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March 23, 2019
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PicsArt hits 130 million MAUs as Chinese flock to its photo editing app

in Apps/Asia/China/Delhi/Entertainment/India/instagram/mobile applications/photo sharing/Picsart/Politics/Russia/Social/social media/Tammy Nam/the avengers/tiktok/VSCO by

If you’re like me, who isn’t big on social media, you’d think that the image filters that come inside most apps will do the job. But for many others, especially the younger crowd, making their photos stand out is a huge deal.

The demand is big enough that PicsArt, a rival to filtering companies VSCO and Snapseed, recently hit 130 million monthly active users worldwide, roughly a year after it amassed 100 million MAUs. Like VSCO, PicsArt now offers video overlays though images are still its focus.

Nearly 80 percent of PicsArt’s users are under the age of 35 and those under 18 are driving most of its growth. The “Gen Z” (the generation after millennials) users aren’t obsessed with the next big, big thing. Rather, they pride themselves on having niche interests, be it K-pop, celebrities, anime, sci-fi or space science, topics that come in the form of filters, effects, stickers and GIFs in PicsArt’s content library.

“PicsArt is helping to drive a trend I call visual storytelling. There’s a generation of young people who communicate through memes, short-form videos, images and stickers, and they rarely use words,” Tammy Nam, who joined PicsArt as its chief operating officer in July, told TechCrunch in an interview.

PicsArt has so far raised $45 million, according to data collected by Crunchbase. It picked up $20 million from a Series B round in 2016 to grow its Asia focus and told TechCrunch that it’s “actively considering fundraising to fuel [its] rapid growth even more.”

PicsArt wants to help users stand out on social media, for instance, by virtually applying this rainbow makeup look on them. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

The app doubles as a social platform, although the use case is much smaller compared to the size of Instagram, Facebook and other mainstream social media products. About 40 percent of PicsArt’s users post on the app, putting it in a unique position where it competes with the social media juggernauts on one hand, and serving as a platform-agnostic app to facilitate content creation for its rivals on the other.

What separates PicsArt from the giants, according to Nam, is that people who do share there tend to be content creators rather than passive consumers.

“On TikTok and Instagram, the majority of the people there are consumers. Almost 100 percent of the people on PicsArt are creating or editing something. For many users, coming on PicsArt is a built-in habit. They come in every week, and find the editing process Zen-like and peaceful.”

Trending in China

Most of PicsArt’s users live in the United States, but the app owes much of its recent success to China, its fastest growing market with more than 15 million MAUs. The regional growth, which has been 10-30 percent month-over-month recently, appears more remarkable when factoring in PicsArt’s zero user acquisition expense in a crowded market where pay-to-play is a norm for emerging startups.

“Many larger companies [in China] are spending a lot of money on advertising to gain market share. PicsArt has done zero paid marketing in China,” noted Nam.

Screenshot: TikTok-related stickers from PicsArt’s library

When people catch sight of an impressive image filtering effect online, many will inquire about the toolset behind it. Chinese users find out about the Armenian startup from photos and videos hashtagged #PicsArt, not different from how VSCO gets discovered from #vscocam on Instagram. It’s through such word of mouth that PicsArt broke into China, where users flocked to its Avengers-inspired disappearing superhero effect last May when the film was screening. China is now the company’s second largest market by revenue after the U.S.

Screenshot: PicsArts lets users easily apply the Avengers dispersion effect to their own photos

A hurdle that all media apps see in China is the country’s opaque guidelines on digital content. Companies in the business of disseminating information, from WeChat to TikTok, hire armies of content moderators to root out what the government deems inappropriate or illegal. PicsArt says it uses artificial intelligence to sterilize content and keeps a global moderator team that also keeps an eye on its China content.

Despite being headquartered in Silicon Valley, PicsArt has placed its research and development center in Armenia, home to founder Hovhannes Avoyan. This gives the startup access to much cheaper engineering talents in the country and neighboring Russia compared to what it can hire in the U.S. To date, 70 percent of the company’s 360 employees are working in engineering and product development (50 percent of whom are female), an investment it believes helps keep its creative tools up to date.

