Then again, it's awfully convenient for the President that these services are places where one can organize an opposition against him, and he can use the excuse of rumours, lies, or "fake news" to justify legislating against them. The tax regime now sets up a wealth transfer from every Ugandan to the state, where it will be squandered I'm sure.
What I find frustrating is that most coverage about this falls into the same tired tropes, like pointing out how little most Ugandans make in real US dollars as an insidious appeal to well-to-do westerners to envision the subjects of this tax as downtrodden poor who are being exploited by their (presumably) oppressive government. I thought we were beyond this kind of coverage, and recognize that people in less prosperous countries have the same agency, despite systemic problems with the 5-term Ugandan president's authoritarian tendencies, corruption, voter intimidation, lack of transparency, and poverty.
What this tax will do is hasten the decline of civil society and respect for the current administration's law in Uganda. It will broaden the gulf between the cronies of the President and everyone else, leaving more and more people dissatisfied with the governing party that once promised (and, in fairness, delivered) real reforms. He obviously knows this, and has been making moves to prolong his power as he feels the winds of change shift around him.
You just delivered the kind of analysis I'd pay money to read in a paper.
If you're, say, a Ugandan dissident would you rather be spied on by the NSA or the Ugandan government? Tunneling all data out of the country may be safer for the majority of people, but maybe I'm falling for the trope of downtrodden poor who are being exploited by their (presumably) oppressive government.
Neither is good, so let's not pretend that one is harmless.
Quick edit: People who run major international ASNs and medium sized regional ASNs have a responsibility to not aid and abet this bullshit. Don't contract for government entities that want to implement filtering/blocking of stuff. Refuse to participate with network engineering and architecture decisions and implementation that hurt net neutrality. There is a finite pool of people with the real talent, clue and 15+ years of experience who can build carrier-grade ISP infrastructure. If people want to fuck up their domestic Internet in $COUNTRY, do not help them. No matter how lucrative it might appear at first glance.
There is such a thing as ethics in network engineering, just as there is in software engineering. Think long and hard about what you think defines an ethical ISP. If you're asked to do something contrary to that, refuse to participate.
Yes it is malice. There is a joke I find descriptive:
" Two young people discuss about their future. One of them says at some point that if they want to make money, it seems their only options are to become a thieves or politicians. The other responds: "Well I want to lead an honorable life, so I guess I will become a thief."
They just don't care to get informed or about the future. Simple. If there were time machines people would be coming back killing politicians en masse.
That's a cost the people in power are willing to bear; or should I say that's the cost the people in power are willing to offload onto to the powerless as a way to make the powerless have even less power.
1. VPNs still work fine (I'm using one right now, though its one I installed on a digitalocean instance - it's possible those receiving lots of traffic have now been blocked).
2. This tax is unaffordable for many Ugandans (it would be about 5% of the average wage here). Whatsapp is very popular here and this has impacted everybody I know. Most people I've talked to are using a free VPN (they aren't aware of the risks here).
I haven't done much analysis of the blocking yet but I will be doing a more in-depth post about this whole debacle in a few days.
The mobile providers are:
- Africell (was orange)
- Uganda Telecom
Full disclosure: I’m part of the team that builds it.
Which is effectively a tax against cellular data being treated as a dumb pipe. Still not OK, but a fundamentally different beast than the title implies.
If you're a telco in Uganda, and you have sufficient sway with the government, why not go for broke and try to tax your way back into cellular voice / messaging revenue streams? They can be quite lucrative: in the UK, I'm paying about £1/GB of data, but a single MMS costs 43p. Turns out you can send a lot of group messages on WhatsApp before it uses 43p worth of data...
The title is not misleading at all - the purpose of the tax is to discourage the use of social media. The (likely) president-for-life Museveni has expressed his strong displeasure with social media (particularly when it was used to mock him in the run up to removing term-limits) well before this law was promulgated. Strong-men do well with traditional media, which they can easily control.
