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Challenges to Silicon Valley wont just come from Brussels

Fine of 2.4bn levied on Google is a sign of the continued erosion of US tech firms domination of the internet

The whopping 2.4bn fine levied by the European commission on Google for abusing its dominance as a search engine has taken Silicon Valley aback. It has also reignited American paranoia about the motives of European regulators, whom many Valley types seem to regard as stooges of Mathias Dpfner, the chief executive of German media group Axel Springer, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers and a fierce critic of Google.

US paranoia is expressed in various registers. They range from President Obamas observation in 2015 that all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there [Europe] find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours, to the furious off-the-record outbursts from senior tech executives after some EU agency or other has dared to challenge the supremacy of a US-based tech giant.

The overall tenor of these rants (based on personal experience of being on the receiving end) runs as follows. First, you Europeans dont get tech; second, you dont like or understand innovation; and third, youre maddened by envy because none of you schmucks has been able to come up with a world-beating tech company.

The charge sheet underpinning American paranoia says that the EU has always had it in for US companies. Microsoft, for example, has been done over no fewer than three times for various infringements of competition rules: 500m in 2004, 600m in 2008 and 561m in 2013. Intel was fined 1.6bn in 2009. Now Google has been socked for 2.4bn; and Facebook has already been fined 110m for providing the European commission with misleading information about its acquisition of WhatsApp. And then of course there is the commissions insistence that Apple should repay the 13bn in back taxes that it owes the Irish government because of overgenerous tax breaks provided to the company. (Ireland is vigorously contesting that ruling, making it the first government in history to turn down a windfall that would fund its health service for an entire year.)

This allegedly biased record needs to be seen in a wider context, however. Its hardly surprising that the tech companies in the frame are American given that all the global tech giants are US-based. But in fact the European commission has also come down hard on local infringers of competition rules. In July 2016, for example, European truck manufacturers were fined 2.93bn for colluding on prices for 14 years. In 2008 several European car glass manufacturers were fined 1.35bn for illegal market sharing and exchanging commercially sensitive information. In 2007 the Spanish telco Telefnica was fined 151m for setting unfair prices in its domestic broadband market. And so on, so that if you include all years since 1990, the total amount of fines imposed by the European commissions competition regulator comes to 26.75bn.

Given that record, you could say that the commission is actually a rather good regulator. But its also clear that there are significant differences between the European and American approach to competition law and antitrust. Some years ago, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US investigated Google for the same behaviour that has landed it with the current huge fine. But in the end the FTC decided not to press charges. The European commission, provided with much the same evidence, reached the opposite conclusion.

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An Amazon warehouse in Germany. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA

How come? Basically there is a different regulatory culture in the US. There, the prevailing concern is with consumer welfare which, in the end, is about prices. As long as industrial power doesnt lead to increased prices, then its deemed OK which is why Amazon has thrived despite becoming a colossus. The European commission, in contrast, is focused on competition: monopolistic behaviour is considered illegal if it restricts competitors.

As the commissions statement explains: Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets. Otherwise, there would be a risk that a company once dominant in one market (even if this resulted from competition on the merits) would be able to use this market power to cement/further expand its dominance, or leverage it into separate markets.

Google was found to have abused its dominance as a search engine by giving illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. Way back in 2002, the company had launched a price-comparison service called Froogle, later renamed Google Shopping. In 2008 it changed how it worked by systematically giving prominence to its own shopping-comparison results (for which it received payment from advertisers) and thereby in effect downgrading other shopping-comparison sites that might otherwise have figured highly in search results. This the commission deemed illegal.

And so it is. But to lay observers theres something quaint about the actual nub of the dispute shopping-comparison sites. I mean to say, theyre soooo yesterday. Nowadays, half of all shopping-related queries begin not on Google, but on Amazon. So the complaints about anti-competitive behaviour that resulted in last weeks ruling started in 2008 nine years (about 63 internet years) ago. What this episode highlights is the growing time lag between the detection of illegal behaviour on the part of tech companies and its eventual punishment a lag determined by the inevitably slow pace of detailed legal investigation (often slowed further by intensive political lobbying) and the pace of tech-industry change. If societies are to be able to bring companies such as Google under effective democratic control, then we have to speed up this regulatory process. Otherwise we will continually be locking the door long after the horse has bolted.

