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Banned in India, TikTok to Meet Govt Panel to Present 'Clarification', Says Will Comply With Privacy Needs

Image for representation (Reuters)

Image for representation (Reuters)

The Chinese apps banned in India include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 30, 2020, 10:47 AM IST

Just a few hours after the Government of India issued an order banning as many as 59 Chinese owned smartphone apps in the country, TikTok has confirmed that they have been invited to meet with the Government to respond to the order and submit clarifications. TikTok, a popular social media platform owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, is on the list of banned apps. At this time, TikTok is also not available for download on the Google Play Store for Android phones and the Apple App Store for the iPhone.

“The Government of India has issued an interim order for the blocking of 59 apps, including TikTok and we are in the process of complying with it. We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications,” says Nikhil Gandhi, Head of TikTok, India, in a statement. The company says they continue to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government. Gandhi insists that even if they are requested to do so in the future, they would not. “We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity,” says Gandhi.

Late yesterday, India banned as many as 59 popular smartphone apps for Android smartphones as well as the Apple iPhone. The notification issued by The Ministry of Information Technology of the Government of India derived powers under the section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 citing the concerns about the security, integrity and defense of India. The apps that now stand banned in India, across the Google Android ecosystem and the Apple iPhone as well as the iPad platforms now include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community.

For the millions of users who may also have these installed on their Android phones and iPhones, there will be checks at the Internet service provider (ISP) and mobile service provider stage to ensure that traffic to and from these apps is blocked on the network, thereby rendering them in-operational. It is expected that all mobile service providers will block these apps on the 3G/4G networks while all broadband companies will enable these filters on wired and wireless broadband options.


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Modi Govt Bans 59 Chinese Apps In India: A Blow To China’s Digital Silk Route Ambitions?

Image for representation. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Image for representation. REUTERS/Amit Dave

The apps that now stand banned in India, across the Google Android ecosystem and the Apple iPhone as well as the iPad platforms now include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 29, 2020, 9:45 PM IST

The Ministry of Information Technology of the Government of India has banned as many as 59 apps in India. This has been done deriving powers under the section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 citing the concerns about the security, integrity and defense of India. The apps that now stand banned in India, across the Google Android ecosystem and the Apple iPhone as well as the iPad platforms now include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community.

This announcement comes at a time when tensions between India and China are at an all-time high, after the military skirmishes earlier this month. There have been suspicions that the apps developed and or owned by Chinese companies and developers collect user data from their phones without their permissions and transmit it back to the owners. Experts suggest that this could hit China’s Digital Silk Route ambitions in a big way. India has a large existing user base on these apps, and a fairly large potential user base waiting to sign up.

The banned apps include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community

“The Ministry of Information Technology has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India. The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,” says the Ministry of Electronics and IT in an official statement.

The Digital Silk Route is the technology equivalent of the BRI project, the Belt and Road Initiative which China has initiated to get an edge as a global technology and economic giant. The BRI attempts to connect Asia with Africa and Europe with land and maritime networks along six corridors, in an attempt to boost trade. China has also tied up with 16 other countries but has also been investing its own resources and creating a digital framework abroad. This includes optical cable lines, data hubs and other critical infrastructure projects which China needs to control the global digital discourse.

The Digital Silk Route is the technology equivalent of the BRI project, the Belt and Road Initiative which China has initiated to get an edge as a global technology and economic giant

This move could also have a cascading effect, as more countries could end up banning these apps in the coming days. There has been a global conversation over the past few months about the possible backdoors in Chinese company Huawei’s 5G mobile network infrastructure allowing the company or even the Chinese government to snoop in on user data. Many countries have either banned Huawei’s 5G network hardware altogether or are reluctant to use it.

This ban on popular Chinese-owned apps, including social networks such as TikTok, could have a longer-term impact on the company valuations as well, after a large chunk of their user base has been effectively shut out. At this time, it is not clear how long the ban will be in place but there are multiple recommendations in place on how to block these potentially malicious apps from being used on internet networks within India.

