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Modi government chokes dissent on India’s COVID apocalypse with social media blocks





People wait outside a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Kolkata on 28 April 2021.

Image: Getty

Politicians and others are dubbing it a “Modi Made Disaster” on Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media, but you may never read these posts.

This is because the Indian government has been busy ordering the platforms to take down the large number of posts flagged by them that are critical of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist government’s handling of the latest devastating wave of the pandemic.

“Not a surprise. But terrifying nonetheless,” tweeted author and activist Naomi Klein, as reported by the publication Truthout, who has previously written about the authoritarian ways in which Modi’s government has throttled basic free speech in India.

Over the last six days, India has registered over an average of 330,000 COVID-19 cases per day, and two days ago, the number of cases crossed 350,000, making it the site of the largest single day number of cases in the word so far.

Many estimates suggest that even these numbers are extremely undercounted.

Reports have described scenes of innumerable bodies being cremated in parking lots instead of cremation grounds in various cities, so overwhelming is the death count. These images haunt the internet and is giving fuel to the fierce criticism that is now dogging Mr Modi.


Modi’s administration, though, hopes to choke that potential torrent into a trickle, so it doesn’t besmirch his reputation.

The WSJ reports that according to the Lumen database, a Harvard University project that tracks requests to remove online content, the Indian government asked Twitter to de-list as many as 100 posts critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic over just the last few days during which the virus has laid waste to the country.

Some of these posts were by rival politicians such as one by Moloy Ghatak, an opposition party leader in the state of West Bengal, who wrote: “India will never forgive PM @narendramodi for underplaying the corona situation in the country and letting so many people die due to mismanagement. At a time when India is going through a health crisis, PM chose to export millions of vaccine to other nations.” He used a hashtag in Hindi #ModiHataoDeshBachao, which means “Remove Modi, save the country”.

Others were by photographers, journalists, and filmmakers. Truthout details how a post that showed patients lying on the floor while being treated in makeshift tents is now coming up as blocked, as just one example of many.

Another post, by Reuters chief photographer, Danish Siddiqui, showed images of mourning families in packed hospitals and makeshift cremation sites.

“Never imagined that I would be a witness to these scenes in my hometown. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to wreak havoc in New Delhi, India’s national capital. Pictures taken on 23.04.21,” the blocked post said.

It may seem absurd that many of these posts contain nothing outside the realm of reportage but nevertheless have been blocked.

Yet, chances are you won’t find any honest analysis of what is taking place in India on either Indian news sites or television channels, say critics. Most of them are either champions of the government since they get the bulk of their business from them, or they are simply too terrified to say anything that could be seen as tarnishing Modi and his large cult of followers.

This is not without good reason. In the last few years alone, India has imprisoned a large number of journalists, poets, writers, academics, stand-up comedians, and activists who have dared to offer solidarity to historically oppressed minority groups.

The Muslim stand-up comedian in question was famously arrested for a joke he didn’t tell.


Finding a pliant public may no longer be so easy.

It is becoming painfully clear from dispatches, such as the one in Time Magazine, that instead of spending the last six to twelve months honing a national COVID strategy, building up resources such as desperately-needed oxygen supplies now being shipped in from foreign shores, ramping up vaccination production, and preparing the country for the onslaught of the next wave, Modi and his ministers did very little. 

In fact, it was much worse.

Reports proliferating the internet suggest that not only did the government not persuade the Election Commission to postpone elections that were scheduled for early this year, it went on a massive campaigning spree across five Indian states that are going to the polls right now.

Modi personally addressed 20 political rallies, each of them with thousands of unmasked people attending.

There’s a video embedded in an NDTV news story where Modi is boasting of the large crowd he has drawn just a few days ago, even when India at the time had already registered two days of over 200,000 COVID cases.

Incomprehensibly, Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) actually approved of India’s gargantuan religious fair, the Kumbh Mela, being brought forward from its scheduled date next year to this April — despite the pandemic. Even when things appeared to be getting worse, they inexplicably endorsed the fair.

100 million pilgrims attended it over the past few weeks possibly making it the largest super-spreader ever in the history of contagions.

As Indians either lie dying in the corridors of hospitals or on foothpaths outside, there has been no sign of anyone in any governmental authority on location helping to ameliorate the crisis.

Instead, Yogi Adityanath, a Modi acolyte and hardliner who is chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh that has been accused of terrorising Muslims, had declared that anyone talking about oxygen or hospital bed shortages in the state would have their properties seized and that they would be arrested.

Meanwhile, images of desperate, frantic, and sick in the hospitals and cremation grounds of the capital city of Lucknow populated the internet.


Have Twitter and Facebook betrayed India in its time of need — a need for honest news, information, analysis, and debate — by capitulating too easily?

Twitter says that the blocked posts are not being taken down entirely. They can be seen in North America, but are being blocked in India “as per local regulations”.

“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law,” a Twitter spokesperson said. 

“If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only.”

The Indian government, via its Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, defended its actions stating that “certain people are misusing social media to create panic in society” through false images and said that they were using its Information Technology Act of 2000 to request that the tweets be removed so they could “protect the sovereignty and integrity of India and maintain public order”.