Most of PicsArt’s features are free to use, but the firm has also looked into getting paid. It rolled out a premium program last March that gives users more sophisticated functions and exclusive content. This segment has already leapfrogged advertising to be PicsArt’s largest revenue source, although in China, its budding market, paid subscriptions have been slow to come.

picsart 1

PicsArt lets users do all sorts of creative work, including virtually posing with their idol. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

“In China, people don’t want to pay because they don’t believe in the products. But if they understand your value, they are willing to pay, for example, they pay a lot for mobile games,” said Jennifer Liu, PicsArt China’s country manager.

And Nam is positive that Chinese users will come to appreciate the app’s value. “In order for this new generation to create really differentiated content, become influencers, or be more relevant on social media, they have to do edit their content. It’s just a natural way for them to do that.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Skymind raises $11.5M to bring deep learning to more enterprises

in Artificial Intelligence/Asia/Cisco/computing/deep learning/Delhi/govtech fund/India/Java/natural language processing/north america/Politics/Python/Recent Funding/ServiceNow/Skymind/SoftBank/Startups/TC/Technology Partners/translink capital/Y Combinator by

Skymind, a Y Combinator-incubated AI platform that aims to make deep learning more accessible to enterprises, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A round led by TransLink Capital, with participation from ServiceNow, Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures, UpHonest Capital and GovTech Fund. Early investors Y Combinator, Tencent, Mandra Capital, Hemi Ventures, and GMO Ventures, also joined the round/ With this, the company has now raised a total of $17.9 million in funding.

The inclusion of TransLink Capital gives a hint as to how the company is planning to use the funding. One of TransLink’s specialties is helping entrepreneurs develop customers in Asia. Skymind believes that it has a major opportunity in that market, so having TransLink lead this round makes a lot of sense. Skymind also plans to use the round to build out its team in North America and fuel customer acquisition there.

“TransLink is the perfect lead for this round, because they know how to make connections between North America and Asia,” Skymind CEO Chris Nicholson told me. “That’s where the most growth is globally, and there are a lot of potential synergies. We’re also really excited to have strategic investors like ServiceNow and Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures backing us for the first time. We’re already collaborating with ServiceNow, and Skymind software will be part of some powerful new technologies they roll out.”

It’s no secret that enterprises know that they have to adapt AI in some form but are struggling with figuring out how to do so. Skymind’s tools, including its core SKIL framework, allow data scientists to create workflows that take them from ingesting the data to cleaning it up, training their models and putting them into production. The promise here is that Skymind’s tools eliminate the gap that often exists between the data scientists and IT.

“The two big opportunities with AI are better customer experiences and more efficiency, and both are based on making smarter decisions about data, which is what AI does,” said Nicholson. “The main types of data that matter to enterprises are text and time series data (think web logs or payments). So we see a lot of demand for natural-language processing and for predictions around streams of data, like logs.”

Current Skymind customers include the likes of ServiceNow and telco company Orange, while some of its technology partners that integrate its services into their portfolio include Cisco and SoftBank .

It’s worth noting that Skymind is also the company behind Deeplearning4j, one of the most popular open-source AI tools for Java. The company is also a major contributor to the Python-based Keras deep learning framework.

News Source = techcrunch.com

This YC-backed startup preps Chinese students for US data jobs

in alibaba/Amazon/Asia/bytedance/careertu/China/Delhi/Education/Facebook/founder/India/media startups/messaging apps/musical.ly/New York/paul graham/Politics/Shopify/social network/Tencent/tiktok/WeChat/Y Combinator by

In recent years, data analysts have gone from optional to a career that holds great promise, but demand for quantitative skills applied in business decisions has raced ahead of supply as college curriculum often lags behind the fast-changing workplace.

