Sunday, July 26, 2020

COVID-19 Period Surging Traffic Is Slowing Down Your Internet

In January 2020, before the novel coronavirus spread its way around the world, China locked down several provinces to contain the virus. While people were forced to self-quarantine, naturally, much of their time was spent browsing the web. Average internet speeds in the country slowed as a surge of users logged online.

By mid-February, when COVID-19 was running rampant throughout European cities in Italy, Germany, and Spain, internet speeds in these countries also began to worsen. As a slew of stay-at-home orders spread across the US, broadband speeds declined. Quarantines worldwide have made people more reliant on the internet to work, communicate, study, and keep entertained.

Stress on Internet Infrastructure

YouTube, Zoom, Netflix, Facebook, and video gaming have risen to new heights globally, especially in Europe and the US. What does this mean for your internet speed? Will the new 'normal' slower internet have any effect on security?

European countries asked major streaming services, like Netflix, to degrade their services to keep up with the wave of new users. In India, Australia, and Latin America, Netflix switched its high-definition video streams to a slightly lower quality to reduce traffic. YouTube committed to making all global streams standard definition.

The US, however, decided to take another approach. The Federal Communications Commission granted Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile temporary access to more airwaves to try and support the slew of internet browsers. 

Internet Providers, We're Not Prepared

Major service providers like Comcast, Vodafone, Verizon, and Telefónica have been working on improving their security, internet speeds, and building up their networks for years. While they did predict an increase in internet users, no one could have imagined such a steep, sudden rush of users. The increasing demand came as a surprise. Enrique Blanco, the CTO of Telefónica, a Spanish telecommunications company, said, "In just two days we grew all the traffic we had planned for 2020."

Online gaming, video conferencing, and video calls have more than doubled since the start of the pandemic, while messages over WhatsApp, the free messaging platform owned by Facebook, more than quadrupled. All this extra traffic has slowed down internet networks, web pages, and apps.

Is There a Solution?

With most of the globe prepping for the "second wave" of COVID-19, many cities and states will likely reimplement shelter in place orders. More people are expected to be home, with not much to do other than using the internet for work and entertainment. Meaning, we can expect to see a lot more activity on a network.

By the looks of it, until we have a cure for COVID-19, we may have to put up with slower internet speeds for the foreseeable future. Internet traffic hasn't been slowing down, and the demand is on the steady incline. While internet providers are doing all they can to ensure their users have access to all of their videos, apps, games, and messenger services, there really isn't a whole lot they can do to speed up the internet.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Technology Giants Suspend the Processing of the Hong Kong Government's Request for User Data

Google, Facebook, and Twitter announced they are evaluating China's new national security law for the city. We're witnessing major American tech companies question the Chinese policy - an extremely rare occurrence. The national security law was put in place to help suppress the anti-government demonstrations that have been on the rise in Hong Kong for more than a year.

The tech giants mentioned above have temporarily stopped processing the Hong Kong government requests for user data. The new national security law in Hong Kong has already been used to arrest citizens who have requested Hong Kong's independence. Is this a human rights violation? Facebook has said its review of the new law would rely heavily on human rights considerations. This is one of the few times in recent history major American internet giants are questioning Chinese policy.

What about Chinese-born companies? TikTok, owned by the Chinese internet giant, ByteDance, announced they would withdraw the TikTok app from Hong Kong stores. Within a few days, the app will be unusable.

The New Laws:

What exactly are the new national security rules in Hong Kong? The new law permits the police force to take down internet posts that they feel threaten national security and prosecute companies who don't comply with data requests. If the organization refuses to comply with user data requests, it could result in jail time for the employees and a significant fine for the company. These new rules will force some companies to choose between releasing data or facing six months of jail time for an employee. According to the HK government, if a company refuses to turn over user data in national security cases, it could be fined around $13,000. If someone is ordered to remove a post and they deny, that could lead to a one-year jail sentence.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter did not say whether they would eventually decide to cooperate with parts of the law, but they have temporarily stopped fielding government requests. Their final decisions will likely change the future of internet freedom in Hong Kong. Many HK citizens fear the city will succumb to the ultra tight-knit internet laws that suffocate others in China where Facebook, Twitter, and Google are currently blocked. Thus far, the web hasn't been so tightly censored in Hong Kong, and needless to say, residents want to keep it that way.  

Is There a Safer Way to Communicate?

Groups of people in Hong Kong are seeking ways to go around the city's internet blockades. Some have deleted posts in fear of being prosecuted, and some are downloading encrypted messaging platforms. Trustwire is an end-to-end encrypted file sharing platform. Only the rightful owner and receiver can access the shared data.

While there's still no saying what the HK government will do next, we'll have to wait and see what the American tech giants decide.

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