Which of course is exactly the way Silicon Valley likes it. This is a culture, remember, whose motto is move fast and break things (the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerbergs original exhortation to his developers, withdrawn only when he discovered that one of the things that might get broken is democracy). In the tech industry, corporate leaders are hooked on the virtues of disruption, creative destruction and the belief that it is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission. Most of them subscribe to the famous dictum of Scott McNealy, made when he was chief executive of Sun Microsystems: You have zero privacy get over it.

Given that mindset, its not surprising that the industry is not just irritated but baffled by European scepticism and regulatory pushback. Although most Silicon Valley moguls see themselves as progressives they dont seem to understand cultural differences. (They dont understand politics, either.) Witness the Facebook bosss touching belief that the worlds problems could be solved if everyone were part of the Facebook community. Or the view of Googles former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, that the presence of communication technologies will chip away at most autocratic governments, since the odds against a restrictive, information-shy regime dealing with an empowered citizenry armed with personal fact-checking devices get progressively worse with each embarrassing incident. When he tried that on Cambridge students a few years ago, some of them wondered what he had been smoking.

Eric
Eric Schmidt, Googles former executive chairman. Photograph: Getty

Silicon Valley is a reality distortion field whose inhabitants think of it as the Florence of Renaissance 2.0. (Rapidly acquired wealth has powerful hallucinatory effects on people.) In a strange way, they share the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfelds view of our continent as old Europe, a civilisation whose time has come and gone. So when German citizens object vigorously to having their homes photographed by Google Street View, or the Bundestag considers a law that would impose swingeing fines on social media companies that do not promptly remove hate speech from their services, or the European commission imposes a fine equivalent to 3% of Googles global revenue, they fume into their almond-coconut Frappuccinos and vow revenge.

If thats how they see things, then its time they recalibrated. They are all children of a hegemony thats begun to erode. The era when Europeans and their governments quailed before American corporate power may be ending. The French were always a bit resistant to it (but then, being French, they would be, wouldnt they?) but now even the Germans have concluded that Europe can no longer rely on the US (or the UK) and must fight for its own destiny. In a way, the US-based digital giants should thank their lucky stars that Europe, for the most part, still consists of societies where the rule of law counts for something. Even when the companies dont like the outcome of our legal processes, they should be grateful that at least we follow them.

The same cannot be said for other parts of the world that Google & co hope to dominate. China and Russia do things their own way, for example, and are entirely untroubled by legal niceties. As far as China is concerned, in 2010 Google was given the choice of obeying government demands or shutting down its Chinese search engine; it chose the latter option and is having to agree to government controls if it is to be allowed back. In Russia, Google reached a settlement with the local regulator to loosen restrictions on search engines built into its Android mobile operating system, to allow Russian competitors a share of the pie. Similar concessions will be required to operate in Iran and other Middle Eastern states. These regimes are the real enemies that US paranoids should fear. So while the 2.4bn fine may be unpalatable (though easily affordable) for Google, it should thank its lucky stars. At least it got a hearing.

John Naughton is professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University. He writes a weekly column in The New Review.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/01/google-fine-challenges-to-silicon-valley

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What is the Petya ransomware attack, and how can it be stopped?

Companies have been crippled by an attack dubbed Petya, the second major ransomware crime in two months. Olivia Solon answers the key questions

Many organizations in Europe and the US have been crippled by a ransomware attack dubbed Petya. The malicious software has spread through large firms including the advertiser WPP, food company Mondelez, legal firm DLA Piper and Danish shipping and transport firm Maersk, leading to PCs and data being locked up and held for ransom.

Its the second major global ransomware attack in the last two months. In early May, Britains National Health Service (NHS) was among the organizations infected by WannaCry, which used a vulnerability first revealed to the public as part of a leaked stash of NSA-related documents released online in April by a hacker group calling itself the Shadow Brokers.

The WannaCry or WannaCrypt ransomware attack affected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries, with the UKs national health service, Spanish phone company Telefnica and German state railways among those hardest hit.

