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Russia’s leading social network VK has beaten the country’s biggest television channel in the battle for viewers’ attention, data from media research firm TNS Russia showed.

VK, previously known as VKontakte, had 13.2 million daily users in March this year, while state-owned giant Channel One had an audience of only 10.9 million, according to TNS Russia.

Their weekly audiences were roughly on par, with VK leading by about 10,000 weekly users.

VK remains by far the most popular social network in Russia, with more than eight times the daily users of leading international social network Facebook, the data showed.

The comparison between television channels and social networks is approximate, as statistics for the two platforms cannot be calculated in the same way, a TNS Russia spokeswoman told The Moscow Times. The daily audience of social networks was estimated according to the number of people who viewed any part of the website at least once a day. The daily reach of television channels, on the other hand, is the number of people who watched at least 1 minute of a channel’s broadcasts daily.

Internet companies have gained quickly on traditional media in Russia in recent years, receiving an extra boost from an acceleration in advertising revenues that has continued this year despite the economic crisis.

The only segment of the advertising market that grew in the first quarter of this year was contextual advertising, or targeted online ads, which grew 16 percent to a total of about 15 billion rubles ($300 million), according to the Association of Communication Agencies of Russia (AKAR).

This growth indicates that companies are reorienting toward the Internet as advertising budgets shrink. Television advertising fell 22 percent to about 30 billion rubles ($600 million) in the same period, while the market as a whole shrank 17 percent to about 64 billion rubles ($1.3 billion), AKAR found.

TNS Russia’s Web Index and TV Index were calculated in March this year based on viewers between the ages of 12 and 44 living in cities of 100,000 or more residents.

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Henry Sapiecha

black diamonds on white line

Pavel Durov, founder of the Russian social media giant Vkontakte image www.socialselect.net

Pavel Durov, founder of the Russian social media giant Vkontakte, sold his stake and fled the country after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his allies took control. Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times

When a SWAT team appeared at Pavel Durov’s door in St. Petersburg, he started thinking about his future in Russia.

He was home alone, and he peered at them through a monitor.

“They had guns and they looked very serious,” said Durov, once Russia’s biggest celebrity entrepreneur. “They seemed to want to break the door.”

Not long ago, Durov, 30, was seen as Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg. He founded a social network, VKontakte, which is more popular in Russia than Facebook, and made a splash by publicly offering Edward Snowden a job.

Then the Kremlin tightened its grip over the internet and President Vladimir Putin’s allies took control of VKontakte, Durov eventually sold his remaining stake for millions and fled Russia in April, after resisting government pressure to release the data of Ukrainian protest leaders.

Durov, known for his subversive wit and an all-black wardrobe that evokes Neo from the “Matrix” movies, is now a little-seen nomad, moving from country to country every few weeks with a small band of computer programmers. One day he is in Paris, another in Singapore.

“Me myself, I’m not a big fan of the idea of countries,” Durov said, wearing a custom-made cross between a hoodie and a sport coat.

When he arrived with little warning in London for his first interview outside cyberspace since leaving Russia, he was en route to San Francisco, where he appeared at a technology conference on Tuesday. He is surfacing to showcase his new messaging app, Telegram, for people craving privacy and security.

His odyssey reflects the changing nature of the internet in Russia.

The internet was once seen as a way to diversify Russia’s economy beyond oil. When VKontakte started in 2006, Durov says, he envisioned his country as a tax-free and libertarian utopia for technologists.

“The best thing about Russia at that time was the internet sphere was completely not regulated,” he said. “In some ways, it was more liberal than the United States.”

Now the internet is viewed with suspicion by Putin, who has called it a “CIA project” and has taken steps to insulate Russia from the rest of the digital world. One leading Russian activist recently said the government was on a “campaign to shut down the internet.”

“Since I’m obviously a believer in free markets,” Durov said, “it’s hard for me to understand the current direction of the country.”

Russia’s economy is also increasingly isolated, with its currency plummeting amid Western sanctions. The government is now predicting a recession for next year. Putin’s big challenge is falling oil prices, which Durov calls “the only chance” for economic and political reform.

“When the petrol prices are high, there is no incentive for those reforms,” he said. “It can stay like this forever; nobody really cares.”

As the tensions in Russia play out, Durov says he is focused on Telegram, which he started last year.

There will be no outside investors, he says, no ads and no marketing, and it is available free, though he is likely to eventually charge for additional services. He says he has about 50 million users, almost entirely outside Russia.