CareerTu, a New York-based startup launched by Ruiwan Xu, a former marketing manager at Amazon, aims to close that talent gap. Think of it as Codecademy for digital marketing, data analytics, product design and a whole lot of other jobs that ask one to spot patterns from a sea of data that can potentially boost business efficiency. The six-year-old profitable business runs a flourishing community of 160,000 users and 500 recruiting partners that help students land jobs at Amazon, Google, Alibaba and the likes, an achievement that has secured the startup a spot at Y Combinator’s latest batch plus a $150,000 check from the Mountain View-based accelerator.

In a way, CareerTu is helping fledgling tech startups on a tight budget train ready-to-use data experts. “American companies have a huge demand for digital marketing and data talents these days … but not all of them want to or can spend money on training, and that’s where we can come in,” said Xu, who made her way into Amazon after burying herself in online tutorials about digital marketing.

The gig was well paid, and Xu felt the urge to share her experience with people like her — Chinese workers and students seeking data jobs in the U.S. She took up blogging, and eventually grew it into an online school. CareerTu offers many of its classes for free while sets aside a handful of premium content for a fee. 6,000 of its users are actively paying, which translates to some $500,000 in revenue last year. The virtual academy continues to blossom as many students return to become mentors, helping their Chinese peers to chase the American dream.

CareerTu

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham (second left) with CareerTu founder Ruiwan Xu (second right) and her team members / Photo: CareerTu

Securing a job in the U.S. could be a daunting task for international students, who must convince employers to invest the time and money in getting them a work visa. But when it comes to courting scare data talents, the visa trap becomes less relevant.

“Companies could have hired locals to do data work, but it’s very difficult to find the right candidate,” suggested Xu. LinkedIn estimated that in 2018 the U.S. had a shortage of more than 150,000 people with “data science skills,” which find application not just in tech but also traditional sectors like finance and logistics.

“Nationalities don’t matter in this case,” Xu continued. “Employers will happily apply a work visa or even a green card for the right candidate who can help them save money on marketing campaigns. And many Chinese people happen to have a really strong background in data and mathematics.”

A Chinese business in the US

Though most of CareerTu’s users live in the U.S., the business is largely built upon WeChat, Tencent’s messaging app ubiquitous among Chinese users. That CareerTu sticks to WeChat for content marketing, user acquisition and tutoring is telling of the super app’s user stickiness and how overseas Chinese are helping to extend its global footprint.

And it makes increasing sense to keep CareerTu within the WeChat ecosystem after Xu noticed a surge in inquiries coming from her homeland. In 2018, only 5 percent of CareerTu’s users were living in China, many of whom were export sellers on Amazon. By early 2019, the ratio has shot up to 12 percent.

Xu believes there are two forces at work. For one, Chinese exporters are leaving Amazon to set up independent ecommerce sites, efforts that are in part enabled by Shopify’s entry into China in 2018. The alternative path provides merchants more control over branding, margins and access to customer insights. Breaking up with the ecommerce titan, on the other hand, requires Chinese sellers to get savvier at reaching foreign shoppers, expertise that CareerTu prides itself on.

careertu

CareerTu offers online courses via WeChat / Photo: CareerTu

Next door, large Chinese tech firms are increasingly turning abroad to fuel growth. Bytedance is possibly the most aggressive adventurer among its peers in recent years, buying up media startups around the world including Musical.ly, which would later merge with TikTok. Indeed, some of CareerTu’s recent grads have gone on to work at the popular video app. Rising interest from China eventually paved Xu’s way home as she recently set up her first Chinese office in her hometown Chengdu, the laid-back city known for its panda parks and witnessing a tech boom.

Just as foreign companies need crash courses on WeChat before entering China, Chinese firms going global must familiarize themselves with the marketing mechanisms of Facebook and Google despite China’s ban on the social network and search engine.

When American companies growth hack, they make long-term plans that involve “model building, A/B testing, and making discoveries from big data,” observed Xu. By comparison, Chinese companies fighting in a more competitive landscape are more agile and opportunist as they don’t have the time to ponder or test out the different variants in a campaign.

