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Telegram: the app at the heart of Ukraine’s propaganda battle | Technology sector

In the days after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his country, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, used his Telegram channel to send a defiant video message from the centre of the capital, Kyiv, calling on the nation to unite and resist the Russian attack.

The WhatsApp-like messaging service, co-founded by exiled Russian billionaire brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, has become a key weapon in a digital propaganda battle that will ultimately boost its usage and investor profile ahead of a possible $50bn stock market flotation next year.

Ukraine’s 44-year-old president, a former TV actor and comedian who campaigned over Telegram in the run-up to his landslide victory in the 2019 presidential election, used the service to refute claims that the army had been told to lay down arms, that an evacuation had been ordered – and to galvanise the populace by proving he would not be leaving the capital.

A video grab of the defiant message Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sent on Telegram.
A video grab of the defiant message Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sent on Telegram. Photograph: AFP Photo

Telegram, which has more than 550 million monthly users globally, is already Ukraine’s most popular messaging app. The service’s much-hyped encryption and its ability to disseminate messages to groups of up to 200,000 – the limit on Facebook-owned WhatsApp is 256 members – has seen it dubbed the “app of choice” for terrorists.

Telegram was banned in Russia in 2018 after Pavel Durov refused to give the authorities access to its user data. However, the crackdown, which included blocking IP addresses, was easy to circumvent, and the service continued to grow. Russia gave in and lifted the ban in mid-2020.

The app has been adopted as a leading source of news outside state-controlled media, and in the Ukrainian war it has become a 24-hour news lifeline for civilians, journalists and even the military.

It has become the go-to platform for protest groups of all kinds, from Extinction Rebellion to anti-vaccination groups, from the US Capitol rioters to pro-democracy campaigns in states including Russian-allied Belarus, Hong Kong and Iran.

But Telegram’s role in the dissemination of unverified information alarmed the 37-year-old Durov – who has been called the Russian Mark Zuckerberg, after he founded what is still by far the country’s most popular social network, VKontakte (VK), in 2006.

Last weekend, he said he was considering shuttering the service in the “countries involved” for the duration of the conflict.

“We do not want Telegram to be used as a tool that exacerbates conflicts and incites ethnic hatred,” Durov posted on Sunday.

Hours later, he changed his mind, following mass requests from users, who said it was their only source of information. “Double-check and do not take on faith the data that is published in Telegram channels during this difficult period,” Durov advised.

Jamie MacEwan, media analyst at research service Enders, said. “This is another example of Telegram being linked to resistance movements. It has very much been part of its reputation over the past couple of years as it has boomed. It is associated with being a safe haven.”

Telegram logo seen on a mobile phone screen in front of Facebook and Twitter logos
Telegram is regarded as a safe haven for resistance movements. Photograph: Pavlo Gonchar/Rex

Durov is known for occasional eccentric behaviour – he once threw paper aeroplanes made from bank notes out of VKontakte’s office windows, causing fights in the street below, and he publicly offered Edward Snowden a job. He is now on a mission to make his second tech venture the success story that was ultimately wrested from him first time around.

During anti-Putin protests in 2012, Durov became hugely popular for refusing to close down groups that were using the social media site to organise marches. Two years later, he was on the receiving end of a hostile investor coup that saw VK appropriated by Mail.Ru group, headed by Russian billionaire and Putin ally Alisher Usmanov. In December, the Kremlin strengthened its grip on the company when Russian insurance company Sogaz, founded by giant Gazprom, took control of VK.

Durov sold up and left the business as well as the country, becoming a citizen of St Kitts & Nevis in the Caribbean, after resisting Kremlin pressure to release the data of Ukrainian protest leaders.

It is little surprise that Telegram, which he launched with brother Nikolai in 2013 and is operationally headquartered in Dubai, is built on security and privacy.

The publicity-averse Durov, who has a penchant for dressing all in black nevertheless spends much of his energy criticising the security standards of rivals, most notably world leader WhatsApp.

In recent years security experts have in turn questioned Telegram’s claims of superiority, pointing out that, unlike rivals, it does not offer end-to-end encryption by default over all its messaging options.

Moxie Marlinspike, creator of the popular Signal secure messaging app, took to Twitter last week to remind Ukrainians that Telegram is not as encrypted as people think, after what he alleged was a “decade of misleading marketing and press”.

Durov’s experience at VK left him with an aversion to bringing in outside investors to fund Telegram. With a fortune estimated at over $17bn, he has been able to support it for most of its early life without outside help. But the search for alternative ways to raise the funds necessary to drive growth led him into an ultimately disastrous foray into the world of cryptoassets.

In 2018, Durov embarked on a plan to raise billions through the launch of a cryptocurrency called Grams, a venture that sparked an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the US.

Pre-sales ahead of the planned initial coin offering (ICO), which would have funded a proposed Telegram Open Network (TON) system of apps services and a store of digital and physical goods, drew a rapturous response from an initial select group of investors, raising $1.7bn.

But two years later, Telegram shut TON down and agreed an $18.5m settlement with the SEC, which had argued that Grams bypassed US financing laws. It ordered that the money be returned to investors.

The setback in fundraising has not slowed growth, however: in early 2021, Telegram reported the biggest user boost in its history – 25 million in 72 hours.

Durov, who is now also a French citizen, credited the rush of new Telegrammers to an announcement by WhatsApp clarifying its privacy policy relating to data sharing with parent Facebook. Durov added, rather grandiosely: “We may be witnessing the largest digital migration in human history.”

The WhatsApp policy did not include sharing the content of messages, but it spooked many users, who defected to other platforms anyway: Telegram and Signal were the biggest beneficiaries.

“The increasing downloads of Telegram is [partly] driven by consumers’ growing anxiety over the power of the biggest tech companies, and by privacy concerns,” says Forrester analyst Xiaofeng Wang.

A few months after that user boost, Russian business newspaper Vedomosti reported that unnamed sources close to the company claimed a $50bn initial public offering was on the cards by the end of next year.

A successful IPO would cement the rise of Telegram, which has begun to make headway on the extremely difficult proposition of making money from the users of messaging services.

Durov, who once vowed Telegram would never carry ads, is seeking to monetise the platform through a combination of “privacy-safe” advertising and sponsorship of channels.

“The timing of the emergence of talk of an IPO is quite telling, coming almost immediately after the early 2021 boom when its user potential started to explode,” says MacEwan at Enders. “I think the momentum they now have, the sheer weight of users, and the fact they are experimenting with ‘privacy safe’ advertising make them an attractive flotation candidate.”

A Telegram spokesman confirmed that the company is pursuing plans for an initial public offering, and that some pre-IPO bonds have been sold with a five-year expiry, but cautioned that the timeline is not certain.

“As for the IPO plans, they will depend on the economic situation at the time,” he said.



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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.

As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.

A Forgotten Legacy

While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.

The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.

Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.

The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.

Tracing the Fallout

According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.

Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.

A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer

As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.

Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.

The “Oppenheimer” Movie

Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.

The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond

Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.

A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.

As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.


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