There has been a global conversation about the possible backdoors in Chinese company Huawei’s 5G mobile networks allowing the Chinese government to snoop in

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Govt Denies Restriction of Chinese Apps in India, Says No Such Directive Issued

Image used for Representative purpose.

Image used for Representative purpose.

The PIB Fact Check which is the government’s official fact-checker has flatly rejected the report and said that the government has issued no such instructions yet.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 20, 2020, 3:59 PM IST

The government has rejected a viral social media report that claimed there has been a prohibition of certain Chinese apps from being made available on app stores in India.

The viral message claimed that the National Informatics Centre under the Ministry of Electronics and IT has instructed both Apple and Google to “restrict the functioning of Chinese applications from the respective stores with immediate effect”. The apps mentioned in the report are TikTok, VMate, Vigo Video, LiveMe, Bigo Live, Beauty Plus, CamScanner, Club Factory, Shein, Romwe, and AppLock. The list also includes games like Mobile Legends, Clash of Kings, and Gale of Sultans.

“These apps are alleged to hold the privacy of the user at risk, and could compromise the sovereignty of the country,” the report claimed.

China boycott

However, the PIB Fact Check which is the government’s official fact-checker flatly rejected the claim and called it fake. Furthermore, the PIB Face Checker also went on to say that neither the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) nor the National Informatics Centre has given such instruction regarding the Chinese applications. “The claim made is false. No such instruction has been given by @GoI_MeitY or NIC,” the PIB Fact Check clarified.

The fake report comes amid the mounting tensions at the LAC in Ladakh between India and China and there has been a massive social media uproar over the ban of Chinese apps and products in the country.


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Indian I.T. Firm Hacked Emails Of European Govt Officials, Mexican Leaders

Delhi-based I.T. firm BellTroX InfoTech Services hacked accounts of govt officials in Europe, gambling tycoons in the Bahamas & U.S. Private equity giant, KKR.

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Govt Introduces Rs 50,000 Crore Package to Boost Make in India for Smartphone OEMs

Govt Introduces Rs 50,000 Crore Package to Boost Make in India for Smartphone OEMs

Under the new package, the Indian government is easing business conditions for companies to be manufacturing products in India.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 2, 2020, 10:23 PM IST
  • Edited by: Shouvik Das

India launched a $6.65 billion (~Rs 50,000 crore) plan on Tuesday to boost electronics manufacturing, saying it would start by offering five global smartphone makers incentives to establish or expand domestic production. The government is offering a production-linked incentive (PLI) involving cash worth 4-6 percent of additional sales of goods made locally over five years, with 2019-2020 as the base year, technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told a news conference.

This aligns with an earlier report, which stated that an empowered committee had decided to not devalue production plant and machinery brought to India for make in India purposes. The earlier report stated:

To be involved in the decision making process, companies will need to have invested and setup some scale of manufacturing processes in India already. To further ease the rules and make local manufacturing of smartphones in India seem attractive, the committee has chosen to remove certain valuation caps from the production process, and also de-link the payout of the local manufacturing incentive from the government’s financial condition. In other words, companies manufacturing in India will have an assurance of earning its PLI, therefore making India seem like a viable alternate manufacturing destination after China.

Names of the five companies, which would have to meet investment and sales thresholds to be eligible, were expected to be announced in the next two months, ministry officials said. Five Indian firms would also be selected for the PLI scheme, which, along with two other related initiatives, could help India produce smartphones and components worth 10 trillion rupees ($133 billion) by 2025, Prasad said. The smartphone industry has become a showpiece for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make In India’ drive. The government now wants to make the country an export hub.

Global players such as Samsung and Taiwanese firms Foxconn and Wistron, which both supply Apple, have already ramped up local production, attracted by India’s huge market of 1.3 billion people. The new plan also includes schemes to drive up production of components and create manufacturing clusters with pre-built factory sheds and common facilities for companies to move in immediately. “We want the bridegrooms to come but we also want the entire wedding procession. A company coming (to India) should also bring the entire procession of its ancillaries,” Prasad said.