“Going abroad is a great thing for Chinese companies because it sets them against their American counterparts,” said Xu. “We are teaching Chinese the western way, but we are also learning the Chinese way of marketing from players like Bytedance. I’m excited to see in a few years whether any of these Chinese companies abroad will become a local favorite.”

Update (March 18, 2019, 7:00 AM): Added details of CareerTu’s partners and corrected spelling of Ruiwan Xu’s name.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple kerfuffles, praise groups, and media layoffs

in Asia/Delhi/India/Media/Politics/The Extra Crunch Daily by

Lots of news and interesting tidbits to wrap up the week.

Apple kerfuffles

Apple has been vindicated (for a brief moment anyway) in its long-standing dispute with Qualcomm. From Stephen Nellis at Reuters:

A U.S. federal judge has issued a preliminary ruling that Qualcomm Inc owes Apple Inc nearly $1 billion in patent royalty rebate payments, though the decision is unlikely to result in Qualcomm writing a check to Apple because of other developments in the dispute.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on Thursday ruled that Qualcomm, the world’s biggest supplier of mobile phone chips, was obligated to pay nearly $1 billion in rebate payments to Apple, which for years used Qualcomm’s modem chips to connect iPhones to wireless data networks.

We have chronicled Qualcomm’s challenges for some time. This long simmering dispute is complicated since Qualcomm needs the revenues from its patents, while not pissing off its arguably most important customer. The sooner the situation is settled and the parties move on (regardless of financial outcome), the better.

Meanwhile, Spotify and Apple has been the big antitrust story this week. TechCrunch’s news editor Ingrid Lunden covered the latest turns in the saga:

In a lengthy statement on its site called “Addressing Spotify’s Claims”, Apple walks through and dismantles some of the key parts of Spotify’s accusations about how the App Store works, covering app store approval times, Spotify’s actual cut on subscription revenues, and Spotify’s rise as a result of its presence on iOS.

At the same time, Apple carefully sidesteps addressing any of Spotify’s demands: Spotify has filed a case with the European Commission to investigate the company over anticompetitive practices and specifically to consider the relationship between Apple and Spotify (and by association any app maker) in terms of whether it is really providing a level playing field, specifically in the context of building and expanding Apple Music, its own product that competes directly with Spotify on the platform that Apple owns.

2019 is the year that most of the app stores are going to break on their revenue models. And it isn’t just limited to Apple — Steam is also facing huge challenges in the gaming market. As Chris Morris wrote for Extra Crunch a few weeks ago:

So what’s the draw for game makers to sell via the Epic Games store? It is, of course, a combination of factors, but chief among those is financial. To convince publishers and developers to utilize their system, Epic only takes a 12 percent cut of game-sale revenues. That’s significantly lower than the 30 percent taken by Valve on Steam (or the amounts taken by Apple or Google in their app stores).

According to Morris, Epic learned that it can be profitable at 12% based on its own experience with Fortnite, and therefore it wanted to rejigger the standard economics of game stores. Apple has a monopoly with its App Store on its own devices though, and so this sort of competition isn’t available. Given that Apple wants to increase services revenues in its financial model going forward, this is an important battle to watch.

One interesting model for improving the internet: praise groups

Photo by Yiu Yu Hoi via Getty Images

When it comes to unique business models for the web, the Chinese internet market is absolutely the place to get inspiration from.

The What’s on Weibo folks have an article on a popular new form of online communication in China:

A new phenomenon has become a hot topic on Chinese social media these days. ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群) are chat groups where people share some things about themselves – even if they are negative things – and where other people will always tell them how great they are, no matter what.

The team pays $7.50 for a five-minute session complete with 200 “participants.” Their experience:

How does it feel to be praised by some 200 people, receiving hundreds of compliments? It’s overwhelming, and even though you know it’s all just an online mechanism, and that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, it still makes you glow a little bit inside.