Few Ugandans are going to spend 43p (per MMS) to send a meme gif mocking the government to 7 friends - this is entirely according to plan. Nevermind the local police (secret or otherwise) has easy access to MNO's servers compared to WhatsApp or Facebook for their investigations to support the charges of "incitement/treason".
Sounds like the despots and the profiteers are aligned. Good luck, Uganda. :(
My local phone contract is 70$ per months for 6 GB and a limited numbers of calls/text and no MMS. So I'm basically paying less than half roaming with my France SIM than with my local one, while having a better service. The real kicker? The roaming is happening on my local's provider network.
I don't care what your definition of insanity is, mine is Canadian telecoms.
As far as I could tell, you’re a caveman in France if you use SMS or cell calls as they use WhatsApp. That surprised me.
This suspiciously resembles a opportunity for arbitrage.
The only downsides were that I had a Mexican phone number (I use Google Voice anyway, so just needed the data) and, more importantly, that all the customer support was in Spanish...
I ended up ditching the SIM after about a year when the data stopped working when I bought a new tariff. Not sure how much this was due to my inability to navigate the Spanish customer interface vs. ATT cracking down on people doing exactly this.
They offer an option for about 10€ a month which offers unlimited international calls but only to landlines. 10€ is also how much unlimited texts cost – but I don’t send many texts anyways so 3 * 20¢ a month is not too bad.
I think the real problem is that there is no real competition in Germany. They are 3 carriers, 2 of them use the D network but are very expensive and one is cheaper but only uses 1800HZ frequencies which makes them unusable in most buildings. You have a false sense of competition from third party resells which either use the a slow network, a slow connections, or just don’t offer LTE/4G at all (although their customer support is usefully way better then one of the three carriers).
After all, we almost pay American prices in terms of $/GB, but live in a very dense area, we don’t need a lot of rual coverage (unlike in America where you can go 300 miles in one way and don’t meet anybody) and have no difficult mountains. Even according to our government we have “good and fair telecom regulations”.
That’s because we have really good phone contracts in France compared to the rest of the World, and also because mobile roaming charges are forbidden in the EU .
That’s a developed world problem isn’t it, or at least it’s bad there too?
A downside of the situation you discuss is that it’s not easy to navigate the current situation, as you can’t communicate with certain people if you don’t want WhatsApp. In France i encountered several people don’t have a cellphone number for calls or SMS, and my interest in WhatsApp is zero, preventing communication except by email.
Taxing social media is like taxing you for saying or hearing a specific word or sentence on the phone, or every time a certain show is broadcast on the TV.
This is absurd, and a violation of free speech, as it discriminates content. It is an attempt to control information exchange by discouraging it. The ulterior motive is usually manipulation of the citizens to keep them in line in absurd regimes, and/or to avoid the outside becoming aware of their internal issues.
Separately, these idiocies implemented by people that do not understand how the internet works undermines fundamental security aspects by being incompatible with proper cryptographic security measures. You cannot, for example, serve a portal instead of a properly configured HTTPS site without your browser noticing, so HTTPS needs to be blocked first.
Is it? Then why do you pay taxes to use VOIP? Is internet not a carrier, while TV & phone are services?
Services purchased that use the internet as a carrier may be taxed as any other financial transaction, but in that case, the internet itself is still a neutral medium that does not discriminate traffic. Being non-discriminatory does not mean that you cannot pay Netflix a monthly fee, with VAT and other applicable taxes, to give you an account.
Thus, it's just the price of the service your are purchasing, none being related to how it is delivered.
It would be more absurd if different brands of beer were taxed differently.
I don't think it's going to work out well given the lack of standardized information floating around, but the impetus is does not have to be entirely unreasonable, even if in this situation it probably is.
That different services cost different things with different taxes is not a problem.
However, with a beer analogy, it would be a special tax on transportation of beer (including bringing it home from the store), which seem a lot less sensible than just pricing beer and bread differently.
After all, the internet is an information transport, and it was a tax on using the internet for certain things (social media).