While he is soft-spoken, his rebellious humour has gotten him in trouble, as he will be the first to admit.

In 2011, the government demanded he shut down the pages of opposition politicians after controversial parliamentary elections. He responded by posting to Twitter a picture of a dog with its tongue out and wearing a hoodie. During the standoff with the SWAT team, which took place soon after, he wouldn’t answer the door. They went home after an hour.

Then there was Victory Day in 2012, when Russia celebrates the defeat of the Nazis. He posted on Twitter that “67 years ago Stalin defended from Hitler his right to suppress Soviet people.”

It created an outcry at a time of rising nationalism.

Durov grinned. “It was a disaster.”

A few weeks later, he and other VKontakte executives folded 5000-ruble notes — worth about $185 at the time — into paper airplanes and threw them out an office window, sparking a fight in the street below.

He said that from his vantage point he couldn’t see what was happening on the street and stopped when he was told people were fighting.

Durov has also described himself, with tongue in cheek, as a Pastafarian, a quirky atheistic ‘faith’ that can involve wearing a colander on your head.

“I like to make fun of serious matters,” he says, adding that he’s closer to a Taoist or Buddhist. “I’m a peaceful creature; I’m vegetarian. I don’t like wars.”

By 2013, the government was bearing down. He was aggressively prosecuted for a disputed hit-and-run involving a traffic officer, which Durov says never happened. At the same time, he learned 48 per cent of VKontakte had been sold to allies of Putin, despite a contractual requirement to give him right of first refusal.

Durov learned programming from his brother, Nikolai, a mathematician and Durov’s right-hand man at VKontakte and Telegram. By 11, the younger Durov was coding his own versions of games like Tetris. The two developed a strategy game set in ancient China, which they called Lao Unit.

At St. Petersburg State University, Durov studied linguistics. In lieu of military service, he trained in propaganda, studying Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan and Napoleon, and he learned to make posters aimed at influencing foreign soldiers.

The posters said things like “You are surrounded, surrender, there’s no hope,” or they would suggest to foreign soldiers that “some other guy is entertaining himself with your wife,” he recalled.

His main interest was developing a social network. A friend who studied in America showed him Facebook, then in its infancy, and he learned from it.

“Some things like the layout of the early VKontakte was very influenced by Facebook,” Durov said. “Otherwise it could take ages for me to build, and I was not a professional designer.”

He also recruited fellow linguistics students to build a database catering to the post-Soviet university system, a step he said gave VKontakte “a tremendous competitive advantage.”

In 2007, he decided to allow users to upload audio and video files, without regard to copyright. Such policies have drawn criticism from the US Trade Representative and lawsuits from major record labels.

“Some people told me when I was implementing it that I would go to jail the next day,” he said. “I was very careless.”

Demonstrations in 2011 over parliamentary elections resulted in a government showdown. During the SWAT standoff at his home that followed, he called his brother.

“I realised I don’t have a safe means of communications with him,” he said, adding, “That’s how Telegram started.”

Telegram is competing in a crowded field of messaging apps that promise varying degrees of security. Telegram has its fans and detractors, but it was rated respectably in a recent evaluation by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Telegram company, based in Berlin, has a deliberately complex structure of scattered global shell companies designed to keep it a step ahead of subpoenas from any one government.

“This is very unusual for Russian entrepreneurs, to succeed outside of Russia,” said Sergei Guriev, a prominent economist who fled Russia last year. “He may not be a usual person in many ways, but he is definitely a very talented entrepreneur.”

When Durov sold his stake in VKontakte last December, there was speculation it was worth a few hundred million dollars. Durov would not give a specific figure, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

“In my days in Russia, I visited some very rich guys,” he said. “I visited big ships, private airplanes, houses – and I know for sure I don’t want this for myself.”

“I’m very happy right now without any property anywhere,” he added. “I consider myself a legal citizen of the world.”

The New York Times

Henry Sapiecha

black diamonds on white line

INDIAN GOVERNMENT TAKES STAND AGAINST IT GIANTS

IT IS SENSITIVE ABOUT POSTINGS ON SITES.

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India’s government has authorised the prosecution of 21 internet firms, including Facebook, Yahoo! and Google, in a case over obscene content posted online, sources say.

The approval could lead to company directors being called to a trial court in New Delhi to answer serious charges such as fomenting religious hatred and spreading social discord, an official and a lawyer said.