Although some experts quoted by Chinese state media warn people not to rely on these praise groups too much, there does not seem to be much harm in allowing yourself to be complimented for some minutes from time to time.

I just rely on Extra Crunch members.

Media job cuts & Tumblr traffic crash

Image by Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

A lot of tech execs left their jobs yesterday (or were pushed out), but the same is also true in the media industry according to a new report:

Consolidation, declining revenue, combative language from the Trump Administration, and occasional violence marked 2018 for members of the media. It was also the year with the highest number of job cut announcements in the sector since 2009, according to the monthly Job Cut Report compiled by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

A huge challenge for traditional media and even some startups like Vice is that their cost structures are incompatible with their revenue models. We have heard this for years, and years, and years, and yet, we haven’t seen media companies rebuilding themselves from the ground up to be profitable today in 2019.

Red ink is not a business model.

Meanwhile, Tumblr (which is owned by TechCrunch parent company Verizon Media) seems to be heading for the abyss according to Shannan Liao at The Verge:

Tumblr’s global traffic in December clocked in at 521 million, but it had dropped to 370 million by February, web analytics firm SimilarWeb tells The Verge. Statista reports a similar trend in the number of unique visitors. By January 2019, only over 437 million visited Tumblr, compared to a high of 642 million visitors in July 2018.

As I wrote in a scathing review of the Tumblr decision (and my employer) a few months ago:

I get the pressure from Apple. I get the safety of saying “just ban all the images” à la Renaissance pope. I get the business decision of trying to maintain Tumblr’s clean image. These points are all reasonable, but they all are just useless without Tumblr’s core and long-time users.

Now the data is increasingly showing the high cost of these product decisions. And people wonder why media has layoffs.

Why can’t we build things? The inevitable vs the avoidable

Photo by Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch via Getty Images

Written by Arman Tabatabai

As we wind down our obsession with infrastructure development, it’s clear that there is no one answer to the question of “why can’t we build things?” Inefficiencies exist across all aspects of a project’s life cycle, from planning to financing to construction. While we can pin some of the difficulties to misaligned incentives, gamesmanship, or outdated business models, some of the friction in infrastructure development exist purely as a result of the deep complexity that underpins any project of such immense scale.

We’ve previously dug into issues on the infrastructure planning and financing side. This week, we sat down with structural engineer and author Roma Agrawal to learn more about the difficulties in the engineering and construction processes and how they came to exist, as she lays out in her 2018 book, Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures.

Built acts as a layman’s primer into the history and science behind structural engineering. Using historical and modern examples, Agrawal breaks down all the under-appreciated factors — from complex physics and wind conditions, to water and fire resistance — that engineers have to consider when planning the built infrastructure on which we all layer our lives.

In our conversation with Agrawal, we tried to get a better grasp of the major issues large project engineers encounter and which ones are actually avoidable. These are some of the most interesting highlights of our conversation:

