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Google 'satisfies' Russia over censorship demands

Google is reported to have “satisfied” the Russian communications regulator over demands it censor people’s web searches.

Roskomnadzor has sent repeated requests to Google requiring it to route Russian citizens’ web searches through a government filtering system.

However, the head of the regulator, Alexander Zharov, told state-owned news agency TASS on Friday: “At this stage, we are satisfied with the results of the dialogue with Google.”

Mr Zharov’s comments appear to mean Google is no longer facing punishment in Russia for refusing to comply with censorship regulation.

But, it is unclear whether this is because Google or the Russian regulator has backed down.

Although there have been suggestions Google would not connect to the Russian government’s blacklist and would refuse to automatically remove links, there is no public information on if this is still the case.

Google has declined to officially comment on the nature of its relationship and agreement with Roskomnadzor.

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The company stated: “We’re committed to enabling access to information for the benefit of our users in Russia and around the world.”

The legislation is expected to be passed in its entirety. File pic

Image: Russia’s domestic web services have complied with the law

It comes as the Kremlin prepares to introduce new laws offering the government tight control over web content.

If enacted, the law would force Russian web traffic to be routed through systems controlled by the government – prompting fears the Kremlin may use the surveillance and censorship capability to stifle criticism.

It follows another law passed last year requiring search engines to be connected to the federal state information system (FGIS), which allows the government to censor the websites its citizens can access.

Google was fined 500,000 rubles (£5,800) in December for failing to connect its search service to these filtering systems.

At the time, the company neither commented on nor appealed against the fine.

The Interfax news agency reported that Google faced a maximum fine of 700,000 rubles (£8,100) in the case of continued violation – effectively worth less than 0.00001% of the annual turnover for its parent company Alphabet.

Domestic web firms in Russia, including Yandex, Sputnik and Mail.ru, have complied with the requirement to connect to the FGIS.

According to Interfax, if Google was deemed to have conducted “malicious non-fulfilment” of its obligation to connect to the FGIS, the Kremlin may consider legislating to block the company in the most severe circumstances.

It has recently been reported that Google is planning to launch a censored version of its search engine in China, where it is currently banned.

Google effectively left China in 2010, when it criticised the censorship and surveillance activities of Beijing, and the company’s Soviet Union-born co-founder Sergey Brin decried the “forces of authoritarianism” in the country.

Although there is little sign of authoritarianism receding in either China or Russia, the company is content operating in those jurisdictions under current chief executive Sundar Pichai.

Mr Brin is now the president of Alphabet and has not spoken out regarding the censored search project in China, instead choosing to criticise leaks about the project during a reported meeting with employees.

This story was originally published on Sky News Technology

Facebook exposed US agents to Iranian spies

The US Department of Justice has refused to comment on the revelation that counter-intelligence staff were exposed to Iranian spies by using a Facebook group which was infiltrated.

The existence of the Facebook group was revealed in the indictment of Monica Elfriede Witt whose defection to Iran back in 2013 was announced this week.

It marks both an embarrassing slip in the operational security practices of counter-intelligence agents, and reveals the serious consequences of Facebook’s impact on its users’ privacy.

According to the indictment, the Iranians created a Facebook account under the real name of a counter-intelligence agent, using pictures and details from that agent’s real account on Facebook.

Because the imposter account appeared legitimate, the US agent they first befriended vouched for them when they added the fake account to a private Facebook group “composed primarily” of intelligence staff.

Monica Elfriede Witt defected to Iran in 2013

Image: Monica Elfriede Witt defected to Iran in 2013

“By joining the group, the cyber conspirators obtained greater access to information regarding US government agents,” the indictment noted.

They then befriended other intelligence staff on Facebook and attempted to send them files that appeared to be pictures, but were actually malware which would have allowed the spies to access the agents’ computers and any networks the computers were connected to.

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US government spokespeople directed Sky News to the DoJ for comment, the agency which operates the FBI, although there are at least ten organisations in the country which conduct counter-intelligence work.

