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Guide to Online Censorship

Online censorship is a big issue nowadays and it may become an even greater one going forward.

As you can imagine, the issue is a lot more complicated than it seems, but being informed is the crucial to us keeping our rights to free speech, which were hard earned by our ancestors.

What’s wrong with Online Censorship?

Censorship seeks to suppress the free exchange of ideas and information deemed unacceptable or threatening by a party in power. The internet has become the world’s largest platform for free speech. Unrestricted access to information empowers individuals like no generation before, giving voices to those who might not otherwise be heard, and sight to those who might not otherwise see.

But censorship threatens the open nature of the internet, inhibiting the world’s free market of ideas. Governments and corporations can silence free speech, limit access to information, and restrict the use of communication tools. Such actions serve the interests of those in power and undermines the civil liberties of everyone else.

Who censors?

Governments
The most obvious occurrences of censorship are those put in place by law, particularly national governments. Governments of autocratic regimes often censor the web to stifle dissent.

Perhaps the most famous example is China, where the ruling Communist Party has instituted a complex, nationwide censorship system and well-staffed internet police force. Google famously exited the Chinese market because it refused to comply with the government’s censorship requirements for search results.

Corporations
A corporation, such as an ISP or internet company, might censor content at the behest of a government authority. In China, ISPs are responsible for blocking websites, while social media companies are tasked with filtering messages and posts containing sensitive keywords.

Net Neutrality
Perhaps the most contentious debate around censorship today is that of net neutrality. Net neutrality argues that the internet should be treated like a utility: all websites and apps receive equal treatment in terms of access. But telecommunication corporations, which have been buying up content creation companies, want to funnel people toward the content that makes them money. To do this, they throttle traffic to competitors such as Netflix, while connections to their own entertainment offerings are unfettered.

Individuals
Censorship can even take place on an individual level. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter allow users to block content from certain users and sources. Censorship is an issue of individual liberty, so there’s nothing inherently wrong about this when it comes to civil rights. But weeding out opposing views and only seeing self-affirming posts that validate what a person already thinks probably isn’t a healthy practice.

What is censored?

Websites and apps
People, events, and organizations
– Communication tools
– The deep web

How is the web censored?
Many methods of blocking content on the web exist for those with the power to do so. The most common bottleneck where authorities can efficiently censor large swathes of the population is at the ISP level. ISPs, or internet service providers, act as gateways for everyone connected to the internet.

IP blocking
Governments can order ISPs to block the IP addresses and domain names of specific websites and apps.

Keyword filtering
As mentioned above, keyword filtering identifies and blocks content containing keywords deemed inappropriate by an authority.

DNS poisoning
DNS poisoning–also known as DNS spoofing, hijacking, and tampering–occurs when corrupt DNS data causes traffic to be diverted to the wrong IP address. The attacker, or in some cases the government and ISP, poison the resolver cache on a nameserver, where web page requests are sent. In China, the DNS entries for Facebook and other websites were poisoned so that anyone who tried to go to those sites would be redirected to a dead end. Some experts say these requests were sent to other sites that authorities disapproved of, resulting in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.

Source: comparitech.com

When it comes to the ones we love, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do to protect them. Here’s a guide to show you how to block trackers.

How to block trackers

Cookies are used by websites to store “stateful” information in a web browser. Normal cookies, when properly implemented, are more or less harmless and improve the convenience of web surfing. Cookies record whether you are logged in to a site, which links you’ve visited, and where you left off the last time you watched a video. These types of cookies are used exclusively by the site that created them.

Then there are tracking cookies, also known as persistent cookies or third-party cookies. Unlike other cookies, tracking cookies remain active even when visiting sites that they did not originate from. Tracking cookies follow the user around, collecting data about their browsing habits over a long period of time. This data can be accessed by advertising networks like Google’s to serve targeted advertisements.

In the recent court case, Google utilized tracking cookies to gather data on users visiting Nickelodeon’s website, who were mostly children.