  • Confirming a key dynamic we discussed with infrastructure expert Phil Plotch, Agrawal noted that misinformation and a lack of understanding between project participants can be an issue for many projects.
  • In her past life as a structural engineer, Agrawal noticed a palpable lack of knowledge about what the field of structural engineering was and what it actually entailed. And the unfamiliarity came not only from the public but from architects and project developers working alongside her on major development projects. Developers often didn’t know or care how their decisions impacted architects, and architects didn’t know or care about how they impacted engineers and so on so forth.
  • Agarwal discussed how historically, there was a lot more congruence between these careers:“If you go back in history — say the Roman times — there wasn’t a separation between architects and engineers. They used to be called Master Builders… [they] would talk about architecture but with discussions about forces and materials and wind.” However, while some tie the decentralization of information across these fields to complacency, laziness or ignorance, Agrawal explained how such conclusions are harsh oversimplifications of something that is really a product of…
  • * …The incredible, and growing, complexity that goes into the minutia of each project. For example, financiers may have to deal with unintelligible structuring of debt while engineers are forced to make precise calculations based off of conditions that are incredibly hard to measure, such as the quality of deep-buried soil and the historical chemical exposure of that soil.
  • “I would say that it’s near impossible today for one single person to understand all the different specializations in enough detail to get a modern structure constructed. So we started to naturally split up into the people that paid more attention to the steel and concrete compared to those that looked at the ventilation systems are those that looked at the drainage and those that looked at fire escapes. And obviously the architects themselves, and then the people funding it, and so on.” And with each development or change in technology, project size, climate or otherwise, it becomes more difficult for each person in the development process to understand how their decisions flow through a project and impact their counterparts.
  • Thus, misinformation and lack of mutual knowledge to some degree is inevitable. The success of many construction projects then becomes tied to coordination according to Agrawal. Similar to Plotch, Agrawal noted that since it’s incredibly difficult for people at one level of a project to understand what is going at another, poor communication and gamesmanship can cause one issue to quickly cascade into many and subsequently into cost overruns and delays.
    • “Generally there is a number of things that have to go wrong and add up. So if you think about if you had 100 steps that go into making a project work safe, and one, two, or maybe even five things are not quite 100% – the product will still probably be okay at the end. But when you get to that threshold whatever that number is that oh maybe 15 or 20 things have gone slightly wrong that’s where we start to run into some real issues.”
  • And while it seems like error compounding happens in almost every major project in the US, Agrawal noted that after her deep research into historical engineering and construction processes she believes we’re actually getting better at executing on projects than ever before. Agrawal pointed out that while mega projects and big hiccups get all the attention, generally most large construction projects are executed successfully.
    • “I think we tend to forget that we’ve now, at least, have these amazing debug procedurals. We go in and we think: ‘Oh my god, these are so huge? How do they stand up? How did the engineers get this right?’ But what we forget is that a number of these structures have collapsed and killed people before they got to the right one that worked… And if anything, we’re getting better and better at preventing the loss of that life — the accidents that happen now are much more manageable and occur at a tiny percentage compared to what we used to have.”

Thanks

To every member of Extra Crunch: thank you. You allow us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend quality time on amazing ideas, people, and companies. If I can ever be of assistance, hit reply, or send an email to danny@techcrunch.com.

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

News Source = techcrunch.com

The “splinternet” is already here

in alibaba/Asia/Baidu/belgium/Brussels/Censorship/chief executive officer/China/Column/corbis/Delhi/Dragonfly/Eric Schmidt/eu commission/Facebook/firewall/Getty-Images/Google/great firewall/India/Information technology/Internet/internet access/Iran/Mark Zuckerberg/net neutrality/North Korea/online freedom/open Internet/photographer/Politics/Russia/Saudi Arabia/search engines/South Korea/Sundar Pichai/Syria/Tencent/United Kingdom/United Nations/United States/Washington D.C./world wide web by

There is no question that the arrival of a fragmented and divided internet is now upon us. The “splinternet,” where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries is no longer just a concept, but now a dangerous reality. With the future of the “World Wide Web” at stake, governments and advocates in support of a free and open internet have an obligation to stem the tide of authoritarian regimes isolating the web to control information and their populations.

Both China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their internet oversight, leading to increased digital authoritarianism. Earlier this month Russia announced a plan to disconnect the entire country from the internet to simulate an all-out cyberwar. And, last month China issued two new censorship rules, identifying 100 new categories of banned content and implementing mandatory reviews of all content posted on short video platforms.

While China and Russia may be two of the biggest internet disruptors, they are by no means the only ones. Cuban, Iranian and even Turkish politicians have begun pushing “information sovereignty,” a euphemism for replacing services provided by western internet companies with their own more limited but easier to control products. And a 2017 study found that numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have engaged in “substantial politically motivated filtering.”

This digital control has also spread beyond authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, there are more attempts to keep foreign nationals off certain web properties.

