Featured January 30, 2023
The Economic Impact of Internet Shutdowns Jump 323% in 2022
New research has shown that the global economy has lost over $40 billion to internet shutdowns since 2019, with 2022 accounting for over 50% of the loss.
In recent years, governments around the world have adopted internet restrictions as a tool for whipping their citizens into line. While some go as far as shutting down access to the internet, others restrict access to certain websites they feel are fueling anti-government rhetoric.
Generally, experts and analysts alike have focused on the human rights abuses that come with such restrictions, neglecting the economic impact these measures have. Recent research shows that governments’ efforts to impede access to the internet can have adverse economic effects.
Internet restrictions lasted over 50k hours in 2022
According to top10vpn research, the economic cost of restricting access to the internet jumped by 323% to $23.79 billion in 2022. During the year, top10vpn said there were 114 outages across 23 countries, affecting 710 million people — this represents a 41% growth on the year-on-year metrics. However, a separate Surfshark report placed the affected people at 4.2 billion.
Top10vpn said internet shutdowns lasted over 50,000 hours (over 2000 days), while Surfshark added that the average duration of social media censorship was 114 days. The reports noted that governments that adopted internet restrictions were trying to avoid protests or a “restriction on citizen’s freedom of assembly.”
Facebook and Twitter are the most hated platforms by the government
The reports revealed that the most hated platforms by governments worldwide included social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.
According to top10vpn, Twitter suffered the most deliberate disruption by government agencies as it was off for 21,560 hours which is 56% more than Instagram and 64% more than Facebook. Surfshark, however, argued that Facebook suffered the most from authoritarian governments.
According to Surfshark, 46% of the world’s population have, at some point, had their access to the Mark Zuckerberg-led platform restricted by a government.
From the above, it could be deduced that the social media platforms were both heavily censored by the governments as it provides a voice for the masses. The growth of these platforms has birthed a new wave of citizen journalism that has made it much more difficult for governments to control the narrative.
For context, the Nigerian government lost over $26 billion to its seven-month ban on Twitter in 2021.
Russia suffered the highest economic loss in 2022
Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine saw it suffer the highest economic loss to internet restrictions in 2022, according to top10vpn.
The Vladimir Putin-led country accounted for over 90% of $23.79 billion in losses, losing $21.5 billion, while other significant losers included Iran, which lost $773 million, and Kazakhstan, with $410.7 million.
The United Nations said the effects of internet shutdowns could be far-reaching as it prevents businesses from conducting their usual operations.
World Bank says internet access lead to improved economic outcomes
World Bank argued that “internet access can drive economic development through its impacts on both the supply and demand sides of an economy.”
According to the financial agency, research showed that internet technologies help to increase workers’ productivity. At the same time, it can help to improve workers’ skills and access to the market.
The World Bank concluded that:
“Internet access appears to lead to greater economic activity and other beneficial economic impacts in many, though not all, developing country contexts.”
Biden Administration Demands China’s ByteDance Sell TikTok to Avoid Ban
The U.S. government has demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owners ByteDance sell their shareholding in the widely popular video sharing app – or else face a ban, according to the Wall Street Journal.
America cites “national security” as the reason for the ban. The government has for a long time raised concerns about the social media site, voicing fears that China could use the app as a tool for espionage, and to possibly influence political outcomes in the U.S.
Former U.S. president Donald Trump threatened the exact same action in 2020, but the High Court struck the executive order down. Now President Biden is taking a tougher stance after Democrats were criticized for being weak on ByteDance, the Quartz reported.
TikTok rubbishes security concerns
The demand for ByteDance founders and owners to sell their 20% stake in TikTok came from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, or CFIUS, a multi-agency federal task force responsible for national security risks in cross-border investments, per WSJ.
While the shares of Zhang Yiming, ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo, and others who helped found the company in Beijing in 2012 appear in the minority, the shareholding carries a reported “outsized” share in voting rights.
