New tool enables internet freedom, but more progress necessary
Google has developed a new addition to its web browser that can help people in areas of limited internet freedom circumvent many of the restrictions that their governments have put in place.
Access to information is one of the more liberating aspects that the Internet has been able to provide its users. From a simple cat meme to large bodies of knowledge such as Wikipedia, someone browsing the internet can gain access to almost anything – an ability that is scary to many ruling governments.
People in the United States certainly have their issues when it comes to free Internet access, what with the recent information coming out about the National Security Agency's PRISM program, however, these barbs with the government are vastly different from those of China or Iran where entire sites like Facebook or Twitter are restricted. Around the globe, it has become increasingly difficult for some to share their voice via cyberspace because of the limitations that their governments have put in place. With online publications being shutdown on a seemingly weekly basis, and bloggers and journalists becoming the subject of massive censorship, the avenues in which expression over the Internet can occur have become limited for many.
Friends helping friends
One of the biggest trends that has come about in this digital age is the use of social media. Through these kinds of applications, users from all corners of the world can get in touch with one another and exchange information. It is precisely this feature that Google has been able to take advantage of in its quest to promote greater online freedom through its new uProxy tool.
NBC News reports that the tech company has developed a button on its internet browsers that enables people in countries like the United States with greater internet access to provide a secure connection to friends who are living in other countries with restricted access.
The company hopes that this kind of technology can help internet users in countries like Syria or China who have been subject to massive suppression and restricted access. The news source explains that such technology has been in existence and used by people in countries like China already, however, this provides safer access.
A step in the right direction
Though this tool will certainly be helpful for those in these oppressive nations, there is still a lot of progress to be made. The effects of media censorship, both on and off line, are complex and penetrate a variety of aspects in society.
In China for instance, there is the direct control of the internet, but there are also other factors that affect what content can and cannot pass both in the country and internationally. A recent report from Freedom House on the state of free expression in the internet delves into these intricacies.
"The dynamics are subtle, but the reality is that the 'China Factor' exists in newsrooms around the world, be they internationally renowned outlets such as the New York Times and Bloomberg, a local newspaper in Nepal, or a Chinese radio station in Los Angeles," said Sarah Cook, a research analyst at the organization, in a press release. "The Chinese government's efforts to influence reporting by foreign and overseas Chinese news outlets have intensified and expanded over the past five years."
Findings from the report indicate that in many instances, reporters are barred access to important sites where a controversial event has occurred, which can skew accounts of the situation. The government has also worked to hold a greater stake in the newsroom decisions of outlets that operate outside of the country such as Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The uProxy tool should play an important role in the future of Internet freedom throughout the world, but there are still ways that governments can subvert its success.