Trump’s Truth Social App Branded a Disaster

Donald Trump’s Truth Social has “been a disaster,” says Joshua Tucker, director of NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics. According to the BBC, “The app launched on Presidents’ Day, 21 February, but six weeks later is beset by problems. A waiting list of nearly 1.5 million are unable to use it.” From the report: Truth Social might look like Twitter, but it isn’t available on Android phones, web browsers or, apparently, to most people outside the US. And a Republican ally of Mr Trump’s, who did not wish to be identified, said: “Nobody seems to know what’s going on.” On 21 February, Truth Social was one of the App Store’s most downloaded apps — but many who downloaded it were unable to use it. There was an assumption this problem would soon be resolved and Mr Trump would start posting his “truths” in the coming days — but neither of those things happened. My attempt to register, this week, was placed at number 1,419,631 on the waiting list.

While YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook are among the 10 most downloaded apps, according to Similar Web, Truth Social is outside the top 100. Users who find their way in can find the app a little empty, as many big voices on the American right have so far stayed away. Another study found downloads have fallen by as much as 95%. And many are feeling frustrated. “Signed up for Truth Social a couple weeks ago and still on a waiting list,” one Twitter user said, on Tuesday. “By the time I’m off the waiting list and on to Truth Social for real, Trump will be President again,” joked another. The report says Mr Trump “has not posted a ‘truth’ for well over a month.”

“Maybe they’re holding him back,” Mr Tucker said. “That’s his last chance to launch it – when suddenly Trump comes in and starts being really active on it, that will get a buzz.”

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Internet Backbone Giant Lumen Cuts Service To Russia

Lumen Technologies, an American company that operates one of the largest Internet backbones and carries a significant percentage of the world’s Internet traffic, said today it will stop routing traffic for organizations based in Russia. KrebsOnSecurity reports: Lumen’s decision comes just days after a similar exit by backbone provider Cogent, and amid a news media crackdown in Russia that has already left millions of Russians in the dark about what is really going on with their president’s war in Ukraine. Monroe, La. based Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) initially said it would halt all new business with organizations based in Russia, leaving open the possibility of continuing to serve existing clients there. But on Tuesday the company said it could no longer justify that stance.

“Life has taken a turn in Russia and Lumen is unable to continue to operate in this market,” Lumen said in a published statement. “The business services we provide are extremely small and very limited as is our physical presence. However, we are taking steps to immediately stop business in the region.” “We decided to disconnect the network due to increased security risk inside Russia,” the statement continues. “We have not yet experienced network disruptions but given the increasingly uncertain environment and the heightened risk of state action, we took this move to ensure the security of our and our customers’ networks, as well as the ongoing integrity of the global Internet.” According to Internet infrastructure monitoring firm Kentik, Lumen is the top international transit provider to Russia, with customers including Russian telecom giants Rostelecom and TTK, as well as all three major mobile operators (MTS, Megafon and VEON).

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Is a New Iron Curtain Descending Across Russia’s internet?

Cogent Communications, one of the world’s largest internet intercontinental backbone providers, has cut ties with Russian customers over its invasion of Ukraine. The Verge reports:

In a letter to Russian customers obtained by The Washington Post, Cogent cited “economic sanctions” and “the increasingly uncertain security situation” as the motives behind its total shutdown in the country. Cogent similarly told The Verge that it “terminated its contracts” with Russian customers in compliance with the European Union’s move to ban Russian state-backed media outlets.

As Doug Madory, an internet analyst at network tracking company Kentik points out… unplugging Russia from Cogent’s global network will likely result in slower connectivity, but won’t completely disconnect Russians from the internet… Traffic from Cogent’s former customers will instead fall back on other backbone providers in the country, potentially resulting in network congestion. There isn’t any indication as to whether other internet backbone providers will also suspend services in Russia.
Digital rights activists have criticized Cogent’s decision to disconnect itself from Russia, arguing that it could prevent Russian civilians from accessing credible information about the invasion. “Cutting Russians off from internet access cuts them off from sources of independent news and the ability to organize anti-war protests,” Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said on Twitter….