The plan comes as more companies look for manufacturing sites outside China, where the coronavirus pandemic disrupted global supply chains. India, which offers cheap labour, has more than 1 billion mobile connections but less than half that number of smartphones, offering manufacturers a huge potential market.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Delhi Govt Launches COVID-19 App For Real-time Information On Vacant Hospital Beds

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday launched the ‘Delhi Corona’ app that will give information to patients about the availability of beds in private and government hospitals. He said that if patients are unable to get a bed despite the app showing availability at a hospital, they can call on the helpline number 1031 and a special secretary (health) will ensure they are given a bed.

Kejriwal said the app will fill the information gap that exists regarding the availability of facilities for novel coronavirus patients. “There are many places where coronavirus has spread in a big way. There were shortages of beds, ventilators and ICUs, leading to a large number of deaths,” he said in an online briefing.

“In Delhi, cases are increasing, but we have made sufficient arrangements for ventilators and beds in hospitals. We are several steps ahead of coronavirus,” the chief minister said. According to Kejriwal, 6,731 beds are available in private and government hospitals, out of which 4,100 are vacant.

“People are not aware of it,” he said, adding, “we are launching an app today and it has details of all the beds, ventilators and ICUs available at private and government hospitals.” It will be updated twice during the day at 10 am and 6 pm, he added.

Kejriwal said if the app showed that a bed was available at a hospital but the facility refuses admission, the patient could call the government helpline number 1031 and register a complaint. The Health Department Special Secretary will ensure that the person gets a bed, Kejriwal said. “Only 2,600 people needed to be admitted at a hospital out of more than 20,000 patients,” he said. “If the hospital tells after examination that you that can be treated at home, please listen to them.”

The government has deployed a team that will be in touch with the patients during home isolation and, if they become serious, it will ensure that they get a bed. In an online briefing last week, Kejriwal had announced that the government will be launching an app to inform people about the status and availability of beds and ventilators in hospitals.



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Indian Govt Launches 'CHAMPIONS', an AI Platform That Will Cater to MSMEs

Indian Govt Launches 'CHAMPIONS', an AI Platform That Will Cater to MSMEs

The platform aims to help the MSMEs by solving their grievances, encouraging, supporting, helping and handholding so that they are recognized globally.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 1, 2020, 8:26 PM IST

The government of India has launched a new technology platform Champions, aimed at supporting small and medium businesses through a holistic technology platform. Inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the ‘Champions’ platform’s name is an acronym for Creation and Harmonious Application of Modern Processes for Increasing the Output and National Strength. The platform will incorporate a network of control rooms, and according to the government, will incorporate the use of AI, machine learning and data analytics to streamline the support process being extended to MSMEs.

According to a press release on the matter, the three ‘detailed objectives’ of the Champions platform are “grievance redressal, to resolve the problems of MSMEs including those of finance, raw materials, labor, regulatory permissions etc particularly in the Covid created difficult situation.” The platform will also enable MSMEs to capture new business avenues, “including manufacturing of medical equipments and accessories like PPEs, masks, etc and supply them in National and International markets.” Lastly, to identify specially skilled businesses, which the government says would be “able to withstand the current situation and can become national and international champions.”

The main focus of the programme would be to expedite the process for businesses to get operational assistance from the government, using automated and manually overseen operational procedures. To enable this, Champions will reportedly have one central control room, and 66 other state-level control rooms, through which all sorts of queries would be digitised and fast-forwarded to the requisite government departments. To speed up decision making, each control room also includes the government’s proprietary video conferencing solution, in order to enable smooth functioning.




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Flipkart Awaits Advisory From States to Resume Full Services Despite Relaxation from Govt

Walmart-owned Flipkart on Monday said it is awaiting advisories from different states for resuming full services, including in red zones, a day after Home Ministry’s guidelines on lockdown 4.0 were released. According to Union Home Ministry’s order on Sunday, “all other activities will be permitted, except those which are specifically prohibited” under the fourth phase of the lockdown that ends on May 31.

However, in containment zones, only essential activities will be allowed. States and union territories, based on their assessment of the situation, may prohibit certain other activities in various zones or impose such restrictions as deemed necessary, the order had added.

