This week’s update brings news and views on privacy issues and changes to where the internet can be and is being accessed from: China has passed 641 million internet users; the New Yorker and Tim Berners-Lee air their views on the right to be forgotten and the need for privacy; smartphone usage is growing quickly in Africa and the Middle East; and the EU is permitting the use of mobile phones on airplanes.
As reported by China Internet Watch, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has revealed figures on telecommunications use in the world’s most populous country. 641 million have access to the internet, with 198 million specifically broadband internet users – the popularity of mobile phone internet accounting for the gap. There are 1.27 billion mobile subscriptions in China – large even considering the population of 1.3555 billion – and 480 millions of these are 3G users.
New 4G technology is used by 30 million – affordable homegrown devices being part of a boom that is imminently likely to make China the biggest 4G market, as we previously covered.
The widely controversial ‘Right to be Forgotten’ law recently passed by the European Court of Justice – allowing individuals to force search engines to de-list “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” news reports referring to them by name – is the subject of an interesting editorial piece in the New Yorker.
Contrasting American and European attitudes – theoretically, privacy ranks ahead of freedom of expression in Europe – the article postulates that the root of it all is in the struggles of the 20th Century. Subjected to the two radically opposed ideologies of Fascism and Communism, Europe’s collective memory of the surveillance states that operated under both banners. The knee-jerk rulings actually make more sense when this fear – and the distrust of future governments, rather than the current – are factored in.
On the subject of privacy, the inventor of the World Wide Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee has weighed in on the hotly debated subject. Speaking at the Web We Want festival in London, he stressed that control of the open internet has become too tempting for both governments and big companies. He proposes an internet bill of rights to safeguard the internet from control.
This comes in the same week that news and social sources have been buzzing about “Ello”, the new social network being aggressively marketed as “the anti-Facebook”. Key to this is Ello’s ad-less strategy and the claim that it will never sell data to third parties – whether this is even sustainable as the network grows is up for debate. However, the air of secrecy around the network (which is releasing as an invitation-only service) is certainly working in its favour.
One of the emerging patterns in international digital marketing is the significance of smartphone technology as the means for primary internet access in rapidly industrialising nations. Due to the relative affordability and usability of mobile devices, many new users are simply skipping more traditional workstations. Leading from this are statistics like those in this Emarketer report, that suggest smartphone usage is growing rapidly in the Middle East and Africa.
Projections currently state that smartphone penetration will be up 31% this year, with 9% of the total population having access. Middle Eastern countries are particularly experiencing rapid growth, including Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
After decades of having to switch your electronic devices off before flying, bans are finally being lifted – critics have long disputed the idea that small battery powered devices can interfere with modern shielded avionics equipment, and authorities around the world are finally conceding defeat. Restrictions have been relaxed in recent years to allow mobile phone use once take-off and landing are complete, and now the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has ruled that mobiles are safe for use at any time.
However, the reality of full phone use during flight is still some way off: airlines have to complete a full safety assessment, something that may be deemed cost-prohibitive by some carriers, who don’t necessarily want mobile chatter in their planes anyway. They will also need to install receiver equipment to enable phone use.
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Image of Bird’s Nest stadium, Beijing, by See-ming Lee
Photo of ‘this is for everyone’ mosaic by Duncan Hull
Photo of Dubai by night by Crazy Diamond
Photo of “please turn off your mobile phone” sign by Kai Hendry