Monica Witt herself was a former US Air Force intelligence specialist, and had access to the names of intelligence sources that the US had in Iran before she defected.

The fate of those sources is not described in the indictment.

A DoJ spokesperson declined to comment to Sky News on whether the agents who had been part of the Facebook group were reproached for the security gaffe.

Security and espionage researchers on Twitter have mocked a number of the Iranian attempts to infect the computers of the US government agents’ computers with malware, including offering nude photographs out of the blue.

However, the behaviour of the counter-intelligence agents in creating a Facebook group has been criticised for exposing the agents.

“I can see how like, some office might have a Facebook group to organise events outside work,” wrote a security researcher who works under the pseudonym The Grugq.

“I am really surprised that the people charged with keeping information secret would have a Facebook group and they don’t even vet the accounts that join!”

The use of social media for information-gathering purposes has been an increasing issue for security and intelligence agencies, both in offensive and defensive terms.

It is also an issue because the lack of a social media profile could also indicate something fishy about a suspected spy’s identity.

According to Reuters, Russia is set to ban its soldiers from posting anything online that could reveal details about their deployments, after social media posts revealed that official army soldiers were deployed in Crimea during Russia’s denied annexation of the peninsula.

This story was originally published on Sky News Technology

Made In Chelsea's Andy Jordan: Being an influencer made me 'a puppet'

Andy Jordan didn’t even have an Instagram account before he started on Made in Chelsea in 2012.

“Overnight, there were hundreds of thousands of people watching what I was doing,” he says about appearing on the show.

He’s now got 290,000 followers.

“You’re like, ‘Everyone wants to follow me and talk to me’ – that’s almost like a drug,” he tells the Victoria Derbyshire programme and Panorama.

Andy was struggling. His TV persona and pushing out a constantly filtered life on Instagram were already taking their toll.

Selling things he didn’t believe in was the last straw.

He says he got to the point where he “just turned into a ghost… I didn’t even care if I got hit by a bus”.

Andy was promoting items you see on many Instagram influencers’ accounts, such as teeth-whitening products and protein supplements.

“It’s the easiest money I’ve ever made,” he says.

“There were a couple that were £500 for a picture – the most would have been about £2,000.”

He adds: “I just did what I was told… Obviously the management want you to do these things because they make money off it.”

Andy doesn’t go to the gym, but was still asked to advertise a protein supplement.

“I was like, ‘This is insane’, because I didn’t work out. My agent was like, ‘Well pretend you work out’.”

It got to the point where Andy went into a gym just to take a photo of the product on the gym equipment. But that’s not the weirdest request he’s had.

“I’ve been asked to have cosmetic surgery before,” he told us.

“I’ve been asked if I’ll have liposuction at a particular clinic, and then document about the process.” Andy said no to that request.

He was making money, but the constant selling took its toll on Andy.

At the same time, he was starring in Made In Chelsea, a scripted show made to look like reality TV.

“You just become a puppet… you’re literally like the packaging,” he says.

“I’d lost who I was because everything was directed by someone else.”

Andy also became concerned at the effect his filtered life was having on his followers.

More than half of 18 to 34-year-olds feel that reality TV and social media have a negative effect on how they see their bodies, a BBC survey found last year.

“I genuinely think that people could die as a result of the phenomenon that is social media,” he says.

“If you’re constantly surrounded by a world that’s better than you, or looks nicer than you, or has a faster car than you – that’s when you suddenly go, ‘Wow, I’m useless’.”

Andy is annoyed at himself “for not fully understanding what I was doing from day one”.

He still posts on Instagram and still does paid posts – just not for teeth whiteners and protein shakes any more.

“At least now if I’m promoting something, it’s something that I’m passionate about,” he says.

But a story he tells shows the effect people like him may have had on other people – even children.

“I had a chat with some family friends and I was talking to a child who’s seven or eight years old.

“I said, ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ and he was like… ‘Well, I just want to be an Instagrammer.’

“I was like… ‘That’s not a real job’.

“That’s when I was like, ‘Whoa, this culture is really scary’.”

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This story was originally published on BBC Technology News