Like WannaCry, Petya spreads rapidly through networks that use Microsoft Windows, but what is it, why is it happening and how can it be stopped?

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that blocks access to a computer or its data and demands money to release it.

How does it work?

When a computer is infected, the ransomware encrypts important documents and files and then demands a ransom, typically in Bitcoin, for a digital key needed to unlock the files. If victims dont have a recent back-up of the files they must either pay the ransom or face losing all of their files.

How does the Petya ransomware work?

The Petya ransomware takes over computers and demands $300, paid in Bitcoin. The malicious software spreads rapidly across an organization once a computer is infected using the EternalBlue vulnerability in Microsoft Windows (Microsoft has released a patch, but not everyone will have installed it) or through two Windows administrative tools. The malware tries one option and if it doesnt work, it tries the next one. It has a better mechanism for spreading itself than WannaCry, said Ryan Kalember from cybersecurity company Proofpoint.

Where did it start?

The attack appears to have been seeded through a software update mechanism built into an accounting program that companies working with the Ukrainian government need to use, according to the Ukrainian Cyber Police. This explains why so many Ukrainian organizations were affected, including government, banks, state power utilities and Kievs airport and metro system. The radiation monitoring system at Chernobyl was also taken offline, forcing employees to use hand-held counters to measure levels at the former nuclear plants exclusion zone.

How far has it spread?

The Petya ransomware has caused serious disruption at large firms in Europe and the US, including the advertising firm WPP, French construction materials company Saint-Gobain and Russian steel and oil firms Evraz and Rosneft. The food company Mondelez, legal firm DLA Piper, Danish shipping and transport firm AP Moller-Maersk and Heritage Valley Health System, which runs hospitals and care facilities in Pittsburgh, also said their systems had been hit by the malware.

Shipping
Shipping company Maersks IT system was impacted by the cyber-attack. Photograph: Mauritz Antin/EPA


So is this just another opportunistic cybercrimnal?

It initially looked like Petya was just another cybercriminal taking advantage of cyberweapons leaked online. However, security experts say that the payment mechanism of the attack seems too amateurish to have been carried out by serious criminals. Firstly, the ransom note includes the same Bitcoin payment address for every victim most ransomware creates a custom address for every victim. Secondly, Petya asks victims to communicate with the attackers via a single email address which has been suspended by the email provider after they discovered what it was being used for. This means that even if someone pays the ransom, they have no way to communicate with the attacker to request the decryption key to unlock their files.

OK, so then who is behind the attack?

Its not clear, but it seems likely it is someone who wants the malware to masquerade as ransomware, while actually just being destructive, particularly to the Ukrainian government. Security researcher Nicholas Weaver told cybersecurity blog Krebs on Security that Petya was a deliberate, malicious, destructive attack or perhaps a test disguised as ransomware.

Ukraine has blamed Russia for previous cyber-attacks, including one on its power grid at the end of 2015 that left part of western Ukraine temporarily without electricity. Russia has denied carrying out cyber-attacks on Ukraine.

What should you do if you are affected by the ransomware?

The ransomware infects computers and then waits for about an hour before rebooting the machine. While the machine is rebooting, you can switch the computer off to prevent the files from being encrypted and try and rescue the files from the machine, as flagged by @HackerFantastic on Twitter.

Hacker Fantastic (@hackerfantastic)

If machine reboots and you see this message, power off immediately! This is the encryption process. If you do not power on, files are fine. pic.twitter.com/IqwzWdlrX6

June 27, 2017

If the system reboots with the ransom note, dont pay the ransom the customer service email address has been shut down so theres no way to get the decryption key to unlock your files anyway. Disconnect your PC from the internet, reformat the hard drive and reinstall your files from a backup. Back up your files regularly and keep your anti-virus software up to date.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/27/petya-ransomware-cyber-attack-who-what-why-how

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Veggie Burgers Go Mainstream with Bloody Impossible Burger

Creating a veggie burger that tastes like beef has been a kind of holy grail for meatless food makers since bland-tasting grain patties first arrived in U.S. supermarket freezers during the 1980s, back when staples of health-conscious hippy menus began to work their way into the mainstream.