Global investors own 60% of ByteDance’s shares, and the other 20% is owned by employees. In a statement shared with Reuters news agency, TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter explained that banning the video-sharing app on national security grounds would be a farce.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” she said.
“The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems.”
A Mar. 16 report by The Information suggested that the Chinese government will not take the U.S. threats lying down. It said Beijing will “oppose any attempt by the Biden administration to force TikTok’s Chinese shareholders to sell their stakes.”
Banning the app everywhere
The U.S. is a key market for ByteDance, with over 100 million people using TikTok in the country. That is partly why the company has been fighting tooth and nail to remain operational in America, even as the working environment looks increasingly difficult.
TikTok pledged to spend $1.5 billion on a program to protect U.S. user data and content from Chinese government access or influence, according to industry media. The plan would seal off U.S. operations, with all data stored within the country at Oracle, the U.S. tech firm. Oracle would have access to TikTok’s “algorithmic code and flag issues for government inspectors.”
The Biden Administration is giving TikTok an ultimatum: Either sever ties with China or be banned in the U.S. @sarafischer discusses pic.twitter.com/m11X7wmWPV
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) March 16, 2023
But as MetaNews previously reported, the issue has become highly politicized. While TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is expected to testify on security issues before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Mar. 23, local lawmakers have already tightened their chokehold on foreign-owned tech companies.
Also read: TikTok Manipulates Own Algorithm to Promote Certain Landmarks
Earlier this month, the Biden administration endorsed proposed new legislation from about 12 senators that gives the secretary of commerce power to restrict tech firms based in six countries, namely Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and China. The U.S. considers all these countries “adversaries.”
It isn’t only Biden who is suspicious of TikTok. The app is also facing scrutiny in Canada, the UK, New Zealand and in the European Union. On Thursday, the UK banned legislators and other public officials from hosting the app on their work devices. And over 30 U.S. states have banned TikTok from being downloaded on state devices.
Google Says AI Can’t Replace Human Ingenuity, Integrates It Into Applications
Google has integrated generative artificial intelligence (AI) into its workspace applications like Google documents, Gmail, and Slides, according to a recent statement.
Per the announcement, the workspace applications would possess similar features to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and DALL-E, alongside Stable Diffusion’s Canva.
Users of Google docs could use AI to generate, summarize and brainstorm text. AI might also be leveraged to generate full emails by writing brief bullet points. On the other hand, Slides users can tap into AI to generate images, audio, and video to enhance presentations.
Google’s Workspace vice president of products, Johanna Voolich Wright, said the product would allow:
“Workspace users to harness the power of generative AI to create, connect, and collaborate like never before.”
Google’s AI product to be available to some US testers
The product will be available to select US-based “trusted testers” later this month, while it will be rolled out for public use later this year. The firm did not provide further information on its launch timeline.
Meanwhile, Google added that the new features would help increase users’ productivity while saving them time.
“Workspace saves you the time and effort of writing that first version. Simply type a topic you’d like to write about, and a draft will instantly be generated for you. With your collaborative Al partner, you can continue to refine and edit, getting more suggestions as needed.”
Google plans to extend the product into its other applications.
Google says AI can’t replace “real people ingenuity”
Although it has talked up the advanced capabilities of its AI product, Google says generative AI cannot be a “replacement for the ingenuity, creativity, and smarts of real people.”
The company wrote that AI sometimes gets things wrong — an allusion to the tech’s costly error that shaved the company’s stock value by around $100 billion.
Due to this, the firm said its focus is on building responsible AI that keeps the users in control. Google added that the AI would only make suggestions that users can accept, edit, and change.
Also Read: Microsoft Eliminates AI Ethics and Society Team
Who is winning the AI tech race?
While Google’s previous AI strides had been fraught with issues, its technological rival Microsoft has made giant strides in developing its ChatGPT.
Previously, Microsoft revealed plans to integrate the ChatGPT program into its Office Suite packages. The firm aims to revolutionize human-machine interactions by integrating AI into its products and tools.