Twitter has gone through this before. When the government rammed three farming laws down the throat of Parliament without discussion or debate last year, never mind having consultations with farmers themselves, there was an outpouring of protests and support for the farmer’s movement.

The Modi government was livid, dubbed the whole lot to be “separatists”, and directed Twitter to take them down. When Twitter stalled, the government in true form threatened to throw the social media company’s staff in jail for seven years. 500 accounts were duly blocked by Twitter.

Then the Modi government went one absurd step further. They jailed a 22-year old climate activist whose parents are farmers for forwarding a “toolkit”, a standard MS-Word template that is globally used towards mobilisation.

Modi made sure that the Delhi police travelled all the way to Bangalore to cuff her in front of her mother, take her back to Delhi, and throw her in a jail until a judge could hear her case. A thoroughly antiquated colonial-era law of sedition was used as a legal pretext, including the now familiar explanation of being a “threat to the territorial integrity of India” to imprison her.

Twitter may be a reluctant actor here, but Facebook’s actions are at another level of complicity. As I explained in this prior ZDNet piece, Facebook’s India head Ankhi Das has been a long-time acolyte of Modi.

She has used her talents to train Modi’s team to win Chief Ministership of the state of Gujarat and supported him during the 2014 elections, which Modi won.

Last year, Das refused to take down incendiary posts by a BJP politician that goaded Hindu mobs to kill as many as 53 people in India, say local observers.

So, to think that Facebook is going to put the interests of Indian citizens ahead of the BJP may be naïve at best.

As the brutal nightmare of the past few weeks keeps repeating itself daily, one wonders how much the current carnage will damage Modi and what role will social media play in his continued takedown? After all, you can’t strongarm a virus into going away.

This wave is expected to peak in mid to late May, where the daily infection count is predicted to rise to a horrific 500,000 with a projected daily death rate of at least 5,700. India’s respected environmental magazine Down to Earth projects a million deaths by August.

By then, how much of the narrative will Modi be able to control?

Modi is not one of the world’s shrewdest politicians for nothing. Despite putting India into reverse — he has devastated its economy in the seven years he has been Prime Minister, fomented deadly communal strife, jailed ordinary citizens including farmers and students for expressing their views, coddled big business, and presided over the oppression of its minority groups — he has prevailed, and been re-elected to power. He has thrived.

However, escaping the wrath of the virus will have to be his biggest and most dazzling trick as yet.


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Samsung raises spending in logic chip businesses to $151 billion




Image: Samsung Electronics

Samsung Electronics has announced it will increase its investment in logic businesses through 2030 to a total of 171 trillion won, approximately $151 billion.

Back in 2019, the South Korean tech giant pledged to spend 133 trillion won through 2030 to its logic businesses.

Samsung said it was adding 38 trillion won to that original investment in order to accelerate advanced research and expand its production facilities.

The South Korean tech giant has two logic businesses, Samsung System LSI and Samsung Foundry. System LSI designs logic chips while Foundry is a contract chip production unit.

By adding more investment, expansion of its Foundry unit “will help fuel entire new industries built on next-generation technologies like AI, 5G and autonomous driving,” the tech giant said.

Samsung also announced that it has begun construction of a new production line at its plant in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.

The new line, called P3, is expected to be complete in the second half of 2022, the company said.

P3 will manufacture 14-nanometre DRAM and 5-nanometre logic semiconductors using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology, Samsung added.

“The entire semiconductor industry is facing a watershed moment and now is the time to chart out a plan for long-term strategy and investment,” said Samsung vice chairman and head of its chip business Kim Ki-nam.

“For the memory business, where Samsung has maintained its undisputed leadership position, the company will continue to make preemptive investments to lead the industry.”

While the South Korean tech giant didn’t address the current global chip shortage directly in its announcement, sources told ZDNet that the construction plan for P3 is six months ahead of schedule. Due to this, the tech giant will likely continue to be flexible in what chips its manufactures at its production lines in Pyeongtaek plant going forward, the sources said.

Samsung is the world’s largest memory chip maker by revenue. In foundry, it is the second largest, behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). In terms of total revenue, Samsung is the world’s second largest chip firm, behind Intel.


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SoftBank posts ¥5 trillion profit off the back of strong Vision Fund gains




Image: Getty Images

SoftBank has reported net profit of ¥4.99 trillion for the year ended March, marking a sharp turnaround from the ¥961 billion loss recorded in the year prior.

The primary reason for the turnaround was the ¥4.03 trillion profit from its Vision Fund unit, which was a ¥5.4 trillion improvement from FY2019 when the Vision Fund unit lost ¥1.4 trillion due to various investments across consumer, real estate, and transportation underperforming that year.

According to SoftBank, the ¥4.03 trillion profit was the Vision Fund unit’s strongest annual performance ever.

The strong performance during FY2020 largely came off the back of gains from the recently-listed Coupang and DoorDash, which provided unrealised valuation gains amounting to $25.3 billion and $7.6 billion, respectively.

