Global Mobile

Vodafone "Forced" to Send Pro-Government Messages in Egypt

According to a Vodafone press release, the Egyptian government forced the mobile carrier to send pro-government text messages to its subscribers:

Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content.

Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.

Two points on this.  First, Egypt has been in a "state of emergency" for over 40 years.  Emergency law was imposed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and except for a brief hiatus in the early '80s, the extraordinary powers afforded the government in a time of crisis have been in effect since then.  So it's hard to suggest that Vodafone was surprised by the Egyptian government's legal authority to abuse its networks in this way.

Second, Vodafone's suggestion that they had no choice in this matter-- that the company was forced to send the messages without editing the content or discussing the matter with the authorities-- doesn't sound quite right. Of course, we want telecom companies to respect the laws of the countries in which they operate. But when the laws are such an obvious abuse of power, in such important circumstances, and so damaging to the operator itself, I would hope for a bit more pushback.  

Vodafone carries over 40% of the mobile users in Egypt, and while they certainly wouldn't want to lose their 25-ish million subscribers (out of 330+ million subscribers globally), the Egyptian government doesn't want to see them walk out either. I'm not suggesting that Vodafone should have abandoned their customers in Egypt-- mobile phones have been an important tool to protesters, and most people probably knew better than to believe the messages, anyway-- but at a time when every other actor in the system is putting pressure on the Egyptian government to change, Vodafone could have-- and should have-- done the same, and refused to send the messages.

Among Mobile Phone Users, Hispanics, Asians are Most-Likely Smartphone Owners in the U.S.

NielsenWire a part of the Nielsen Media Group which measures media consumption nationally, released a report today which noted that among mobile phone users Hispanics and Asians are most likely to be smart phone users.

The full report can be seen here, below is a handy graph which shows the exact break out of usage by race.

Last Week in Global Mobile | January 28, 2011

At times it's difficult to keep pace with the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the growing global network of connectivity:

  • In his State of the Union address, President Obama promised high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans.
  • Nigeria’s Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion promised to create over one million jobs in the ICT sector to boost the country’s economy.
  • As Sam reported last week, Internet and mobile were shut down across Egypt following unprecedented protests crisis-mapped online here.
  • The IRS launched a mobile app that allows users to safely access their tax information and track the status of their refunds.
  • More than 200 million YouTube videos are viewed on mobile devices each day, reported the company’s mobile product manager Andrew Doronichev.
  • 390 million handsets and smart phones were shipped world-wide in 4Q-2010, up nearly 16 percent year-on-year, bringing the 2010 total to 1.36 billion, reported ABI Research.
  • Pew released a study indicating how social media has evolved into “a standard tool for engagement with the political world” in America, with nearly a quarter of online adults using social networking sites to access election information last November.
  • The World Bank announced three major initiatives to improve broadband services in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sao Tome and Principe in a $71.5 million plan.
  • Low-cost smart phones will reach 185 million in 2015, while prices for these entry-level devices will drop from $150 to $80 in that time, reported Juniper Research.
  • Obama Administration officials engaged in a web chat with a group of Chinese bloggers based in Beijing to discuss President Hu’s visit to the U.S.
  • In the Philippines, a senator pushed for mandatory SIM card registration after it was discovered that a terrorist used a mobile phone to detonate a bomb remotely last week.
  • Huyen Chip at Global Voices recapped the rapidly transforming state of social media in Vietnam one year following a contentious ban of Facebook in the country.
  • In an order released on Wednesday, the FCC granted administrative powers for white space spectrum to nine companies, including Google, to develop “super wi-fi.”
  • Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch announced that his iPad-specific newspaper The Daily will launch on February 2 at an event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
  • Apple announced that it plans to include Near Field Communication technology in its new iPad and iPhone, allowing consumers to use the devices as mobile payment platforms.
  • British researchers unveiled a prototype “smart house” that allows occupants to monitor and control home settings from their mobile phones.
  • Facebook’s CTO Bret Taylor announced that the social media giant’s 2011 focus will on mobile, adding that mobile usage has been “the fastest-growing part of the Facebook experience.”
  • Worldwide mobile app downloads will more than double between 2010 and 2015 to nearly 18 billion, while revenue will increase from $5bn to $15bn, reported Gartner.

