How to identify a fake Facebook profile. Not.

Sri Lanka Watch reports that,

According to intelligence reports, a massive fake facebook scam is underway by certain individuals to collect personal photos and information of people for commercial and other purposes. This is the latest Internet scam that is common in Colombo and Kandy areas.

Sri Lanka Watch, in a remarkable display of sheer genius, goes on to tell us four key characteristics of fake Facebook profiles.

How to identify a fake profile
1)      Many wall messages in the fake profile claiming “ thanks for the add”
2)      Fake profiles usually have one or two profile photos
3)      A fake profile photo is usually of a very attractive female/male
4)      Fake profiles have sexual overtones all ove
  1. Many wall messages in the fake profile claiming “ thanks for the add”
  2. Fake profiles usually have one or two profile photos
  3. A fake profile photo is usually of a very attractive female/male
  4. Fake profiles have sexual overtones all over

Based on 2 – 4 alone, I fear everyone I thought were friends on my Facebook account are actually fake profiles. More seriously, this is a prime example of inconsequential, web illiterate journalists furnishing pedestrian piffle in the hope that they are noticed and taken seriously.

IGP now wants to “suspend licenses” of porn websites in Sri Lanka

An order by the Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka, the same chowderhead who once said women could record themselves getting raped through mobile phones, now wants to the Director General of Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to suspend the licenses of 12 websites which were exhibiting nude photographs.

Firstly, none of the websites the IGP has got all hot and bothered about are registered in Sri Lanka, but a simple whois search would be as alien to the Police in Sri Lanka as peacebuilding is to the incumbent government.

Secondly, why this sudden love for the rule of law? Websites in Sri Lanka are arbitrarily banned and blocked without warning or any due process, despite flat denials by government when asked about their censorship regime in place for web media. Tamilnet remains blocked on all ISPs in Sri Lanka. Recently, another website was blocked in Sri Lanka for showing images of the President’s son, which was very conveniently on the same day the site reported the egregious public statement of a highly placed goon in government and close friend of the President. Subsequent reports circulated over email that these photos were doctored and the report on the President’s son was false is reason to hold the journalists accountable for libel or conduct investigations into their false reporting, not shutdown an entire site.

The Island notes the CID started the investigation into the pornographic sites following a written complaint lodged by the IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne. While it’s heartening the IGP is concerned about our morals, I would much rather judge for myself the content I view on the web. There’s a real danger here of setting a precedent of blocking and banning website for website defined and seen as unsuitable by the incumbent regime’s set of puritan values, as noted by Foreign Policy with examples from China and Bahrain. In August 2008, there were news reports of an even wider, more intrusive net filtering regime proposed by the President. A the time, it was reported that the TRC had gone to the extent of demanding ISPs to ”filter the websites featuring Obscene/phonographic (sic) /sexually explicit materials”.

As Lirneasia notes tongue in the cheek,

Criminal Investigation Department, working on a complaint by the IGP revealed these sites contain pornographic images and video clips of men and women, possibly Sri Lankan. They also suspected an international conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country, reported, Divaina. One may term the act anti-protectionist, because while the local production is blocked the vast majority of international porn sites still remain open.

Post-war Sri Lanka needs to worry more, at the very least, about the abysmal freedom of expression in the country than strengthening, widening and worsening existing informal and formal censorship of media. Honestly, shouldn’t the Police be far more concerned about the dozens of dormant investigations into acts of murderous violence against journalists since this President took office?

But if the IGP really is serious about eradicating pornography on the web like dengue, he should ban Google too. A simple search brings up over 800,000 pages and a couple of hundred sites in addition to those above that if the Divaina is to be believed, is are all part of an international conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country.

Sunday Times in Sri Lanka “hosts” Twitter!

Not satisfied with such pathbreaking initiatives in the “professional” print media industry in Sri Lanka such as using Wikipedia to defame and plagiarising content from Flickr, the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka proudly announces today that it has “linked up” with Twitter and will be “hosting” the service to boot!

Journalist Surekha, understandably a little light headed at her epiphanic discovery of Twitter notes that, “by simply following the right people and publication on Twitter, users can find the finest information available on the Internet catered to their tastes all in one place.” After such a gushy verdict, one shudders to contemplate what Surekha might write after she discovers RSS aggregation. But not stopping at the banal, the article ventures into nonsense, noting that “as more people join Twitter, its ability to measure what issues garner the most attention will increase in accuracy”.

Tellingly though, anyone keen to follow Twitter “hosted” by the Sunday Times were greeted with this message.

ST on Twitter - Small

Unsurprising under an Editor who cannot even begin to comprehend proper online sourcing or citizen journalism (see responses by bloggers here and here), its fascinating to watch these bungling attempts of traditional print media in Sri Lanka to leverage social networking, mobiles and the web.

Groundviews, progressive youth initiatives like Beyond Borders along with others on Facebook and a range of independent, compelling voices on the web have used new media for years to publish and disseminate critical content and engage local and international audiences, even at the height of war.

One hopes that wiser counsel prevails and the Sunday Times only asks journalists of a higher calibre like Smriti Daniel to cover their forays into new media in the future.

The Economist magazine held up in “post-war” Sri Lanka?

Victory’s Rotten Fruits appears in the print edition of the most recent Economist.

This is an email I got this morning from a friend and subscriber to the mag in SL.

This week’s Economist has apparently (as per Vijitha Yapa – to whom I pay a bloody 11,000 bucks for the magazine) been “held up” at Customs. This is the 4th issue that has been held up…reckon this is the reason? Are we moving (already moved?) towards a state where we are going to be cut off from the world in terms of information (much like the Chinese chaps’ paranoia on websites????)