For example, digital content available to U.K. citizens via the BBC’s iPlayer is becoming increasingly unavailable to Germans. South Korea filters, censors and blocks news agencies belonging to North Korea. Never have so many governments, authoritarian and democratic, actively blocked internet access to their own nationals.

The consequences of the splinternet and digital authoritarianism stretch far beyond the populations of these individual countries.

Back in 2016, U.S. trade officials accused China’s Great Firewall of creating what foreign internet executives defined as a trade barrier. Through controlling the rules of the internet, the Chinese government has nurtured a trio of domestic internet giants, known as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), who are all in lock step with the government’s ultra-strict regime.

The super-apps that these internet giants produce, such as WeChat, are built for censorship. The result? According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “the Chinese Firewall will lead to two distinct internets. The U.S. will dominate the western internet and China will dominate the internet for all of Asia.”

Surprisingly, U.S. companies are helping to facilitate this splinternet.

Google had spent decades attempting to break into the Chinese market but had difficulty coexisting with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and collection of data, so much so that in March 2010, Google chose to pull its search engines and other services out of China. However now, in 2019, Google has completely changed its tune.

Google has made censorship allowances through an entirely different Chinese internet platform called project Dragonfly . Dragonfly is a censored version of Google’s Western search platform, with the key difference being that it blocks results for sensitive public queries.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., sits before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Pichai backed privacy legislation and denied the company is politically biased, according to a transcript of testimony he plans to deliver. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Drafted in 1948, this declaration reflects the sentiment felt following World War II, when people worked to prevent authoritarian propaganda and censorship from ever taking hold the way it once did. And, while these words were written over 70 years ago, well before the age of the internet, this declaration challenges the very concept of the splinternet and the undemocratic digital boundaries we see developing today.

As the web becomes more splintered and information more controlled across the globe, we risk the deterioration of democratic systems, the corruption of free markets and further cyber misinformation campaigns. We must act now to save a free and open internet from censorship and international maneuvering before history is bound to repeat itself.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MAY 22: An Avaaz activist attends an anti-Facebook demonstration with cardboard cutouts of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on which is written “Fix Fakebook”, in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 22, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Avaaz.org is an international non-governmental cybermilitating organization, founded in 2007. Presenting itself as a “supranational democratic movement,” it says it empowers citizens around the world to mobilize on various international issues, such as human rights, corruption or poverty. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Solution

Similar to the UDHR drafted in 1948, in 2016, the United Nations declared “online freedom” to be a fundamental human right that must be protected. While not legally binding, the motion passed with consensus, and therefore the UN was provided limited power to endorse an open internet (OI) system. Through selectively applying pressure on governments who are not compliant, the UN can now enforce digital human rights standards.

The first step would be to implement a transparent monitoring system which ensures that the full resources of the internet, and ability to operate on it, are easily accessible to all citizens. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, who block websites and filter email plus social media communication, would be encouraged to improve through the imposition of incentives and consequences.

All countries would be ranked on their achievement of multiple positive factors including open standards, lack of censorship, and low barriers to internet entry. A three tier open internet ranking system would divide all nations into Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The ultimate goal would be to have all countries gradually migrate towards the Free category, allowing all citizens full information across the WWW, equally free and open without constraints.

The second step would be for the UN to align itself much more closely with the largest western internet companies. Together they could jointly assemble detailed reports on each government’s efforts towards censorship creep and government overreach. The global tech companies are keenly aware of which specific countries are applying pressure for censorship and the restriction of digital speech. Together, the UN and global tech firms would prove strong adversaries, protecting the citizens of the world. Every individual in every country deserves to know what is truly happening in the world.

The Free countries with an open internet, zero undue regulation or censorship would have a clear path to tremendous economic prosperity. Countries who remain in the Not Free tier, attempting to impose their self-serving political and social values would find themselves completely isolated, visibly violating digital human rights law.

This is not a hollow threat. A completely closed off splinternet will inevitably lead a country to isolation, low growth rates, and stagnation.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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