Obama Administration's Evolving Language on Egypt

Since Friday, it's been very encouraging to listen to the evolution of how the State Department and White House have talked about Egypt. What began as cautious encouragement of their close ally Mubarak to listen to the demands of protesters has become full-throated support for a democratic transition.

On Friday night, President Obama defended the basic freedoms of the Egyptian people, and called upon the Egyptian government to reconnect internet and mobile service. He also made this encouraging but very cautious statement

What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people:  a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens, and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people... The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future.  And we are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people -- all quarters -- to achieve it.

Yesterday, Secretary Clinton's urged an "orderly transition" to democracy in Egypt, in a series of interviews on Meet the Press and elsewhere: 

I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people. We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society. And we believe that President Mubarak, his government, civil society, political activists, need to be part of a national dialogue to bring that about.

While expressions of concern for peace and the protection of human rights have been in the Administration's pronouncements on Egypt since the beginning of the protests, the emergence of their support for a "transition" came only gradually, as it has become more and more clear that Mubarak is unlikely to stay in power without a brutal, bloody crackdown (which the army may be unwilling to implement, anyway).

A fourth element of the Obama Administration's approach (in addition to peace, human rights and democratic transition) which we have not heard clearly enunciated in public, but which was reported by Mike Allen in Politico

This is about more than just Egypt. The people of the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives.

There's a lot about the idea of cascading democratic revolutions in the Middle East that's scary for U.S. security strategy: What will it mean for Israel? For the price of oil? For our military posture in the region? But what we've seen in Egypt this past week can hardly be considered "stability." If these protests continue to spread across the Middle East, we ought to support them not just for the sake of the people of these countries-- who have suffered repression for too long-- but for the sake of a democratic future in a Middle East that is more stable and more a part of the global community.

March for Egyptian Democracy in Washington

A demonstration that began in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington today became a march to the White House, with 400-500 demonstrators processing down Connecticut Avenue chanting in English and Arabic, calling on Hosni Mubarak and the rest of the Egyptian leadership to yield to Egyptians' demands for democracy. I cut together a few photos and a recording of the march into the video below:

In conversations with some of the leaders of the demonstration, themselves Egyptian expats, they explained the demonstration as a show of support for the protesters on the ground in Egypt and a call for democratic elections. The organizers felt positively about President Obama's remarks last night, stressing that Egyptians were revolting on their own-- and did not need American help in organizing from the bottom up-- but that realigning American aid from military support for Mubarak's regime to greater support of Egyptian civil society would help Egypt build a strong democracy.

It was an impressive sight, so many people out in support of their countrymen half a world away. Images of the rally may not make it to Cairo soon-- internet access is still shut down, and little information is getting in or out of the country-- but it's great to see so many people standing in solidarity.

Higher resolution versions of the photos are available here.

What Should Obama Say About Egypt?

In the past few days, the Obama Administration has begun to feel as though it is on the wrong side of history in Egypt. It's becoming impossible to imagine how President Mubarak can stay in power without a truly brutal crackdown, and by continuing to give credence to him as a ruler, instead of calling upon him to step aside, the U.S. is putting itself on the side of the oppressors. The State Department is surely engaging aggressively behind the scenes in ways that cannot be made public, and it's encouraging to hear that the U.S. government will "review" its support for Mubarak's regime. But all the same, public statements that don't voice support for the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people serve to support the regime.

Likely the best case scenario we can hope for-- both for the U.S. and for Egyptians-- is for Mubarak to step aside, and the military to assume control of the country until free elections can be held and a democratic government can take power. If free elections were held, the Muslim Brotherhood would likely be part of any ruling coalition, and Egypt's peace with Israel could be called into question. Clearly, this is potentially problematic for the U.S. government, but the problems presented by failing to voice support for a democratic movement in Egypt are just as, if not more significant.

In Tunisia, it was easy enough for the U.S. government to praise the democratic aspirations of the revolutionaries and call for the ouster of the government. In Egypt, it's harder. But it's even more important. America's history of supporting repressive dictatorships in the Arab world has caused an awful lot of ill will toward the U.S. among ordinary citizens of those countries. Looking toward a democratic Egypt, the U.S. government should welcome the prospect, and rather than supporting Mubarak to the end, the Obama Administration should reach out to Mohamed el-Baradei, the April 6 Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other civil society leaders, and encourage their leadership in building a democratic Egypt. Democracy in Egypt is not only right, it's seeming inevitable, and the United States ought not be on the wrong side of it.

