Governments around the world have seized on the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to expand digital surveillance and harvest more data on their citizens, according to a report out Wednesday from Freedom House, a democracy and human rights research group.
Why it matters: Privacy advocates have warned since early in the pandemic that the tech behind efforts to conduct contact tracing and enforce quarantines and other public safety protocols could be abused and made permanent, particularly in authoritarian countries like China.
What’s happening, according to the report:
Dozens of countries have rolled out government-backed contact-tracing apps without effective laws to protect people from overly expansive data collection.
- China, Russia, India, Singapore, Ecuador and Bahrain were among the countries that Freedom House found implemented apps that either send reams of data unchecked to government servers or make invasive data and health documentation demands.
Governments in at least 28 countries censored websites and social media posts to suppress information like unfavorable health statistics and corruption allegations.
- Many have also imprisoned those who speak out online against government mishandling of the pandemic, and some have at times imposed total internet blackouts on their citizens.
By the numbers: As documented in a release summing up the findings:
Authorities censored reporting on the virus in 28 countries and arrested online critics in 45 countries.
In at least 20 countries, the pandemic was cited as a justification to impose vague or overly broad restrictions on speech. Residents of at least 13 countries experienced internet shutdowns…
In at least 30 countries, governments are invoking the pandemic to engage in mass surveillance in direct partnership with telecommunications providers and other companies.
— Freedom House
Of note: China was found to have the world’s worst conditions for internet freedom for the sixth consecutive year, but the U.S. was
In their fight against the coronavirus, some governments are introducing digital surveillance and data collection tools that could pose a lasting threat to citizens’ rights, according to a new report by research institute Freedom House.
The Freedom on the Net 2020 report, an assessment of 65 countries released Wednesday, found that the pandemic has accelerated a decline in free speech and privacy on the internet for the tenth consecutive year, and accused some governments of using the virus as a pretext to crack down on critical speech.
“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the internet is becoming less and less free,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which is funded by the US government. “Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression.”
Amid the pandemic, internet connectivity has become a lifeline to essential information and services — from education platforms, to health care portals, employment opportunities and social interactions. But state and nonstate actors are also exploiting the crisis to erode freedoms online.
Nowhere has that approach been more apparent than in China, according to Freedom House, which rated the country worst for internet freedom for a sixth year in a row.
Since the coronavirus outbreak emerged in Wuhan last December, China has deployed every tool in its internet control arsenal — from digital surveillance, to automated censorship, and systematic arrests — to
Invoca Study Finds Increased Role of Website Experience and Customer Service in Big-Ticket Purchases During COVID-19
SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Oct. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives: it is changing the way we work, how we interact with family and friends, and the way we shop. A new report from Invoca, “High-Stakes Purchases and Consumer Confidence in the COVID Era,” highlights data from a survey of 500 U.S. adults to understand specifically how consumers are approaching expensive and complex purchases in this new environment. The data uncovers important findings for businesses aiming to give consumers confidence in making these complicated purchases online.
Despite the economic downturn brought on by COVID, Invoca’s report finds people are still making high-stakes purchases, such as cars, insurance policies, wireless plans, and big-ticket home improvement items. However, they’re changing the way they research and buy these items, in many cases moving entirely online. For example, the survey found online purchases in automotive grew 115% since March and increased 85% in home services. That said, consumers have important concerns when shopping online: People are most concerned that they won’t be able to verify the product or service quality before purchasing (36%), that they’ll choose the wrong product or service (22%), that refunds will be complicated (21%) and that they won’t get the best deal (19%).
Given the level of cost and complexity these types of purchases require, the report uncovered how brands can help consumers feel more confident when it comes to making these purchases online.
- Brands must create a smooth online experience with options to get live help: For consumers making complex purchases online, it’s just as important to provide them with an option to get live, expert sales assistance as it is to have a fully functional website across devices. 81% of consumers said that just having a
The United States House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee has wrapped up its probe into Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google, with its 450-page report [PDF], making a slate of recommendations, including those it said would strengthen antitrust laws and restore competition in the digital economy.
“As they exist today, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook each possess significant market power over large swaths of our economy,” Judiciary Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) said in a statement.
“In recent years, each company has expanded and exploited their power of the marketplace in anticompetitive ways.
“Our investigation leaves no doubt that there is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation, and safeguards our democracy.”
The subcommittee kicked off its inquiries over 16 months ago. Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said investigations led the subcommittee to the conclusion that self-regulation by Big Tech comes at the expense of communities, small businesses, consumers, the free press, and innovation.
“Our investigation revealed an alarming pattern of business practices that degrade competition and stifle innovation,” Congresswoman Val Demings (D-FL) added.
“These companies have made remarkable advancements that have shaped our markets and our culture, but their anticompetitive acts have come at a cost … competition must reward the best idea, not the biggest corporate account.”
Although not agreeing on who was to blame for allowing “Big Tech” to achieve near-monopoly status, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) agreed that these “predatory companies” have used their vast size to unfairly harm competition and consumers.
On Facebook, the subcommittee said it found evidence of “monopolisation and monopoly power” in the social networking market. It also said that of its nearly-100 acquisitions, the Federal Trade Commission engaged in an extensive investigation of just