With granola bars, soy milk and organic produce sold almost everywhere today, companies including Impossible Foods Inc. and Beyond Meat have developed vegetarian products that may be as close as anyone has come to mimicking real ground beef. They have the same fibrous texture, sizzle on the grill, and even excrete what looks like red beef juices when you bite into the burger.

Healthier and more natural foods are a growing share of the $1.5 trillion spent annually by Americans to eat, as consumers demand products with less fat or cholesterol that are safer for the environment. Meat processors Tyson Foods Inc. and Maple Leaf Foods Inc. are investing in plant-based proteins as alternatives to pork, chicken and beef, while billionaire Bill Gates and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla say meatless meat is the food of the future.

“We’re not telling anybody not to eat meat,” said Ethan Brown, the chief executive officer of El Segundo, California-based Beyond Meat, which announced last month it will expand U.S. distribution of its Beyond Burger with a deal to sell it at more than 280 Safeway Inc. supermarkets in California, Nevada and Hawaii. “This is a just a new form of meat.”

Demand is shifting toward plant-based proteins made from lentils, quinoa, beans and peas as more shoppers see their buying decisions as impacting the environment and their own health, according to a January report from Sustainalytics, an Amsterdam-based corporate researcher. 

Substitute Meat

Annual global sales of plant-based substitute meat have gained 8 percent a year since 2010, to about $2 billion currently, and are growing at twice the rate of processed meat, according to an Oct. 18 report from Bloomberg Intelligence. The market for meat substitutes may grow 8.4 percent annually over the next five years, with China helping to speed the expansion as it seeks to cut meat consumption in half by 2030, according to estimates in the Sustainalytics report.

In the U.S., the transition is well underway.

Beyond Meat’s burgers – made with peas, coconut oil and beet juice (for the blood effect) — have been available in Whole Foods Market Inc. stores since October, and the Safeway deal announced May 25 expanded distribution even further. It’s also sold at markets in Hong Kong as well as 13 on-campus dining halls at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Another new product is from Impossible Foods, a Redwood City, California-based startup that makes an animal-free burger from wheat, coconut oil and potatoes. It isn’t currently sold in stores because the company wants to first establish its brand in popular and high-end restaurants. It’s on the menu at 20 eateries now, and with the expansion of a production plant in Oakland later this year, Impossible Foods is targeting sales to more than 1,000 restaurants.

“That’s been a very deliberate strategy,” Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown — who isn’t related to the Beyond Meat CEO — said in a telephone interview. “It’s not until we’re substantially larger that we’ll go into grocery stores.”

Fancy Menus

The Impossible Burger already is available on several coveted New York menus, including at David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi restaurant, which Brown said gives his product some foodie cred for meat eaters who might otherwise consider the patties a science-fair project. “That’s a priceless endorsement,” he said.

Investors are lining up, too. Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat producer, acquired 5 percent of Beyond Meat, and a venture unit of Minneapolis-based cereal maker General Mills Inc. also holds a stake. At Impossible Foods, stakes are held by Khosla Ventures, Google Ventures and UBS AG. Gates, the world’s richest person, is an investor in Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

“We love the product, we love the sustainability, the attitude that they have,” Tyson CEO Tom Hayes said in an interview. “Plant protein is growing faster than animal protein. For us, we want to be where where the consumer is.”

Reformulating Recipes

While alternatives to meat won’t replace the real thing, more companies are investing in the industry and reformulating recipes so consumers can’t tell the difference, said Kenneth Shea, a food analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Skillman, New Jersey.

“Consumers, more and more, think in terms of sustainability,” Shea said. “They’re looking to eat more plants as opposed to red meat due to the perceived health benefits.”

While most consumers want to keep eating meat, they’re becoming more informed about the consequences on the environment and sustainability. It takes about 15,000 liters (3,963 gallons) of water to produce 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef, compared with 1,600 liters for a kilo of wheat, according to estimates from the Water Footprint Network. Still, most Americans don’t want to sacrifice taste.

“They’re hungry for a solution,” Beyond Meat’s Brown said. “It’s up to science and our efforts to get it to the point where it’s completely indistinguishable from its animal equivalent.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-05/bloody-meat-free-burger-brings-former-hippy-staple-to-mainstream

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Popular social media sites ‘harm young people’s mental health’

Poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety

Four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young peoples mental health, with Instagram the most damaging, according to research by two health organisations.

Instagram has the most negative impact on young peoples mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young peoples feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact.

The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate childrens and young peoples body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

The findings follow growing concern among politicians, health bodies, doctors, charities and parents about young people suffering harm as a result of sexting, cyberbullying and social media reinforcing feelings of self-loathing and even the risk of them committing suicide.

Its interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people, said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which undertook the survey with the Young Health Movement.

She demanded tough measures to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young peoples mental health and wellbeing. Social media firms should bring in a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been using it a lot, while Instagram and similar platforms should alert users when photographs of people have been digitally manipulated, Cramer said.

The 1,479 young people surveyed were asked to rate the impact of the five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people cited its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories, notably awareness and understanding of other peoples health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

However, the leader of the UKs psychiatrists said the findings were too simplistic and unfairly blamed social media for the complex reasons why the mental health of so many young people is suffering.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives.. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media good and bad to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.

Young Minds, the charity which Theresa May visited last week on a campaign stop, backed the call for Instagram and other platforms to take further steps to protect young users.

Tom Madders, its director of campaigns and communications, said: Prompting young people about heavy usage and signposting to support they may need, on a platform that they identify with, could help many young people.

However, he also urged caution in how content accessed by young people on social media is perceived. Its also important to recognise that simply protecting young people from particular content types can never be the whole solution. We need to support young people so they understand the risks of how they behave online, and are empowered to make sense of and know how to respond to harmful content that slips through filters.

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel worried and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

May, who has made childrens mental health one of her priorities, highlighted social medias damaging effects in her shared society speech in January, saying: We know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, just over one in 10 young people said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.

In February, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, warned social media and technology firms that they could face sanctions, including through legislation, unless they did more to tackle sexting, cyberbullying and the trolling of young users.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-sites-harm-young-peoples-mental-health

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‘Accidental hero’ finds kill switch to stop spread of ransomware cyber-attack

Move by @malwaretechblog came too late for Europe and Asia, but people in the US were given more time to develop immunity to the attack

An accidental hero has halted the global spread of the WannaCry ransomware that has wreaked havoc on organizations including the UKs National Health Service (NHS), FedEx and Telefonica.

A cybersecurity researcher tweeting as @malwaretechblog, with the help of Darien Huss from security firm Proofpoint, found and implemented a kill switch in the malicious software that was based on a cyber-weapon stolen from the NSA.

The kill switch was hardcoded into the malware in case the creator wanted to stop it from spreading. This involved a very long nonsensical domain name that the malware makes a request to just as if it was looking up any website and if the request comes back and shows that the domain is live, the kill switch takes effect and the malware stops spreading.

Of course, this relies on the creator of the malware registering the specific domain. In this case, the creator failed to do this. And @malwaretechblog did early this morning (Pacific Time), stopping the rapid proliferation of the ransomware.

They get the accidental hero award of the day, said Proofpoints Ryan Kalember. They didnt realize how much it probably slowed down the spread of this ransomware.

The time that @malwaretechblog registered the domain was too late to help Europe and Asia, where many organizations were affected. But it gave people in the US more time to develop immunity to the attack by patching their systems before they were infected, said Kalember.

The kill switch wont help anyone whose computer is already infected with the ransomware, and and its possible that there are other variances of the malware with different kill switches that will continue to spread.

The malware was made available online on 14 April through a dump by a group called Shadow Brokers, which claimed last year to have stolen a cache of cyber weapons from the National Security Agency (NSA).

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a users data, then demands payment in exchange for unlocking the data. This attack was caused by a bug called WanaCrypt0r 2.0 or WannaCry, that exploits a vulnerability in Windows. Microsoft released a patch (a software update that fixes the problem) for the flaw in March, but computers that have not installed the security update remain vulnerable.

MalwareTech (@MalwareTechBlog)

I will confess that I was unaware registering the domain would stop the malware until after i registered it, so initially it was accidental.

May 13, 2017

The ransomware demands users pay $300 worth of cryptocurrency Bitcoin to retrieve their files, though it warns that the payment will be raised after a certain amount of time. Translations of the ransom message in 28 languages are included. The malware spreads through email.