But if they are taxing on the service level, ie FB or What's App, then no, it's just information they are taxing. They could feasibly just use 'packets' or 'IP' as a crude measure of that service.
Is it? After the shenanigans that have been uncovered with recent elections (specifically referring to the US and Britain, I’m sure there are others) is ‘free speach’ really anthing that is being defended by opposing this tax?
This tax is in direct opposition to free speech, so opposing it defends free speech. It is, however, only a single battle in a very long war.
The problem is that the citizens get access to all social media taken away through taxes that most would avoid. Social media is also Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Snapchat, WeChat, Weibo, QQ, ...
It is not suddenly okay to block free speech by limiting/removing access to social media, just because one of these social media are known to censor content in other ways. One crime does not justify the next.
It seems like an obvious thing to tax the airing of a show on TV. I'm in favor of the taxation of every 30 minute slot on TV and Cable.
This maybe makes sense to me because I'm a natural person (i.e. not a corporation), so everything I receive or produce or give away is taxed.
Taxing social media would be more akin to placing a tax on documentaries, or all content containing a narrative by Morgan Freeman.
Although, the enforcement would be on delivery for social media (i.e. ISP reports social media traffic), so cable TV that detects if your TV is on during documentary broadcasts would maybe be a better analogy.
This sounds like a dystopian nightmare. Where do you live?
Imagine taxes specific to laundering machines that only apply when washing underwear, but not for any other clothes, it makes no sense.
Also, the govt. snooping on what people access / banning use of VPNs raises privacy concerns (and even censorship ones).
It's not the tax per se so much as how it's being levied and enforced. Social media should be subject to a sales tax, levied on the provider. This is being structured as a use tax, levied on users. Use taxes are notoriously difficult to enforce, and digital goods make that harder.
Calling mother: 15¢/minute
Calling children: 3¢/minute
Calling policy: 25¢/minute
Don't know if they still exist.
TV and phone are two services both provided over one or two strands of copper, and each is taxed at a different rate. Is social media not just another service? Sure, it's built on TCP/IP, DSL, & DOSCIS, but cable TV is built on CATV and phone on ISDN.
If it is absurd to tax a social media service coming down the wire, then it is equally absurd to individually tax cable TV or phone service over the same wire. Yet, we hardly see that as absurd, we've been doing it for decades.
After all, San Francisco decided that soda is a bad thing and implemented a soda tax. What's the difference?
> President Yoweri Museveni pushed for the changes to combat what he calls "gossip,"
More specifically, taxes are abused near universally. From the sugar taxes in Seattle (unless you are Starbucks), or forced Union dues that fund political campaigns, the practice is abused. Meanwhile necessary services like police, firefighters, and rescue workers are always under underfunded, even though that's why we think we're paying them.
They buy you civilization, which is great because it means you're not just immediately enslaved by your local warlord.
Money that would have no meaning, earned for work which would largely be impossible, without said threat of force.
You're confusing threat of force to enforce property rights and personal freedoms with the threat of force to collect taxes.
How do you plan on paying your police?
To give an absurd, extreme example: if you lived in a nation going through a famine and your hobby was watching bread mold, it might be morally just to take away your warehouse of stockpiled bread to let the starving people eat, even if it meant you couldn't continue your thrilling bread-mold-watching hobby.
Morally? Definitely. Incentivizing trade promotes human survival. Is it "just" is a different question, because justice requires a set of idealogical social principles to start from. Natural rights, divine will, reparative, or some other. YMMV
Your comment would be fine without the first sentence.
Stick to content. Not attacks.
So it's fine to attack taxes (even with this naive-libertarian "stealing my money under threat of force" line) but it's a very small problem in the big scheme of economic organisation.
OpenVPN running over port 443 is generally going to be using a CA that is not a public CA, and issues certificates directly rather than through an intermediate.
Even if you tunnel something over normal TLS, the type of traffic can potentially be determined by analyzing how much data flows in which direction and when.