Microsoft has already integrated AI technology into developer tools like Azure and other products like GitHub Copilot, Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft Viva Sales. The firm also credited the chatbot for the astronomic growth of its search engine, Bing.
Concerns have, however, been raised about Microsoft’s apparently waning commitment to responsible AI development: recent layoffs mean the company no longer has a dedicated team to ensure its ethical AI principles are integrated into product design.
Of course, some will argue that AI should be an ideology-free zone, after ChatGPT’s political leanings were exposed.
Bing Removes Waiting List For All AI Chatbot Users
Microsoft’s Bing Chat waitlist is gone, allowing new users who sign up to immediately access the AI powered chatbot without waiting.
The tech giant’s search engine Bing has been making its way to the spotlight after they released their ChatGPT powered chatbot Bing Chat, which was previously available to a select few after joining the waitlist.
Also read: GPT-4 is Here: What You Need to Know About OpenAI’s New ChatGPT
This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Microsoft released the Bing Chat feature early last month, and they even added an icon on their Edge browser. However, access to the chatbot still required signing in and joining a waiting list.
Only until accepted would one have a go on the AI powered chatbot. That has not been the smoothest onboarding experience, which seems logical for Microsoft to make it easier for the market to use its new Bing.
As of Thursday, many people claimed that they were able to gain access to the chatbot soon after signing up. Windows Central, reported that multiple members of their team were able to use the chat feature instantly.
TechCrunch also tested using multiple email accounts and gained access as well with some of the emails they used. However, one still has to request to join the waitlist after signing up and if you’re as lucky you might get access instantly.
“I joined the waiting list yesterday, it was less than 2 sec long” tweeted one user identified as Khatarina.
While the company did not specify if the waitlist changes were permanent or not, Microsoft said in a statement that it is running various experiments to onboard more users.
“During this preview period, we are running various tests, which may accelerate access to the new Bing for some users. We remain in preview and you can sign up at Bing.com,” said the company.
Bing gives users a taste of ChatGPT-4
The changes in the waitlist came after Microsoft confirmed its Bing AI chatbot has been running on OpenAI’s next generation AI language model, GPT-4.
The announcement generated a lot of interest and excitement on the market at a time GPT-4 is not yet publicly available.
Microsoft invested $10 billion with OpenAI towards the ChatGPT research. They have hit the jackpot as their ChatGPT-4 powered chatbot has Bing on the map. According to Jacob Roach Microsoft Bing Chat saw about 1 million users signing up for the waiting list soon after their initial announcement.
While OpenAI is only offering their latest model ChatGPT-4 to plus members, having access to the Bing Chat gives users a taste of the new ChatGPT which is used to power Bing Chat.
However unlike OpenAI’s chatbot Bing Chat does not allow users to use both text and image as input, but unlike OpenAI Bing has access to the internet which widens the results pool.
A downside to Bing Chat is that one can only have 15 conversational interactions before clearing the chat and starting again as compared to OpenAI, which allows one to save conversation even on the free version.
Tech firms haven’t been sitting by
Microsoft endured criticism when Bing was launched last month as users felt the company had rushed to release the product. But to the company’s credit, many of the challenges the first users encountered have been fixed.
Microsoft has been working non-stop in improving service delivery by integrating AI into most of their products. Recently they added the ChatGPT powered AI bot to windows 11 task bar according to TechCrunch.
Microsoft was scheduled to hold an event ‘Reinventing Productivity With AI’ on Thursday with the company expected to show off more AI features in its Office programs like Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
The popularity of ChatGPT has also put a lot of focus on Microsoft, while other tech companies are also busy incorporating the technology into their products and services.
Google is not just sitting by watching from the terraces. The search giant announced its Bard AI chatbot in February. Google also released AI-powered tools for its suite of online apps on Tuesday, ahead of Microsoft’s announcements later in the week.
Last month, Snapchat also released its AI chatbot ‘My AI’ powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology.
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