“Post the Government of India’s guidelines last evening, we are awaiting the advisories from different states. We will continue to work in accordance with the directives from the government and local authorities while serving customers, sellers through our safe supply chain,” a Flipkart Group spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the company is working with lakhs of MSMEs and sellers across India to provide them with constant counsel and help with their business readiness, and is following safety and health procedures at its facilities and for supply chain and delivery staff.

“Our seller support team is providing on-ground support to sellers to help them resume operations swiftly and make products available for the consumers in this time of need…,” the spokesperson said. “We welcome the efforts by the governments at Centre and states in progressively charting out a lockdown exit plan and allowing e-commerce to serve the consumers with their varied product needs in all the classified zones, except containment zones,” the spokesperson added.

In the first two phases of the lockdown (that started from March 25), e-commerce companies were allowed to sell only essential items like grocery, healthcare and pharmaceutical products. In the third phase (May 4-17), these platforms were allowed to sell all items in orange and green zones, but only essential items were allowed to be shipped in red zones, which included top e-commerce hubs like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad.

An Amazon India spokesperson said the latest development will give a fillip to the six lakh retailers and MSMEs on its marketplace and help revive economic activity more broadly. “We are humbled by the opportunity to be an extended partner to the government as it balances saving lives alongside creating livelihood. We remain committed as always to ensuring the safety of our customers and our employees while creating business and employment opportunity,” the spokesperson added.

E-commerce platforms saw a significant impact on their businesses during the lockdown, given that grocery segment accounts for a small portion of online sales. Sales of non-essential items on e-commerce platforms in the first week of May, after-sales of such items were allowed in green and orange zones, were lower than last year on account of the lockdown.

However, industry executives said orders were scaling as people bought apparel, smartphones and grooming products among other items. The industry continues to face the challenge of availability of limited manpower for warehouses and delivery.

Paytm Mall said it saw a 50 per cent surge in sales for grooming products like shavers, trimmers, epilators, hair straighteners and styling products and hair dryers, from tier II and III cities in May over March. Most trimmers were sold in cities like Lucknow, Raipur, Guwahati, Belgaum, Nagpur, Surat, and other smaller cities.

The company said it has also seen a steady increase in the number of female shoppers from smaller towns on its platform. “We believe the lockdown has made people realize in metros as well as smaller cities that personal grooming products should always be kept handy. We think the demand for these products is set to rise further over the next few weeks and post that it would remain consistently high,” Srinivas Mothey, Senior Vice President of Paytm Mall, said.

Industry body IAMAI said digital services till date have helped ease the burden of lockdown with services facilitating work from home, e-commerce, edutech, digital payments and digital entertainment. “Even as lockdown 4.0 is extended, the country is looking at a new normal where social interactions are bound to be severely distorted, either under injunction or public awareness or concerns. Digital platforms are the only plausible medium for both businesses and customers in the coming days and need to be strengthened,” the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said.

It added that the “bold and emerging Indian tech start-up sector is more than capable to develop a self-reliant digital services sector that can cater to the needs of the country in the new normal”.



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Aarogya Setu 'Highly Encrypted', Data Only Shared with Select Govt Officers: Kant

Amid much controversy around the Aarogya Setu app, Amitabh Kant, the chief executive of Indian government’s digital thinktank Niti Aayog, has said that the app is “highly encrypted”, and that the public data being procured from the app is only being shared with select government officials that are “directly involved in Covid-19 interventions. Kant had previously also tweeted, claiming that the Aarogya Setu app was built as “privacy-first by design”, largely in response to a recent claim by ethical hacker Robert Baptiste that the app was a government-backed public surveillance tool.

Speaking to news agency ANI, Kant said, “Aarogya Setu has a clearly defined protocol for access of data. National Informatics Centre (NIC) is the fiduciary of the data, (which) is only shared with government officials directly involved in Covid-19-related medical and administrative interventions on a strictly need-to-know basis and limited in scope only to their direct work.” Kant’s response to ANI directly answers queries regarding accountability of data, which have been among the multiple conversations about user privacy that Aarogya Setu has led to.