This was eminently predictable in lots of ways, said Ryan Kalember from cybersecurity firm Proofpoint. As soon as the Shadow Brokers dump came out everyone [in the security industry] realized that a lot of people wouldnt be able to install a patch, especially if they used an operating system like Windows XP [which many NHS computers still use], for which there is no patch.

Security researchers with Kaspersky Lab have recorded more than 45,000 attacks in 74 countries, including the UK, Russia, Ukraine, India, China, Italy, and Egypt. In Spain, major companies including telecommunications firm Telefnica were infected.

By Friday evening, the ransomware had spread to the United States and South America, though Europe and Russia remained the hardest hit, according to security researchers Malware Hunter Team. The Russian interior ministry says about 1,000 computers have been affected.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/13/accidental-hero-finds-kill-switch-to-stop-spread-of-ransomware-cyber-attack

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Pics Or It Didn’t Happen: reclaiming Instagram’s censored art

The authors of a book curating 270 images that Instagram censored explain why they are making them visible again

Early in March 2015, artist and poet Rupi Kaur uploaded a picture to Instagram of herself in her room, wearing jogging bottoms stained with menstrual blood. Lying with her back to the camera in a nondescript bedroom, nothing about the image was strange. A few days later, Kaur found her image had been removed, so she reposted it. A few days after that, it was removed again. This time she found out why: Instagrams moderators had deleted the picture for violation of community standards. Kaur responded with a rallying post on her Facebook and Tumblr accounts that was shared 11,000 times. We will not be censored, she wrote.

Kaurs photograph is just one of the 270 deleted images featured in Pics Or It Didnt Happen, a contemporary art book by digital artists Arvida Bystrm and Molly Soda that brings the pictures Instagram have removed back into the spotlight. But the book is about much more than simply shocking us with controversial pictures; both Bystrm and Soda agree that some level of social media censorship is needed. I do understand why censorship exists. Im not free the nipple because I dont give a shit about that, Soda says. But I do think that females presenting bodies are going to be censored more as theyre always going to be in conversation with sex no matter what the topic of the photo is.

@c.har.lee
@c.har.lee by Lee Phillips. Photograph: Lee Phillips

Pics Or It Didnt Happen exposes an ominous flaw in Instagrams community guidelines: women are getting an extremely hard time. For a variety of reasons, we dont allow nudity on Instagram, the guidelines read and yet it bare chested men remain largely uncensored, while topless images of women are guaranteed to be deleted. And it is not only nipples: when Soda and Bystrm asked their combined 207,600 Instagram followers for examples of censored images, the book explains: We began to see patterns in the types of images that had been subjected to censorship. Overwhelmingly, the photos are of female nipples, vaginal secretions and body hair. Presented together, Pics Or It Didnt Happen demonstrates how taboo very ordinary elements of female bodies, such as hair, fat and blood, have become. The stuff Ive had taken down was never explicitly sexual, Molly says. But the thing is, when you have a picture removed, it immediately sexualises it.

Since it launched in 2010, Instagram has helped to democratise the art world, making it possible for young women from different backgrounds to take a spot in a famously masculine industry, promote their work, and find recognition. Many of the women in this book have done just that. One of Instagrams most famous banned pictures, Petra Collinss 2013 crotch portrait is included, along with well-known artists like Isaac Kariuki and Maisie Cousins.

But, frustratingly, the book is very white. It was mostly white women that sent us images after we made the callout for banned pictures, says Bystrm. Whats in the book is representative of what we were sent, which I think says a lot about the state of the art world. And, as Bystrm is quoted in the foreword: White, abled, cis young women, often pretty thin These types of people tend to feel more entitled to their bodies.

The lack of non-cisgender women, and women of colour, is something that should be noted and challenged. But in making a book out of these removed online works, whether you think the photos are good or not, the authors have created an archival document with its own artistic criteria, delivering a deleted contemporary art movement into the hands of those who shun it. As a historical document, the book is interesting, says Bystrm. In 10 years time, things will be different. Instagram probably wont even exist then.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/10/pics-or-it-didnt-happen-reclaiming-instagrams-censored-art