Over-the-top internet services, such as WhatsApp, could be regulated in South Africa depending on the outcome of planned Parliament hearings this month, writes GARETH VAN ZYL.
Over-the-top services – which range from WhatsApp to Skype and Google Hangouts – allow users to make messages and calls over data networks – often at comparatively lower costs than traditional telephone calls or SMS.
OTT services like WhatsApp have rocketed in usage in South Africa with over 10 million users in the country, according to a recent report by World Wide Worx and Fuseware.
Amid this growth, South Africa’s two biggest mobile networks Vodacom and MTN last year called for regulation of OTT services in South Africa.
Subsequently, the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services has confirmed to Fin24 that it has scheduled hearings into the possible regulation of OTT services in South Africa on January 26.
A notice of the planned hearings, which was sent to relevant stakeholders, says the hearings are set to discuss “necessary policy interventions on how to govern OTTs, regulatory interventions on the guidelines to regulate OTTs” and the “impact of OTTs on competition”.
Another topic to be discussed at the hearings is whether “there (is) a need for the OTTs to be defined as telecom services (voice or data) or telecom infrastructure, and thus whether they should be subject to licensing and regulatory obligations (such as legal intercept and emergency call access) or not?”
The committee is trying to secure a venue for the hearings which are planned to be open to the public, the secretary of the committee, Hajiera Salie, told Fin24. More details about the hearings will be provided later this month, Salie added.
It’s unclear who will be presenting at the hearings at this stage.
Regulation risks being “ludicrous”
Dominic Cull, who is a communications regulatory expert at Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, said he has received a notice of the hearings.
Cull said it looks as if mobile networks “still have some lobbying power in terms of getting these matters before bodies like Parliament”.
“WhatsApp is obviously in the forefront. You know why the mobiles (mobile networks) are upset: It’s a revenue question. But we’re also talking about TeamViewer, Google Hangouts, