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New Personal Data Protection Bill Could Create a World’s First for Social Media in India

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The government’s proposed new privacy bill may require large social media platforms to offer an identity-verification option, a potentially precedent-setting effort to rein in the spread of “fake news”, two government sources told Reuters on Thursday. The requirement would likely raise a host of technical and policy issues for companies including Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram units, Twitter, and Chinese app TikTok, all of which have millions of users in India.

Companies would have to offer a mechanism for users to prove their identities and display that verification publicly, akin to the blue check-mark that Twitter has used to confirm the authenticity of some high-profile accounts, including those belonging to celebrities and politicians. Verification would be optional for users, the sources said.

The Personal Data Protection bill, whose first draft was made public last year, is keenly awaited by top technology companies and industry stakeholders as it could alter the way all major internet companies process, store and transfer Indian consumers’ data.

The identity verification requirement, introduced in the latest draft of the bill, would be one of the most ambitious efforts globally to battle disinformation and fake news, which is often spread by pseudonymous or fake accounts.

“The idea was to reduce the spread of fake news and online trolling,” said one of the sources, a IT ministry official.

The privacy bill was cleared by cabinet on Wednesday and will be presented to parliament soon, officials said. But passage is not imminent, one of the sources said, as the legislation will likely be referred to a parliamentary expert committee or a panel for further review.

Since 2017, fake news and rumour-mongering on social media in India has led to more than 30 deaths, data portal IndiaSpend said last year. The companies have taken some measures to combat the problem – including a move by WhatsApp to limit group-forwarding of messages.

But Facebook and other companies have resisted the idea that they should verify the identity of their users, partly on the grounds that people in many countries would struggle to provide sufficient documentation

The voluntary verification scheme would give users more confidence in the validity of information on the verified accounts, though it would not eliminate fake accounts.

© Thomson Reuters 2019

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5 Alternatives to Zoom App for Video Conferences From Home

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Zoom gained a huge traction in a short span of time as several people are working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak. The video conference app pulled in more than 200 million daily active users last month — significantly up from a maximum of 10 million users previously. However, despite its skyrocketing growth, Zoom has been under fire over security concerns. From schools and officials to various governments, people have been asked to refrain from using the app. The Indian government also recently warned its officials about the Zoom. Also, some of its users have alleged that the app sends data to third parties located in China.

That being said, its key features such as being able to video-conference with up to 100 people for free (up to 500 participants in paid plans) and recording support make the Zoom app a great solution for virtual meetings. The app is also available across platforms and can enable video calling through mobile devices. But if you don’t trust Zoom and are look for capable alternatives, you’re in the right place.

Here, we are listing top five free alternatives to the Zoom app to help with your video calling needs.

Cisco Webex Meetings

Cisco is offering free access to its Webex Meetings in all countries where it is available to support the work from home needs during the coronavirus outbreak. Despite being available as free, you’ll get all enterprise features including unlimited usage with no time restrictions, support for up to 100 participants, and a toll dial-in in addition to Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) capabilities. All you need is to sign up on the Cisco Webex portal to get started with the Webex Meetings. Overall, the experience that’s been offered by Cisco is nowhere limited when comparing with Zoom.

Skype Meet Now

For users who don’t to go with an highly enterprise-focussed solution like Cisco Webex, Microsoft recently brought Skype Meet Now that serves as an alternative to Zoom. It works without requiring an account and supports up to 50 participants — all for free. You’ll also get features such as the ability to record calls, blur background before entering the call, and screen sharing. Moreover, you just need to visit the dedicated webpage to begin with Skype Meet Now.

Microsoft Teams

If you don’t want a solution just to make video calls, you can look at Microsoft Teams. It is also available for free during the pandemic. The free version brings unlimited chat and search, group and one-on-one audio and video calling, and 10GB of team file storage along with 2GB of personal file storage per person. If you already have an Office 365 account, you’ll get real-time collaboration with Office apps for Web, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

Discord

Discord has also emerged as a strong alternative to Zoom, thanks to its video conferencing capabilities that let you connect with up to 50 participants at once. The platform is popular amongst gamers, though you can use it as a tool to communicate with your office team or some friends. You can also download its mobile app to connect with your contacts using your smartphone. There are also features to share your screen or perform voice calls. Just like other free alternatives to Zoom, Discord provides video conferencing at no cost. You just need to sign up on the Discord site or through its app to get started with your virtual conferences.

Google Hangouts

If you don’t want to use Discord for any reason, you can opt for Google Hangouts, which is also a decent, free alternative to Zoom. You can make video calls with up to 10 participants or chat with up to 150 participants at once. Google also lets you host video calls or talk with your colleagues through text messages using a mobile device. Further, being a Google product, Hangouts just needs your Gmail account to let you get started. If you are open to pay, you’ll be able to increase the limit for video calls to up to 25 participants as well.

What else you can look at as an alternative to Zoom

Since video conferencing isn’t new, there are several other solutions in the market that can cater to your demand. You can get Google Hangouts Meet that is available for free for all G Suite users until July 1 and provides features such as up to 250 participants per call, live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain, and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive. If a Google solution isn’t something you want for your conversations, you can consider Jitsi Meet that can be accessed through your desktop or laptop or using a mobile device. You can also connect it with your Slack. There are also paid solutions such as Zoho Meeting and GoToMeeting that you can get for free under a trial.


Is iPhone SE the ultimate ‘affordable’ iPhone for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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6 Businesses That Are Getting Creative With Social Media During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Ally Kirkpatrick, owner of Old Town Books in Alexandria, VA started offering virtual book clubs, a kids reading challenge and online writing classes on Facebook. The store inspired the community to set time aside for indoor creative pursuits. Ally created printable and sharable coloring sheets of her locally famous shop dog, Scout, and then reached more people by creating various artistic challenges and art projects on Facebook.

Online writing classes became donation based, or “pay-what-you-can,” to encourage people to join the store for creative time online. Old Town Books is using the donations they received to offer programming online through May with award-winning authors.

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Millions of Social Media Users in India Set to Lose Their Anonymity

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Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok will have to reveal users’ identities if Indian government agencies ask them to, according to the country’s controversial new rules for social media companies and messaging apps expected to be published later this month. The requirement comes as governments around the world are trying to hold social media companies more accountable for the content that circulates on their platforms, whether it’s fake news, child porn, racist invective or terrorism-related content. India’s new guidelines go further than most other countries’ by requiring blanket cooperation with government inquiries, no warrant or judicial order required.

India proposed these guidelines in December 2018 and asked for public comment. The Internet and Mobile Association of India, a trade group that counts Facebook, Amazon.com, and Alphabet’s Google among its members, responded that the requirements “would be a violation of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.”

But the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is expected to publish the new rules later this month without major changes, according to a government official familiar with the matter.

“The guidelines for intermediaries are under process,” said N.N. Kaul, the media adviser to the minister of electronics & information technology. “We cannot comment on the guidelines or changes till they are published.”

The provisions in the earlier draft had required platforms such as Google’s YouTube or ByteDance’s TikTok, Facebook or its Instagram and WhatsApp apps, to help the government trace the origins of a post within 72 hours of a request. The companies would also have to preserve their records for at least 180 days to aid government investigators, establish a brick-and-mortar operation within India and appoint both a grievance officer to deal with user complaints and a government liaison. The Ministry is still finalising the language and content.

The rules cover all social media and messaging apps with more than 5 million users. India, with 1.3 billion people, has about 500 million Internet users. It isn’t clear whether the identities of foreign users would be subject to the Indian government’s inquiries.

Law enforcement agencies around the world have been frustrated by tech companies that have refused to identify users, unlock devices or generally cooperate with government investigations, particularly in cases relating to terrorism.

In India, where the Internet — and fake news — are still relatively new phenomenon, a false report of rampant child abduction and organ harvesting circulated widely via WhatsApp, leading to mob violence and over three dozen fatal lynchings in 2017 and 2018.

WhatsApp refused a request from the government to reveal the origins of the rumours, citing its promise of privacy and end-to-end encryption for its 400 million Indian users. It instead offered to fund research into preventing the spread of fake news and mounted a public education campaign in the country, its biggest global market.

WhatsApp will “not compromise on security because that would make people less safe,” it said in a statement Wednesday, adding its global user base had reached over 2 billion. “For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy.”

At the same time, tech companies and civil rights groups say the new rules are an invitation to abuse and censorship, as well as a burdensome requirement on new and growing companies.

In an open letter to IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, executives from Mozilla, GitHub, and Cloudflare said the guidelines could lead to “automated censorship” and “increase surveillance.“ In order to be able to trace the originator of content, platforms would basically be required to surveil their users, undermine encryption, and harm the fundamental right to privacy of Indian users, they said.

Companies such as Mozilla or Wikipedia wouldn’t fall under the new rules, the government official said. Browsers, operating systems, and online repositories of knowledge, software development platforms, are all exempt. Only social media platforms and messaging apps will be covered.

© 2020 Bloomberg LP

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