use 75% less electricity if you turn off video
- Using a virtual background increases your power consumption by up to 18%
- Teams is more efficient on Windows and Zoom more efficient on a Mac (Zoom is very efficient on the new Apple M1 devices)
There are other factors to take into account, such as the age of your computer or how many people are on the call. But the outcome is the same, Zoom uses less power than Teams.
Charles is now working on a broader study to include other video platforms, like Google Meet and GoToMeeting. He did contact both Microsoft and Zoom for comment, but only Microsoft replied. Source: Forbes
For more insights and information from Charles, follow him on Twitter.
Just The Headlines
Just the Headlines
Visa bought CryptoPunk 7610 ☝️, one of 3,840 "female" punks, for $150,000
OnlyFans scraps plans to ban sexually explicit material
Source: The Guardian
Apple Will Add State IDs to its Digital Wallet in Some States
Source: Emerging Tech Brew
A decade and a half of instability: The history of Google messaging apps
America's aerospace industry is regenerating (a long read blog that explains how the industry is changing and its shift towards Space)
Source: Austin Vernon
New break-through in 'Skin Electronics' for human-machine interfaces
Source: Brighter Side of News
And finally....have a guess when this was published?
Answer: 1953 (Credit Chris Skinner for finding it)
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