A criminal case against the web titans was first filed in a lower court by local journalist Vinay Rai, who complained that the sites were responsible for obscene and offensive material posted by users.

He also claimed they had broken laws designed to maintain religious harmony and “national integration” in India.

Rai’s lawyer, Sashi Prakash Tripathi, said: “We had applied for the government’s sanction and the ministry of communication and IT has filed it directly in the metropolitan magistrate’s court.”

The companies targeted have filed a petition in the Delhi High Court seeking to have the lower court’s case against them stayed. The hearing of the petition is to resume on Monday.

The lower court yesterday ordered that summons be served on the 10 foreign-based companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and YouTube.

The government’s sanction to prosecute represents an escalation of a recent tussle between social networks and the government.

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal last month pledged a crackdown on “unacceptable” online content and urged social networks to exert more control over their platforms.

He provided examples of religiously-sensitive images and obscene photoshopped pictures of Indian politicians.

Mukul Rohatgi, a lawyer for Google India, told the High Court on Thursday: “No human interference is possible and, moreover, it can’t be feasible to check such incidents.”

The companies will now hope the High Court stays the prosecution, but they received some hostile comments from a presiding judge.

“You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites,” the Delhi High Court said.

Companies should “develop a mechanism to keep a check and remove offensive and objectionable material from their web pages”, Justice Suresh Kait was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Twitter site blocked in Egypt:

Harvard’s Herdict

SAN FRANCISCO |

Tue Jan 25, 2011 3:07pm EST

(Reuters) – Egyptians say the Twitter Web site is blocked on all Internet Service Providers in their country, a representative of Harvard University’s Herdict Web monitoring service told Reuters on Tuesday.

But Twitter users within Egypt are currently sending Tweets, short 140-character messages, via SMS text messages and through third-party applications, the center said as thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to protest President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Jillian York, a project coordinator at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, which runs the Herdict Web accessibility monitoring service, said in an email that she had “confirmed with users in Egypt that Twitter.com is in fact blocked on all ISPs.”

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Germany puts access

limits on Facebook

January 26, 2011

FACEBOOK, which faces potential fines for violating privacy laws in Germany, has agreed to let users there better shield their email contacts from unwanted advertisements and solicitations.

After discussions which dragged out for more than six months, Facebook, which has more than 10 million users in Germany, agreed to modify its ”friend finder” service. Users will be better able to block Facebook’s ability to contact people, including non-Facebook users culled from a user’s email address books.

Tina Kulow, a spokeswoman for Facebook in Hamburg, said users in Germany would be advised that the site could send solicitations to people on their mailing lists if they uploaded their address books to friend finder.

Facebook is the second US internet business to modify its operations to suit German privacy laws, which give individuals extensive control over personal data.

Last year, Google, which also faced fines, let Germans exclude photos of their homes from its ”street view” photographic map archive before the service went live.

Like Google, Facebook changed its operation after Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor in Hamburg, began a review of the company’s practices. Violations of German privacy law carry penalties of up to €300,000 ($412,000), though adverse publicity can be more damaging.

Mr Caspar said his office had received ”many, many complaints” during the past six months from Germans who had never used Face- book but were receiving solicitations because their email addresses had been siphoned from friends.

The issue took on political overtones when the German data protection commissioner, Peter Schaar, and the consumer protection minister, Ilse Aigner, criticised Facebook for disregarding privacy laws.

Mr Caspar’s office initially demanded that Facebook deactivate its friend finder service in Germany. But in a compromise, Facebook has agreed to explain the features of friend finder prominently and to tell users how to limit its ability to gain access to contacts and to store them.

The New York Times

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Twitter Launches in Korean

Ben Parr
1 day ago by Ben Parr 13
Twitter has just launched the Korean version of its popular service, bringing the total of supported languages to seven.

As is typical for the microblogging company, it made the announcement in Korean. In its blog post, Twitter(Twitter) revealed that it chose Korean as the next language for launch because the number of Twitter users from Korea has increased tenfold in the last year. That’s an astounding growth metric.

Not only is Twitter.com now translated in Korean, but so are the official Twitter Android and iPhone apps. It has also launched a recommended user list of Korean users, including actor Park Joong (@moviejhp) and novelist @Oisoo.

Twitter now supports seven languages. The others include Spanish, Italian, German, French, English and Japanese.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha