Visualizing Internet Suppression Around the World
View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here
When people think of freedom, they often think it in the physical sense, such as the ability to act and behave in certain ways without fear of punishment, or freedom of movement within one’s country.
When a nation chooses to restrict freedom in the physical world, the results are often hard to ignore. Protests are met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Road checks pop up along transportation routes. Journalists are detained.
In the digital world, creeping control often appears in more subtle ways. Personal data is accessed without us knowing, and swarms of suspiciously like-minded accounts begin to overwhelm meaningful conversations on social media platforms.
The Freedom on the Net Report, by Freedom House, breaks internet suppression down into a number of elements, from content filtering to detention of online publishers. Here’s how a number of countries around the world stack up:
According to the report, internet freedom around the world has been falling steadily for eight consecutive years. Today’s graphic is an international look at the state of internet freedom.
First World Problems
At its best, the internet allows us to seek out information and make choices free from coercion or hidden manipulation. Even in countries with relatively open access to information this is becoming increasingly difficult.
In Western countries, internet suppression often rears its head in the form of misinformation and excessive data collection. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was a potent example of how the vast amounts of data collected by platforms and third parties can be used to manipulate public opinion.
The backlash to this data collection by tech companies also produced one of the most promising developments in the past year – the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While the regulations are not applicable to government and military entities, it does create a pathway to increased transparency and accountability for companies collecting user data.
Around one-third of the people in the world live in countries that are considered “partly free”.
For most users, access to online information may not look too different from the internet experience in Iceland or Estonia, but there are creeping controls in specific areas.
In Turkey, Wikipedia was blocked and social media companies were compelled to censor political commentary. The country had one of the largest declines in internet freedom in recent years.
In Nigeria, data localization requirements have been enacted. This follows the lead of places like China and Vietnam, where servers must be located within the country for “the inspection, storage, and provision of information at the request of competent state management agencies.”
For many people around the world – particularly in Asia – accessing information online is a fundamentally different experience. Content published by an individual can be monitored and censored, and online activity that would be considered benign in Western countries can result in severe real-world consequences such as imprisonment or death.
As today’s data visualization vividly illustrates, China has by far the most restricted internet of the 65 countries covered in the report.
Network operators in the country are obligated to store all user data within the country (which can be accessed by governmental bodies), and are required to immediately stop the transmission of “banned content”. The country is also further cracking down the use of VPNs, which are used to circumvent China’s Great Firewall.
Of course, China is not alone in the desire to implement tight controls over online access. Many places, from Vietnam to Ethiopia, are eager to embrace the “China Model”. The country, which is aggressively ramping up its influence around globe, is more than happy expand its influence through exporting models of governance to new technologies, such as facial recognition.
Meanwhile, in Russia, the popular messaging app, Telegram, was blocked due to its refusal to allow the country’s security service access to encrypted data. This example highlights a growing dilemma faced by tech companies operating internationally – acquiesce to government demands, or lose access to huge markets.
A Tale of Two Internets
Today, there are two prodominant flavors of internet on the menu – the Silicon Valley offering dominated by major tech companies, and the top-down, state-controlled version being spread in earnest by Beijing. It would be a mistake to believe that the former is the clear choice for jurisdictions around the world.
In many countries in Africa, communications infrastructure is still being built out, so assistance from Chinese companies is accepted with open arms.
Our Chinese friends have managed to block such media in their country and replaced them with their homegrown sites that are safe, constructive, and popular.
– Edwin Ngonyani, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Works, Transport and Communication
Even though the internet is now three decades old, its form is still evolving. It remains to be seen whether the divergence between free and not free jurisdictions continues to grow.
The Top Downloaded Apps in 2022
Six of the top 10 most downloaded apps in Q1 2022 were social media apps, and four of them are owned by Meta.
The Top Downloaded Apps in 2022
Whether they’re providing a service like ride-sharing or acting as a mere source of entertainment, mobile apps have become an integral part of many peoples’ day-to-day lives.
But which apps are most popular among users?
This graphic uses data from a recent report by Sensor Tower to show the top 10 most downloaded apps around the world in Q1 2022 from the Google Play and Apple App Store.
Social Reigns Supreme
According to the report, total app downloads reached 36.9 billion in Q1 2022, a 1.4% increase compared to Q1 2021.
A majority of the top 10 most downloaded apps were social media platforms, with Meta and ByteDance owning six of the top 10.
|2||Photo and video|
|7||Snapchat||Photo and video|
|9||CapCut||Photo and video|
Meta’s four platforms on the list are Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger, while ByteDance owns TikTok and video-editing platform CapCut.
Just outside the top 10 are Zoom and WhatsApp Business (yet another Meta-owned app).
TikTok’s Winding Road to the Top
In Q1 2021, TikTok exceeded 3.5 billion all-time downloads, becoming the fifth app (and the first non-Meta app) to reach this milestone. This is impressive considering the app has been banned in India as of June 2020. Prior to the ban, India accounted for 30% of TikTok’s downloads.
India’s not the only country that’s banned the use of TikTok. Pakistan has blocked TikTok multiple times because of concerns over “inappropriate” content. However, it’s worth noting that the bans in Pakistan only lasted a few days before being lifted, and currently, Pakistanis are able to access the platform.