During the full-year results presentation, SoftBank CEO and chairman Masayoshi Son reused the “golden goose” motif mentioned during the third-quarter presentation when saying SoftBank would need similar results from other unlisted companies in the Vision fund portfolio if it is to maintain the same profit trajectory. 

“We call ourselves an investment company. We don’t do any gambling or focus on one-time gains from market rallies — that’s not what we are looking for. We like to be looking at continuous gains through AI for new technologies,” Son said during the results presentation.

In addition, SoftBank also separately announced it was tripling the size of its Vision Fund 2, from $10 billion from $30 billion.

SoftBank Corp, the conglomerate’s telco, also improved its performance from the year prior, increasing its net sales by 7% year-on-year to ¥848 billion. This led to a 4% year-on-year jump in the segment’s total income, which rose to ¥848 billion.

During the year, SoftBank Corp also saw its mobile subscriber base grow by 3% to 47.2 million while its broadband services gained 300,000 more customers.

Meanwhile, SoftBank’s soon-to-be-sold chip segment, Arm, posted a ¥33.9 billion loss. This is despite Arm’s net sales, increasing by 6% year-on-year to ¥210 billion, which comprised of $1.28 billion in technology royalty revenue and $702 million in non-royalty revenue.

The loss was mainly due to charges that arose from increases being made to the share-based remuneration of Arm employees following the agreement for SoftBank to sell Arm to Nvidia.

The $40 billion sale is still pending as the UK’s competition regulator is currently in the midst of an investigation into the deal. Providing comment on the pending sale, Son said he remained “hopeful” that the transaction will close while adding an Arm IPO could be in the cards if the deal cannot be completed.

During the full year to March 2021, SoftBank also earned ¥422 billion through selling two-thirds of its T-Mobile shares and ¥601 billion on equity method investments from Alibaba.

At the same time, SoftBank lost ¥477 billion from prepaid forward contracts that used Alibaba shares, the company said.

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Incremental improvements are not enough as Biden signs order boosting US cyber posture




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United States President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday to boost the cyber posture of the federal government.

The order points to recent incidents including the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, Exchange vulnerabilities that led to the FBI removing web shells from US servers, and the SolarWinds attack.

The order said the federal government must lead by example.

“Incremental improvements will not give us the security we need; instead, the federal government needs to make bold changes and significant investments in order to defend the vital institutions that underpin the American way of life,” the order states.

“The federal government must bring to bear the full scope of its authorities and resources to protect and secure its computer systems, whether they are cloud-based, on-premises, or hybrid.

“The scope of protection and security must include systems that process data (information technology) and those that run the vital machinery that ensures our safety (operational technology).”

The order mandates that agencies have 180 days to implement multi-factor authentication and encrypt data both at rest and in transit “to the maximum extent” available under federal records and other laws. Agencies that cannot meet the deadline will need to provide a written explanation why not.

“Outdated security models and unencrypted data have led to compromises of systems in the public and private sectors,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

“The Federal government must lead the way and increase its adoption of security best practices, including by employing a zero-trust security model, accelerating movement to secure cloud services, and consistently deploying foundational security tools such as multifactor authentication and encryption.”

A Cybersecurity Safety Review Board will be established under the order and be constituted by federal officials from the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CISA, NSA, and FBI, as well as private-sector representatives to be determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The board will be chaired and co-chaired by one federal and one private-sector member.

The board will meet following a “significant” cyber incident and analyse what happened and make recommendations.

“When something goes wrong, the Administration and private sector need to ask the hard questions and make the necessary improvements,” the White House said.

“This board is modelled after the National Transportation Safety Board, which is used after airplane crashes and other incidents.”

A standardised playbook for incident response will also be created, as will a “government-wide endpoint detection and response system” and mandate to maintain logs to help in incident detection, investigation, and remediation.

“Slow and inconsistent deployment of foundational cybersecurity tools and practices leaves an organisation exposed to adversaries,” the fact sheet states.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Colonial Pipeline restarted operations.

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Phishing, ransomware, Web app attacks dominate data breaches in 2021, says Verizon Business DBIR




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Web applications represented 39% of all data breaches in the last year with phishing attacks jumping 11% and ransomware up 6% from a year ago, according to the Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report.

The report, based on 5,358 breaches from 83 contributors around the world, highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic move to the cloud and remote work opened up a few avenues for cybercrime.

Verizon Business found that 61% of all breaches involved credential data. Consistent with previous years, human negligence was the biggest threat to security.

Each industry in the DBIR had its own security nuances. For instance, 83% of data compromised in the financial and insurance industry was personal data, said Verizon Business. Healthcare was plagued by misdelivery of electronic or paper documents. In the public sector, social engineering was the technique of choice.

By region, Asia Pacific breaches typically were caused by financial motivations and phishing. In EMEA, Web application attacks, system intrusion and social engineering were the norm.

Here are some more figures to ponder in the Verizon Business DBIR:

  • 85% of breaches involved a human element.
  • 61% of breaches involved credentials.
  • Ransomware appeared in 10% of breaches, double the previous year.
  • Compromised external cloud assets were more common than on-premises assets in incidents and breaches.
Verizon Business DBIR 2021

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