If circumvention is seen as too widely spread, Uganda may simply decide that all TLS traffic leaving the country must be intercepted by a MitM proxy, and require everyone to trust their CA.
I'm sure there are plenty of companies that would be happy to get the contract to provide this service.
These blocks can often be circumvented by methods that do not scale, but if only tech savvy people who can afford to run their own VPN server on a VPS somewhere can circumvent the block, it's "mission accomplished".
Normal TLS handshakes over TCP typically look very similar, so if OpenVPN did those, it would be tough. But OpenVPN's TCP mode is basically just a TCP encapsulation of the UDP mode messages, and even with the new tls-crypt option enabled, the packets still contain unencrypted parts that could easily identify them as OpenVPN traffic.
As far as I can tell, if you're looking for your TCP port 443 traffic to look just like normal web traffic, you'll need to use a different protocol.
In which case you start using stego. All you need is a tunnel to the "free world". Good luck trying to figure out whether someone's packets are saying what they're actually saying, or something else.
There is a hidden message in the above paragraph. ;-)
Have a look at https://www.cs.tufts.edu/comp/116/archive/fall2016/ctang.pdf - it talks about GFW using machine learning with flow analysis to do this.
tools like obfsproxy for openvpn can help.
It's probably easier to just block all AWS/Azure/Linode/DigitalOcean/etc... blocks.
If you end up with this sort of data configuration in China, you'll be having a bad time using it for anything performance-sensitive. Good enough for email though, I bet.
nothing preventing you from using letsencrypt.
>Even if you tunnel something over normal TLS, the type of traffic can potentially be determined by analyzing how much data flows in which direction and when.
true, but only if you're doing packets-over-TCP. if you think beyond a VPN, like a https proxy (http proxy, but over TLS), it's indistinguishable from regular https traffic.
Encapsulated TCP SYN packets, for example, smaller than any HTTP request inside TLS would be.
Want to beat that by padding? Everything always being the same size is an anomaly too.
How else do they figure it out? My mind jumps directly to funny traffic patterns like a single person using the domain or maybe a non-normal looking website that doesn't serve static assets to non-vpn users or other normal things, etc. Can they probe the server somehow and and figure out it's a vpn?
Does the user need to visit other sites unrelated to the vpn in order to mask their own usage and appear normal?
Only makes sense if you are doing it for a bunch of people and at that point you are another VPN provider.
If you want to build your own, use at least VPN that was developed in Japan. (Google)
Child 1 - "Let's tax people for being on social media to stop them from saying bad things about us"
Child 2 - "Yeah that's a great idea. Plus we'll have more money for candy."
Govenments notice - "Social media is hereby taxed. Your local ISP will be collecting the tax automatically."
People - "Whatever, we'll just use VPN"
Government Screams- "AND NO VPNs ALLOWED!"
So much for free speech.
Good luck stopping the tor network.
In sum, Tor is not trivially or resoundingly winning the censorship arms race, even though it has some good work on censorship circumvention that's often effective in particular countries.
Some good background on this is in
I remember a time when we used to make fun of governments' lack of understanding of the Internet and the unlikelihood that they would be able to control it. Unfortunately, that was a very different time.
The vast majority of the population, and I'd bet it's even higher in Uganda does not even know what Tor is, yet alone how to use it.
My mom just figured out how to
send photos via text message for heaven's sake.
But if anybody from Uganda does find this. It's time to stand up and fight for your rights as a people and not let the corrupt politicians push you around.
In the meantime, if you want to know how to use TOR here is a great tutorial:
And here is the Facebook site for TOR: https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/
this is certainly something that happens in tech communities, but come on. it's like a three step process to install Tor browser and it works just like normal Firefox. any motivated person who can use a computer at all should be able to figure it out in about 15 minutes.
motivation is also the key missing factor in the anecdote about your mom. i bet she would figure out how to send photos by text real quick if her safety or job depended on acquiring that skill.