It's worth looking back at what President Obama said in Cairo in 2009:

OBAMA:   I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq.  So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. 
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.  Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people.  America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere. 

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise.  But this much is clear:  Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.  America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.  And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.  (Applause.)  So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power:  You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.  Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Barack Obama, we love you!

Hopefully, the Obama Administration can live up to those words. American policy has helped maintain autocracy for decades-- not just in Egypt, but all over the Arab world-- and while that history won't be forgotten, it's not too late to remember our values. We should be inspired by what we see in Egypt this week, and we should hope that oppressed people all over the region are themselves moved to stand up for their rights.

Cross-posted at

Internet, Mobile Shut Down Across Egypt

All eyes have been on Egypt the past few days, where protests against the government, likely organized by a group of middle class youth who call themselves the April 6 Movement, have gathered considerable steam. Foreign Policy has some amazing photos of the past few days.

Current reports coming out of the country suggest that, less than an hour ago, internet access was shut down across the country, along with SMS and mobile access.  After several days of ever-tightening censorship-- much ado was made over the blocking of Twitter-- this full-scale shut down appears to be a pretty desperate move by the government.  It's now the middle of the night in Cairo, but tomorrow we may expect a crazy day in the streets.

UPDATE: via CPJ, a chart of Egypt's internet traffic yesterday created by Arbor Networks:

Freedom in the World & Mexico's Drop

Freedom House's indispensable "Freedom in the World" survey came out recently, with troubling news for the fifth year in a row. According to the report, 25 countries exhibited "significant declines" in political freedom and civil liberties, with only 11 countries showing strong gains. Particularly, the report tells a story of an increasing consolidation of authoritarian power in the strongest undemocratic countries:

The increasing truculence of the world's most powerful authoritarian regimes has coincided with a growing inability or unwillingness on the part of the world's democracies to meet the authoritarian challenge, with important consequences for the state of global freedom. According to Freedom in the World 2011, the latest edition of Freedom House's annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties, conditions worsened for the fifth consecutive year in 2010. While the decline for the year was less extensive than in some years past, the multiyear spate of backsliding is the longest of its kind since Freedom in the World was first published in 1972, and threatens gains dating to the post-Cold War era in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the former Soviet bloc.

Among the five countries that actually saw their status drop, the most troubling and jarring is our neighbor Mexico, which fell from "free" to "partly free." The fall came because of rising drug violence that has profoundly impacted both citizens and the media:

Mexico suffered a decrease in its political rights rating and a drop from Free to Partly Free status due to the government's inability to stem the wave of violence by drug-trafficking groups in several states. While the country benefited from an important consolidation of democracy during the past decade, government institutions have failed to protect ordinary citizens, journalists, and elected officials from organized crime. Extortion and other racketeering activities have spread, and conditions for the media have deteriorated to the point where editors have significantly altered coverage to avoid repercussions from drug gangs.

In my recently released report on the use of new technologies by Mexican civil society, I look at a few movements and organizations that have taken advantage of social media and mobile technology to wage their own fight against violence.  But it's an uphill battle, particularly for journalists, caught between thugs who have murdered over 60 of their number in the past decade, local governments that fail to prosecute the offenders (and, at worst, are complicit in the crimes), and media companies that often fail to protect their employees. This violence has had an acute chilling effect on press coverage of the violence, and it's unsurprising that these trends showed up in Freedom House's report.

For one bit of encouraging news, Colombia saw improvements in their governance and civil liberties:

Colombia received an upward trend arrow due to an improved equilibrium between the three branches of government and the end of surveillance operations that had targeted both civil society and government figures.

It's a tricky parallel, comparing Colombia of the early '90s to Mexico of today, but there are certainly analogies to be drawn, and it's great to see Colombia moving toward "free."