Cogent’s goal is to prevent the Russian government from using the company’s networks for cyberattacks and propaganda, The Post reports.

The Post argues that on a larger scale,”these moves bring Russia closer to the day when its online networks face largely inward, their global connections weakened, if not cut off entirely.”
“I am very afraid of this,” said Mikhail Klimarev, executive director of the Internet Protection Society, which advocates for digital freedoms in Russia. “I would like to convey to people all over the world that if you turn off the Internet in Russia, then this means cutting off 140 million people from at least some truthful information. As long as the Internet exists, people can find out the truth. There will be no Internet — all people in Russia will only listen to propaganda….”

[E]ven two weeks ago, Russia’s Internet was comparatively free and integrated into the larger online world, allowing civil society to organize, opposition figures to deliver their messages and ordinary Russians to gain ready access to alternative sources of news in an era when Putin was strangling his nation’s free newspapers and broadcast stations…. Patrick Boehler, head of digital strategy at Radio Free Europe, said CrowdTangle data showed that independent news stories in the Russian language worldwide were getting shared many more times on social media than stories from state-run media. He said that once the Kremlin lost control of the narrative, it would have been hard to regain.

Now the last independent journalistic outposts are gone, and the Internet options are increasingly constricted through a combination of forces — all spurred by war in Ukraine but coming from both within and outside Russia…. Government censors also blocked access to the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Deutsche Welle, as well as major Ukrainian websites. The BBC, CNN and other international news organizations said they were suspending reporting in Russia because of a new law that could result in 15 years of prison for publishing what government officials deem false news on the war.

Meanwhile, Politico reminds us that even Oracle has shut down its Russian cloud service operations.
Laura Manley, the executive director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said Russia is creating a perfect situation to control its narrative and limit outside coverage of its Ukrainian invasion by Western social media sources. “You have the lack of eyewitness information because you have critical infrastructure being shut off,” she said. “So it’s sort of a worst case scenario in terms of getting real-time accurate information.”

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FCC Bans Deals That Block Competition In Apartments

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to ban the exclusive revenue-sharing deals between landlords and Internet service providers that prevent broadband competition in apartment buildings and other multi-tenant environments. The new ban and other rule changes were adopted in a 4-0 vote announced yesterday. Ars Technica reports: Although the FCC “has long banned Internet service providers from entering into sweetheart deals with landlords that guarantee they are the only provider in the building,” evidence submitted to the commission “made it clear that our existing rules are not doing enough and that we can do more to pry open the door for providers who want to offer competitive service in apartment buildings,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in her statement on the vote. The broadband industry has sidestepped rules that already exist with “a complex web of agreements between incumbent service providers and landlords that keep out competitors and undermine choice,” she said.

With the new rules, “we ban exclusive revenue sharing agreements, where the provider agrees with the building that only it and no other provider can give the building owner a cut of the revenue from the building. We also ban graduated revenue sharing agreements, which increase the percentage of revenue that the broadband provider directs to the landlord as the number of tenants served by the provider go up,” Rosenworcel said. Rosenworcel had circulated the proposal to commissioners in late January. The new prohibitions on graduated and exclusive revenue-sharing agreements apply retroactively. “The rules we adopt thus prohibit providers from (1) executing new graduated or exclusive revenue sharing agreements and (2) enforcing existing graduated or exclusive revenue sharing agreements on a going forward basis,” the FCC said.

Exclusive marketing agreements are still allowed, but the FCC is requiring broadband providers to disclose those agreements to tenants. “Such disclosure must be included on all written marketing material directed at tenants or prospective tenants of an MTE [multiple tenant environment] subject to the arrangement and must explain in clear, conspicuous, legible, and visible language that the provider has the right to exclusively market its communications services to tenants in the MTE, that such a right does not suggest that the provider is the only entity that can provide communications services to tenants in the MTE, and that service from an alternative provider may be available,” the FCC order said. The FCC vote also closes a loophole that ISPs used to enter into exclusive wiring deals with landlords. “We clarify that sale-and-leaseback arrangements violate our existing rules that regulate cable wiring inside buildings,” Rosenworcel said. “Since the 1990s, we have had rules that allow buildings and tenants to exercise choice about how to use the wiring in the building when they are switching cable providers, but some companies have circumvented these rules by selling the wiring to the building and leasing it back on an exclusive basis. We put an end to that practice today.”