(That won't stop the Ugandan government from working hard to outdo their past feats: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uganda_Anti-Homosexuality_Ac...)
which, while sure, are "social media" platforms, are also tools that you might use as a professional to do things like get jobs, or talk to clients, etc.
I'm not sure how pervasive those platforms are in Uganda, but certainly something that could really harm aspiring professionals without much in the way of resources.
We just got one in Seattle as well
nobody is going to call them out on this blatant lie?
I was also involved with a major F50 that was warily forced to deal with various regimes trying to filter content.
But consider for a moment:
'Globalization' is having many nefarious effects on the world - and the 'openness' of the internet is generally only a mostly positive aspect from powers that are large and centralized. America is relatively free, and nobody 100x the size of America is going to come along and 'control your internet', and therefore potentially control your economic and political system.
The ubiquitous internet means that a small or mid-sized nation that is not a G7 is at major risk of having the almost the totality of their nation overturned by foreign powers.
Consider: Facebook, or Google, could very easily change electoral outcomes in many nations, possibly even by accident. A small change in their algorithm that suppressed some, and promoted others, an accidental ban of a political group, etc. - can happen. I don't suggest FB or G are interested in this, but remember they also do have relationships with the US Government, and it's reasonable for these nations to be very cautious.
Moreover, an open Internet allows fully malicious actors (hacker groups, bad international enterprises, bad governments), to do some really quite dangerous things to other nations, most of whom are too small to be able to protect themselves.
'The Internet' is the new 5th column if you will, and to some extent it can have more power than government or the Supreme Court in many nations. If 80% of a nation is convinced of some truth/mistruth perpetuated by 'whoever' on the Internet, well, then legality hardly matters. It has more revolutionary potential than perhaps any historical ideology.
Even on the economic front - Globalization means that all of the talent is getting sucked up like a vacuum into centres in the biggest economies. So many of the best go to America. So many European professionals flow into Germany or the UK - to their advantage.
Both of these issues come to head with issues like journalism - it's one thing if 'American journalism' is concentrating in a few American outlets, but imagine if your country was losing most of it's journalistic opportunity and that centralization was happening in another country - a large country like America with whom your nation may not have a great history.
Tax bases are a real thing - and though the Internet should in the long run provide more opportunity for local governments, in the present it's causing losses in tax revenues, or at least, those revenues created by new economies are not being realized locally.
Recognize that these issues are a problem, and that the erstwhile 'open internet' which positioned as a very positive and aspirational aspect of global development by American/Western forces, does not necessarily represent the same opportunity in the rest of the world.
So yes, so many corrupt and stupid leaders doing corrupt and stupid things to their own nations, but the answer is definitely not "Just let Google be the Ministry of Truth" for the nations of the world. Definitely not.
nothing is stopping governments from taxing physical, tangible things. Nothing is stopping governments from taxing the gross revenue (such as the WA state business and occupation tax) of ISPs and telecoms in general. Nothing is stopping governments from taxing per-subscriber revenue from mobile phone data connections. The four HSPA+/LTE operators in Pakistan pay a shitload of tax to the government and it works generally quite well.
Where this breaks is when they start deciding to tax specific types of internet content at TCP/IP layer 3, and layers 4-7 in the OSI model. That's fucked.
When information is the product of the new economy, and where value is created, it has to be part of the tax base.
"Nothing is stopping governments from taxing the gross revenue (such as the WA state business and occupation tax) of ISPs and telecoms in general."
True, but this layer of the value chain is not where the new information economy is being developed.
"Where this breaks is when they start deciding to tax specific types of internet content at TCP/IP layer 3"
'Content' and 'Layer' are separate issues - they are intertwined for pragmatic reasons, and I agree doing it at 'an internet layer' is dumb ... but there's no clear way around it.
If I put a sign in front of my home demanding money every time someone passes by that is considered illegal. Even if it's my road that I built. If a government does it it is considered a toll. Even if they didn't build the road.
Should we pay for every hop on the internet? That is where this is going.
Keep it up... This will only further private network development. We will be quite selective on who we give access this time.