This Week in Global Mobile | January 21, 2011

At times it's difficult to keep pace with the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the growing global network of connectivity:

  • The Red Cross reported that last year’s Haitian earthquake fundraiser took in over $32 million from mobile SMS contributions.
  • The Tunisian revolution is certainly being molded by Twitter and other social media, but Evgeny Morozov and NDN’s Sam DuPont reminded us to remain cautious of jumping to conclusions.
  • The F.C.C. and D.O.J. approved (with many conditions) a proposal to merge Comcast and NBC Universal to form the world’s largest television, movie, and Internet company.
  • Recognizing that the vast majority of mobile users in the developing world don’t have smart phones, Facebook announced a new app that functions on basic mobiles.
  • Mobile apps around the world will grow to a $25 billion industry in 2015, up from $6.8 billion in 2010, reported research firm World Mobile Applications Market.
  • Twitter C.E.O. Evan Williams introduced a Korean version of Twitter, part of a heavy international expansion strategy following a rapid increase in usership and tweets.
  • 93 percent more mobile ads were delivered world-wide in 2010 than the year before, while Kenya’s mobile traffic grew 245 percent, reported BuzzCity.
  • Starbucks launched a new mobile app allowing consumers to pay for their drinks using their mobile phones by scanning digital versions of their Starbucks Card at the register.
  • Etisalta, the Middle East and North Africa’s leading mobile operator, experienced a 200 percent increase in roaming traffic in 2010.
  • Ten percent of mobile users consume 90 percent of mobile data, with video predicting to consume 60 percent of all mobile data in 2011, reported The Telegraph.
  • With 457 million Internet users, China comprises 23% of the global online population, reported the China Internet Network Information Center.
  • Writing in the the Harvard Business Review, Google C.E.O. Eric Schmidt revealed that all of the search giant’s 2011 initiatives will focus on mobile innovation.

Paper Release & Webinar: ICT in Mexican Civil Society

Today, I'm proud to release a new paper entitled "Information and Communication Technology in Mexican Civil Society." It's based on the research Ana and I did in Oaxaca and Mexico City back in the fall, and is an overview of how the people, movements and organizations that make up civil society in Mexico have adopted new technologies including mobile phones and social media to facilitate and improve the effectiveness of their work.

The best part is a series of case studies represending the most effective tech-based initiatives of the past several years. The paper is available in both English and Spanish. If you’re interested, I will host a webinar tomorrow, Friday, January 21, at 12:30pm EST to offer an overview of the paper's findings and answer questions. Please RSVP to receive webinar instructions.

As a taste, here's an excerpt from one of the fascinating projects I profile in the report: a blogging platform for women called "Mujeres Construyendo." While not strictly "civil society," as it's set up as a for-profit endeavor, MC lives in the space of social entrepreneurship, somewhere between the business world and the nonprofit/civil society world. It's a great example of a project that leverages the power of the global network to address a specific gap in civil discourse:

"Mujeres Construyendo" is a blogging platform for Spanish-speaking women, created by Claudia Calvin Venero to address a "digital glass ceiling" she observed in Mexico. Venero has recruited over 350 contributors from all over the Spanish-speaking world, encouraging them to engage online, and teaching them the necessary skills; now, their writing covers issues ranging from international politics to the trials of being a mother. Over 4,000 women around the world are in the network of Mujeres Construyendo, many of whom have taken courses taught by Venero. Her courses touch on a range of women's issues, but the message to her students is always the same: they must overcome the "culture of silence" that keeps many Latin women from engaging in public dialogue, and recognize that the internet is a powerful space to raise their voices about the issues that affect their lives. Next year, she'll be offering a course exclusively for female legislators in Mexico, making them more aware of the "self-marginalization" of women, and encouraging them to raise their own voices online and in government.

Mujeres Construyendo is one of a handful of emerging online platforms for engaged citizens to share their ideas and experiences, and participate in public dialogue. "Revolución con Letras" is another: without the specific focus on women and women's issues, the site welcomes posts from citizens about social issues, and allows readers to identify the best, most useful articles. Sites like these are an important development for the engagement of Mexican civil society online, as they give platforms for even those people unaffiliated with any organization and without sophisticated technological skills to engage in public dialogue online. For the internet to successfully become a "second public sphere" in Mexico, sites like these will be essential.

I hope you enjoy the report!

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