The government of India has recently mandated large sections of the society to download the Aarogya Setu app on their phones. However, the decision has faced considerable criticism, and the Internet Freedom Foundation of India (IFF), along with others, have written to government officials, in a bid to appeal to them against making the procedure of installing the app mandatory. Government sources have also suggested that Aarogya Setu may feature as a must-setup service for every new phone sold in the coming weeks. Apps such as these have also brought together Apple and Google, who aim to release their own, decentralised contact tracing framework and offer it to nations that are financially weaker.

The government of India has strongly maintained that no data from the Aarogya Setu app has ever been misused. Government officials have further assured users that the data being collected is stored securely, are only being used for specific, Covid-19-related purposes only. Aarogya Setu has since crossed the mark of 100 million users, and going forward, will likely get a different version that can run contact tracing services for non-smartphone users as well.



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Facebook Deletes Hundreds of Fake Accounts, Pages Allegedly Linked to Iranian Govt

Image for Representation
(Image: Reuters)

Image for Representation
(Image: Reuters)

In its monthly report, Facebook said that it shut down the fake accounts and pages that were used to promote Iranian state propaganda in more than 15 countries.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: May 6, 2020, 3:07 PM IST

Iran’s state broadcaster has used hundreds of fake social media accounts to covertly spread pro-Iranian messaging online since at least 2011, targeting voters in countries including Britain and the United States, Facebook said on Tuesday. In a monthly report of accounts suspended for so-called “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, Facebook said it had removed eight networks in recent weeks, including one with links to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation (IRIB).

The company also removed a U.S. network of fake accounts linked to QAnon, a fringe group that claims Democrats are behind international crime rings, and a separate U.S.-based campaign with ties to white supremacist websites VDARE and the Unz Review. Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said both U.S. networks recently began pushing coronavirus-related disinformation, taking advantage of a surge in online interest in the pandemic to promote anti-Semitic and anti-Asian hate speech tied to it.

“We’ve seen people behind these campaigns opportunistically leverage coronavirus-related topics to build an audience and drive people to their pages or off-platform sites,” he said. The networks also pushed content focused on the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the report said.

Gleicher said the IRIB network had “substantial connections” to previously identified Iranian disinformation campaigns, but it was too early say whether it was directly responsible for those operations. The state-owned IRIB, which has its head appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Iranian officials have previously dismissed allegations of running coordinated disinformation campaigns as “ridiculous”.

The Islamic Republic has emerged as one of the most persistent players in online influence operations, like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google have had to grapple with state-backed groups using social media to further their geopolitical agendas and spread disinformation.

A Reuters investigation in 2018 found that one Tehran-based operation had used more than 70 websites masquerading as local news outlets to covertly disseminate Iranian state propaganda in more than 15 countries, at one point tricking the then Pakistani defence minister into issuing a nuclear threat against Israel. Iranian officials in Tehran and London did not reply to questions about the operation at the time.

Gleicher said the newly identified network had used similar tactics, including posing as independent media websites and charitable organisations, to target countries from Algeria and Bangladesh to the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. The network used more than 500 accounts on Facebook and its photo-sharing site, Instagram, to spread messages that often focused on local conflicts or criticism of U.S. actions in the region, he said. “In general, these were narratives that are aligned with Iranian geopolitical interests.”

Researchers at social media analytics firm Graphika, who reviewed the IRIB-linked accounts before they were suspended by Facebook, said some of the earliest-identified activity dated back to 2012 and targeted the U.S. Republican party primaries. Two years later, other accounts in the network used a handful of fake personas, memes and cartoons to support Scotland’s referendum bid to break away from the United Kingdom, they said.

Graphika’s head of investigations, Ben Nimmo, said those attempts were short-lived but show that Iran was experimenting with online election meddling years before alleged Russian attempts to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential vote. Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusations.

“The Iranian experiment was relatively tiny and didn’t last long or have any noticeable impact. What’s interesting is how early they started,” he said. “This whole takedown underlines how persistent the Iranian state is when it comes to covert influence operations.”