Top 10 Highest Grossing Apps
TikTok isn’t just the most downloaded app in the world—it’s also the highest-grossing non-game app, based on Q1 2022 revenue from the App Store and Google Play:
|2||YouTube||Photo and video|
TikTok generated an impressive $821 million in consumer spending in the last quarter. The video-sharing platform was the top-grossing app on the App Store, and the second-highest-grossing on Google Play, coming just after Google One.
While none of Meta’s platforms made it onto the top 10 list for gross revenue, these platforms make a ton of money that doesn’t necessarily flow through app stores. In 2021, Meta generated more than $117.9 billion in revenue, with over 97% of that coming from ads.
Growth’s on the Horizon
The pandemic had a massive impact on the app market.
In 2020, app spending on things like premium access, in-app purchases, and subscriptions surged by 30% year-over-year to reach $111 billion.
And while COVID-19 restrictions are easing in most places around the world, app spending isn’t likely to taper off anytime soon. By 2025, spending is expected to grow to $270 billion.
Synthetic Biology: The $3.6 Trillion Science Changing Life as We Know It
The field of synthetic biology could solve problems in a wide range of industries, from medicine to agriculture—here’s how.
How Synthetic Biology Could Change Life as we Know it
Synthetic biology (synbio) is a field of science that redesigns organisms in an effort to enhance and support human life. According to one projection, this rapidly growing field of science is expected to reach $28.8 billion in global revenue by 2026.
Although it has the potential to transform many aspects of society, things could go horribly wrong if synbio is used for malicious or unethical reasons. This infographic explores the opportunities and potential risks that this budding field of science has to offer.
What is Synthetic Biology?
We’ve covered the basics of synbio in previous work, but as a refresher, here’s a quick explanation of what synbio is and how it works.
Synbio is an area of scientific research that involves editing and redesigning different biological components and systems in various organisms.
It’s like genetic engineering but done at a more granular level—while genetic engineering transfers ready-made genetic material between organisms, synbio can build new genetic material from scratch.
The Opportunities of Synbio
This field of science has a plethora of real-world applications that could transform our everyday lives. A study by McKinsey found over 400 potential uses for synbio, which were broken down into four main categories:
- Human health and performance
- Agriculture and food
- Consumer products and services
- Materials and energy production
If those potential uses become reality in the coming years, they could have a direct economic impact of up to $3.6 trillion per year by 2030-2040.
1. Human Health and Performance
The medical and health sector is predicted to be significantly influenced by synbio, with an economic impact of up to $1.3 trillion each year by 2030-2040.
Synbio has a wide range of medical applications. For instance, it can be used to manipulate biological pathways in yeast to produce an anti-malaria treatment.
It could also enhance gene therapy. Using synbio techniques, the British biotech company Touchlight Genetics is working on a way to build synthetic DNA without the use of bacteria, which would be a game-changer for the field of gene therapy.
2. Agriculture and Food
Synbio has the potential to make a big splash in the agricultural sector as well—up to $1.2 trillion per year by as early as 2030.
One example of this is synbio’s role in cellular agriculture, which is when meat is created from cells directly. The cost of creating lab-grown meat has decreased significantly in recent years, and because of this, various startups around the world are beginning to develop a variety of cell-based meat products.
3. Consumer Products and Services
Using synthetic biology, products could be tailored to suit an individual’s unique needs. This would be useful in fields such as genetic ancestry testing, gene therapy, and age-related skin procedures.
By 2030-2040, synthetic biology could have an economic impact on consumer products and services to the tune of up to $800 billion per year.
4. Materials and Energy Production
Synbio could also be used to boost efficiency in clean energy and biofuel production. For instance, microalgae are currently being “reprogrammed” to produce clean energy in an economically feasible way.
This, along with other material and energy improvements through synbio methods, could have a direct economic impact of up to $300 billion each year.
The Potential Risks of Synbio
While the potential economic and societal benefits of synthetic biology are vast, there are a number of risks to be aware of as well:
- Unintended biological consequences: Making tweaks to any biological system can have ripple effects across entire ecosystems or species. When any sort of lifeform is manipulated, things don’t always go according to plan.
- Moral issues: How far we’re comfortable going with synbio depends on our values. Certain synbio applications, such as embryo editing, are controversial. If these types of applications become mainstream, they could have massive societal implications, with the potential to increase polarization within communities.
- Unequal access: Innovation and progress in synbio is happening faster in wealthier countries than it is in developing ones. If this trend continues, access to these types of technology may not be equal worldwide. We’ve already witnessed this type of access gap during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, where a majority of vaccines have been administered in rich countries.
- Bioweaponry: Synbio could be used to recreate viruses, or manipulate bacteria to make it more dangerous, if used with ill intent.
According to a group of scientists at the University of Edinburgh, communication between the public, synthetic biologists, and political decision-makers is crucial so that these societal and environmental risks can be mitigated.
Balancing Risk and Reward
Despite the risks involved, innovation in synbio is happening at a rapid pace.
By 2030, most people will have likely eaten, worn, or been treated by a product created by synthetic biology, according to synthetic biologist Christopher A. Voigt.
Our choices today will dictate the future of synbio, and how we navigate through this space will have a massive impact on our future—for better, or for worse.
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