Hey, remember the wonderful 'blacklist law' that seems to do more harm than good for now? Well, to be honest, that may mean it gets the job done, right? It aims to clean up the internet and I certainly haven't seen any nasty stuff online lately. Well, then again, that's anecdotal evidence. A real testament to its effectiveness is the mindset of kids and crime and accident statistics. As a reminder, the law wants to protect children from influence of harmful information - the list of 'no-no' subject matter is extensive, but there are only three taboo subjects - child pornography and encouragement of suicides and drug use. Web pages containing any of this are closed by Roskomnadzor - only then they can launch an appeal process. Pages with other illegal content are closed through the judicial system. So, back to judging effectiveness -I would say a safe way is evaluating how many people have committed suicides, how many kids have been involved in child exploitation and drug use and sale dynamics. Well, guess what - there are no such figures available, at least not now. But you know, cleaning up the internet is not the only facet of this initiative. Kids in general have to be protected from all the bad stuff which is not outright censored.
Thus, a proposal has been made - white lists. According to a statement made last week by Denis Davydov, director of the Russian League for Internet Safety, the NGO has organized this experiment to be conducted from February to April in Kostroma and regional providers are already on board. It’s not that drastic – people will still be able to “opt out” and request full access. They’ll be able to do it either by signing a new contract with the ISP, admitting that they don’t want to surf only the ‘good’ part of the web – or by clicking a checkbox in one’s account control panel – the latter seems more private and preferable, if you ask me. At the time of the announcement, Wednesday, the League has approved 400 thousand websites – that’s about .05% of all existing web destinations online; so even if they did manage to add 600 thousand more, to make it a promised one million, it’s still way, way less than what the internet has to offer. And besides, making such an announcement two days before the launch of the initiative seems… very strange. How will regional providers make the switch? Will they just pull the plug on midnight? Did they have time to draw up the new agreements and to lay down the infrastructure? I guess a lot of ISPs have parental controls and safe browsing already in place, so the technical part is settled. What about terms of service? Think about it – a person has signed up for internet access and then, suddenly, he’s given access to less than 1% of the internet – I would call it breach of contract. These critical points and others have been brought up by the media early next week and this forced the League to make another announcement. This time they claimed all they were proposing is an optional parental control filter which can be turned off and on at the user’s whim. The question is, why would they need to do it that if most providers these days already have parental controls? Well, the statement on their website, published February 3rd, claims their system is unique as it allows to analyze requested data in real time. In other words, the decision to give the user the page they’re looking for or to block it is being made automatically at the moment of request. I’m not sure what they’re saying here, though. Either they have a white-list and the ‘real time analysis’ checks whether the page is in the white list or not or they use a Deep Packet Inspection system – I’ve discussed it in the previous broadcast when talking about the initiative of the United Kingdom to monitor all internet communications. For now, there have been no more news concerning white list internet in Kostroma or any other region of Russia, for that matter.
In any case, seems it's unlikely this initiative will gain traction nation-wide any time soon. Of course, there are an alternative way to keep kids in the PG-zone of the internet. At home, that's the parents' job. At schools - well, schools pretty have these white lists or extended blacklists - usually set up by each school's IT staff or internet service providers. And in public places? Not sure about Russia in general, but in large cities and /or those with a developed technological infrastructure, free Wi-Fi is somewhat of a given. Take Moscow, for example – governmental buildings, cafes, malls, hospitals and even parks allow users to access the internet, for better or worse. For better – you can do some work, reading or studying while you’re stuck there waiting for something, for example. For worse – it’s not a secret more people are concerned about the changing social dynamics – people would rather “communicate” through their devices rather than in person and social gatherings often end up in people sitting together while staring at their screens instead of, you know, faces. An interesting fact- KitKat, the company known for their chocolate waffles, has launched an amusing outdoor advertisement campaign in Amsterdam. Instead of taking an area, branding it and making it a free Wi-Fi zone, like a lot of companies do these days, KitKat took a few benches and made them into “free no Wi-Fi zones”. So people can actually take a break from being constantly plugged-in and enjoy the real world for once. Ingenious marketing, if you ask me. According to the press release, these benches actually are equipped with jammers, so even if there is a Wi-Fi access point nearby, you will be safe from it. I wonder if this idea will be picked up by other companies and organizations? Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Wi-Fi is practically ubiquitous here in Moscow and more often than not it’s free – at this point, if an establishment doesn’t have Wi-Fi it’s more than likely they’ll lose their customers to the business next door that does have it.
Last November the idea of how to make these places safer for kids, internet-wise, crystallized into a bill. It simply proposed to fine those who give internet access to minors with no restrictions, plain and simple.Co-author of the bill, Elena Mizulina who also championed other internet safety initiatives, believes that ISPs either have to not let children access their services at all or filter it. The first scenario is applicable for small establishments like coffee shops and restaurants where owners or managers can protect their uplink with a password and only give to adults who ask for one - not much different from the procedure of serving alcoholic drinks, really. Malls, parks and, for example, the subway system which was promised to receive ubiquitous Wi-Fi in the near future - well, they simply will have to provide a limited version of the internet – yes, we’re back to white lists. The second reading for this bill was this week and looks like we have the final form on our hands. Fines for small business owners who fail to protect kids from 'harmful internet' are 5 to 10 thousand rubles; legal entities will have to pay 20 to 50 thousand people for the same infraction. It should be noted, that only property owners will be charged - well, those who have a contract with an internet service provider and who share this access to internet to the public. ISPs themselves are immune from the long arm of the law here - this means that it's up to the venues to decide whether they want to keep internet in the 'parent-protected' zone for everyone or to give access only to customers with proof of age.
And speaking of Moscow subway and Wi-Fi access. Well, the government auction which hoped to find an internet service provider for the underground mass transit system… failed. Throughout last year a few stations and trains, most located on the circular track, had free Wi-Fi access as a trial run. Maybe not enough people knew about it to overload the routers, maybe they had enough capacity to satisfy demand for subterranean web surfing, but in any case, the trial run was proven to be successful. Well, the thing is, Moscow administration wanted internet service providers to keep doing what they did, but on a larger scale – i.e. every train, every station has to be connected to the world wide web. And access still has to be free. This didn’t quite work out – a few days ago the auction expired with zero bids. Worry not! The Moscow Transport Department has announced that they’re launching a new auction, after ironing out the kinks with industry representatives to make sure someone is actually interested in this undertaking. What it means for the end user is not clear – perhaps, and I’m just guessing here, they’ll make some sort of a subscription plan for the daily commute to cover expenses.
And, by the way, remember that this week the international Safer Internet Day was held? In Russia, it’s actually a whole week. So tune in Monday when I cover some of the highlights of Safer Internet Week here in Russia .