To stop these cookies, we just need to install Disconnect or Ghostery. These free apps block tracking cookies using databases of known trackers.

Turn off interest-based ads in Google

If you have an account with Google, be it Gmail or Drive or just a signed-in Android phone, Google will serve you interest-based ads by default. Using the information from your search queries, tracking cookies, and other sources, it can target parents and their children with tailored advertisements. Google operates the world’s largest online advertising network, and ads from companies on that network appear pretty much everywhere, both on and off websites owned by it.

Navigate to accounts.google.com and click “Sign-in and Security”. Here you’ll find several settings related to privacy and security. You can find out more about some of the major ones in this article. For now, scroll down and click on the section that says “Manage ad settings.” Here you can toggle off interest-based ads that appear on pages owned by Google.

Now for the tricky part. We still need to switch off these ads on pages not owned by Google, which is the greater concern. On the current page, scroll down a bit further and click the button that reads “Control signed-out ads.” This will load an almost identical page, where you can again toggle the switch to opt out.

Alternative Search Engine

Google controls most of the world’s search market, and one of the most powerful ways it can target everyone with ads, including kids, is by analysing what they search for. The only way to stop it from snooping on what you search for is to stop using Google altogether.

DuckDuckGo is a popular search engine among privacy advocates because it doesn’t use tracking cookies, log IP addresses, or monitor the links you click on in search results.

However, thanks to sheer mass, Google has the advantage of being a superior search engine in most cases. So how do you get Google search results without using Google? The answer is StartPage. StartPage acts as a middleman between the user and Google. It takes your search terms, removes all identifying information, and submits it to Google on your behalf. StartPage doesn’t record your IP address, log your visit, or use tracking cookies. It can even be added to Chrome as the default search engine.

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Millions have turned to Signal and Telegram. But how much do you know about these rival messengers?

Are you more secure if you switch to Signal or Telegram?

The WhatsApp backlash has focused on its collection of metadata—the who, when and where of a message rather than its content. And while the platform denies sharing anything private or sensitive with Facebook, it still collects too much. What hasn’t been questioned, though, is the security it applies to your messages themselves. Check out a visual comparison of App Privacy information.

Who is behind Signal and Telegram?

Telegram is managed and funded by Russian social media billionaire Pavel Durov, and operates from undisclosed locations. In its early years, the messenger became famous as the platform of choice for dissidents and protesters and, unfortunately, for criminals and extremists, all looking to keep their communications out of the reach of the authorities. Despite its lack of end-to-end encryption by default and the fact it holds decryption keys, Telegram says that to access messages it needs keys from different jurisdictions to frustrate any attempts by law enforcement to access content. This gives a good insight into the original philosophy behind Telegram.

Signal was founded by a security researcher who uses the name Moxie Marlinspike for his public profile. Until 2018, the platform was fairly niche and unless you worked in some form of security field, it was unlikely to be found on your phone. But then Brian Acton, one of WhatsApp’s founders, left Facebook and ploughed $50 million into Signal to help take it mainstream. Prior to Acton’s involvement, Signal was fairly clunky to use, you really needed to want its enhanced security. But that has all now changed, as my colleague Kate O’Flaherty explains, its user interface and features rival WhatsApp, all the way to group calls and stickers. It is now the nearest thing to the original spirit of WhatsApp, before Facebook flexed its ownership muscles.

Are Signal and Telegram really better for you than WhatsApp?

Yes… and no. It is undoubtedly true that Facebook’s focus on data collection and processing is at odds with the principles of secure, private messaging.

But a messaging platform is only as useful as its userbase. This has always been Signal’s challenge, now finally being resolved. “When I look through my contacts,” ESET’s Jake Moore tells me, “it seems Signal is winning the race against Telegram so far. And I think that may continue due to its default end-to-end encryption on offer—a must for any messaging service in my opinion.”

Read more: Forbes.com

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