The manic inanity of Customs Officials, obviously in fear of or instructed by higher authorities to censor opinion inconvenient to the incumbents in power shows disturbing signs of growing. Last year, only public outcry and the threat of legal action was able to secure the release of a book by a respected academic, also held up at Customs for no discernible reason along with other publications. Prof. Rohan Samarajiva from Lirneasia writing on this issue last year may have nailed it,

Copies have not been confiscated. They are just reading them page by page, every copy, not knowing that they are identical copies. Poor customs officials. My heart goes out to them.

The free flow of ideas in post-war Sri Lanka is shaping up quite nicely don’t you think?

Update – 15 June 2009

Gawker pointed to this blog post on its home page and through a story featured on the website today.

Gawker on censoring the Economist in Sri Lanka

Click above for large image or click here for the Gawker story as a PDF.

The rise of the Nanny State: Sri Lanka to filter pornography on the web

It was almost exactly a year ago that I read this report on Techcrunch that said children in Nigeria were accessing porn from the XO Laptop (alias $100 PC). The story noted, tongue in cheek that

It’s heart warming to know that the efforts of the well meaning folks behind the OLPC project are delivering real results on the ground; providing the same opportunities for teenage boys to access internet porn no matter how impoverished they are or where they live. 

It’s equally heart-warming to note the special Presidential directive to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) that websites featuring obscene and pornographic material should be filtered with immediate effect to protect children against internet pornography.

A Sri Lankan President who cares and is a paragon of virtue. Who would have imagined it? 

In 1999, Australia tried to do much the same thing and it resulted in a huge public outcry against the rise of a nanny state. And as I suspect, unlike what will be the usual supine subservience to misplaced Presidential wisdom by Sri Lankan ISPs, Australian ISPs also made the case that it was simply not technically or economically feasible to block “pornographic sites”. Reading through existing net filtering legislation in Australia one notes the chaotic nature of it all and the emphasis on expunging “pornographic” content hosted in Australia as opposed to content offshore, which it does not censor. In August 2007 the Australian Government’s NetAlert programme started to offer free internet filters, online safety guides and other tips for parents, teachers and librarians.  

The Daily News reports that,

If an adult wishes to have unrestricted access to the Internet, service may be obtained from an Internet Service Provider in password protected manner after making a payment. However, the user is responsible for use of the service in responsible manner and should ensure the filtered websites are not accessible to children.

The irony here is in the proposed firewall of “pornographic” content. A password. How original and foolproof is that? As Lirneasia correctly notes

Assumed strict enforcement, this can lead to the ban of not just YouTube but Gmail and Yahoomail also, because pornography videos can easily be distributed via e-mail.

Add all instant messaging applications, P2P file sharing, Google Docs, and related online file storage services. Apparently though,

This decision was taken as there has been increasing concern about the exposure of children to obscene and pornographic materials via the internet. The proliferation of internet raises serious problems concerning unrestricted access to obscene and pornographic materials, especially by children.

The TRCSL directive goes on to ask ISPs to “filter the websites featuring Obscene/phonographic (sic) /sexually explicit materials”. And here I would have thought that Mervyn Silva’s profanities plastered across the media and the behaviour of his son, Keheliya Rambukwella’s shenanigans at Royal College with his son and – how to politely put it – our mentally challenged Foreign Minister’s notion that it’s perfectly alright to take his children to diplomatic functions conveyed a far more detrimental message, that it is fine for absolute power to corrupt absolutely with complete impunity.

In response to the creative uses it was put to by the children in Abuja, Negroponte’s XO laptop went on to feature a porn filter. 

What we in Sri Lanka desperately need today is a “President Rajapakse epiphanic directive of the day” spam filter to spare us from the ignominy of living under a regime that is increasingly and insufferably Victorian.

The rise of Big Brother in the UK

It’s disturbing to read about the intention of the British Government to create a database to record every phone call, e-mail and time spent on the internet by the public as part of “the fight against crime and terrorism”. It’s this kind of mindless sleepwalking into a surveillance society that reminds me of Orwells 1984. Conrad’s The Secret Agent and V for Vendetta. There’s a necessary debate on how much of our civil liberties we need to sacrifice in the name of public security, but this is surely a nonsensical overkill? As reports indicate, it’s also fundamentally a problem of data analysis and storage.

“About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year, while an estimated 3 billion e-mails are sent every day.”

How on earth the government is going to extract from this information the semantic connections necessary to identify that which threatens the British public is not entirely clear. Or it’s ability to keep these records securely. Or the period of time it will keep these records. Or who exactly will have access to them. Or as the opposition noted succinctly,

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Given [ministers’] appalling record at maintaining the integrity of databases holding people’s sensitive data, this could well be more of a threat to our security, than a support.”

It’s also unclear as to how invasive this technology will be. Clearly, if it only records emails SENT or RECEIVED, there’s huge gaping security loophole in the form of DRAFT emails. Simply share an account / password combination over coffee and voila, you have a totally secure form of email communications without ever sending an email (simply update each other’s drafts). It’s also unclear whether this database will tap into instant messaging and if so, just how? What about Skype VOIP that’s encrypted? And how about Blackberry’s? Or the walled gardens of social networks and the IM systems they employ?

For a country clearly obsessed with surveillance, this latest and incredibly absurd step in the guise of “public security” is itself a terrorist’s dream. How many masterminds does the British Government actually think it will take to break into or disable the database in a day and age where DDOS attacks can actually be bought over the web?

To borrow a phrase from Conrad, the future of the proletariat seems very bleak indeed!