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Samsung Held An Event In the Metaverse. And It Didn’t Quite Go To Plan

Samsung held a launch event for its new Galaxy smartphones in a metaverse this week but many people struggled to gain access as they encountered technical difficulties. CNBC reports: The South Korean tech giant hosted the event Wednesday on Decentraland, a cryptocurrency-focused virtual world that users can create, explore and trade in. Decentraland, one of many metaverse efforts, is accessed via a desktop browser. Users create an avatar which they can then navigate around the blockchain-powered virtual world using a mouse and keyboard — something that isn’t exactly intuitive for non-gamers. The event specifically took place in Samsung 837X, a virtual building that Samsung has built on Decentraland that’s designed to be a replica of its flagship New York experience center. Samsung 837X is there all the time but there just happened to be an event inside the building’s “Connectivity Theatre” on Wednesday. But CNBC, and many others, struggled to find the 837X building and when we did many of us were unable to gain access to it.

When an avatar is first created on Decentraland, it lands in a sort of atrium where clouds appear to be gliding across the floor. There’s a round pool in the middle that has a worrying vortex in the center. Our avatar was soon surrounded by around 20 others. A chat box in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen was full of messages like “help” and “I hate this game.” One user named claireinnit#87fa, boldly claimed “we’re in the —-in future.” On the opposite side of the intimidating pool, three large boards read “classics, events and crowd.” An ad for Samsung 837X hang on the “crowd” board. Once clicked (easier said than done), you’re then given the option to “jump in.” After jumping in, you’re transported to Samsung’s little world on Decentraland and you can see the 837X building. There’s a pizza store next door, but not much else.

CNBC immediately noticed a large line of people at the main entrance to the 837X building. People were struggling to get in. Some users were getting their avatars to jump on other people’s heads as they clambered to the front of the queue but it didn’t help. The doors wouldn’t open and the chatbox was again full of pleas for help. A rumor circulated that a YouTuber had managed to find a way in, while a CNET journalist wrote on Twitter that they had managed to gain access by switching to the “ATHENA” server. It wasn’t immediately obvious how to do this. “Many people were unable to actually enter Samsung 837X before the event started,” wrote CNET’s Russell Holly. […] After around 30 minutes of trying to access Samsung’s building in the metaverse, CNBC gave up and went back to the real world.

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Browser Extension Shows How Many Brands On Amazon Are Actually Just Amazon

A new browser extension promises to show you which products in your Amazon search results are sold by brands that are either owned by or are exclusive to Amazon, giving you a better idea of who’s selling what you’re buying. The Verge reports: It’s called Amazon Brand Detector, and it uses a list of Amazon brands created by The Markup, along with filters and other techniques (detailed here) to detect and highlight products that are a part of Amazon’s Our Brands program. The Markup created this extension after its investigation into how Amazon ranks its in-house brands in search results and says the tool (available for Chrome-like browsers and Firefox) is designed to make searches more transparent. When we tested it, it obviously highlighted Amazon Basics and Essentials products, but it also drew attention to results that were otherwise indistinguishable from ones not affiliated with Amazon: a dog leash labeled as being made by Panykoo, socks by Teebulen, a sweater by Ofeefan.

While Amazon marked some of those results as “featured from our brands,” that wasn’t the case for all of them. That advisory text is also small and grey, making it easy to miss if you’re casually browsing (especially since there may not be any notice of the affiliation on the actual product page), and it didn’t show up on every result the tool highlighted. Amazon isn’t necessarily shadowy about these brands: it has a page that lists its “private and select exclusive brands,” many of which have legit-sounding names: Happy Belly, Wag, Nature’s Wonder. Some are private labels owned by Amazon, where some are “curated selections” sold exclusively on Amazon but not necessarily operated by the company. According to The Markup, the extension “does not collect any data” and should be compatible with other extensions.

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