Business

Russia has been fighting the information war on three fronts: the global media market, Russia’s domestic output and new, internet-based media. Although in denial about this, the global battle has been lost: state-sponsored English-language channel RT has been successful in its mimicry of the rolling news model of CNN and the histrionic style of Fox News, but its aggressively anti-western tone makes its agenda very evident. President Vladimir Putin’s victory is undisputed: the remaining independent radio and internet news sources are forced to work in an increasingly stifling environment and have only marginal reach compared to the dominant national TV networks.

THE Soviet Union was the prison of information and Vladimir Putin’s Russia risks becoming one too. That is the grim message of “The Red Web”, a well-researched and disturbing book by two brave Russian authors. They have now turned their attention to the Kremlin’s control of electronic information. Even before Mr Putin rose to power, internet-service providers had to install snooping devices. Whereas in the West, communications companies typically co-operate with the authorities when a judicial warrant identifies a target, in the Russian system the surveillance was like a dragnet.

Early efforts were futile. An attempt during elections in 2011 to swamp Livejournal knocked pages run by election monitors off the internet. Clumsy spam e-mails bearing toxic attachments to infect computers with snooping software appeared in opposition activists’ inboxes. Much more successful was a national blacklist of banned sites; Russia’s internet companies glumly co-operated in the intrusive inspection of suspect traffic.

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More alarming still was the growing use of face-recognition technology. Anyone caught on a camera is logged, with their face turned into a mathematical matrix and stored on a database. Soviet-era voice-recognition technology reached new levels, selecting phone calls on the basis of key words. As in the Soviet period engineers enthuse over the technical challenges, seemingly unaware of the purposes their work serves.

The outlook is mostly bleak. Mr Putin dismisses the internet as a CIA operation, and warns Russian internet companies that they cannot hide. Given Russia’s anti-Western mood, that signals an open season on, say, firms with foreigners on their boards.

The Putin system, the authors write, relies mainly on intimidation, not outright coercion. The internet has been helpful to everyone as well as harmful to us too. Information has been accessible to everyone. Just one click in your keyboards and you can know anything and everything about anyone and everyone. Some websites and information has been helpful which everyone should be reading. These kinds of websites or blogs should be read by many people. Site traffic is hard for these days for those kinds of websites.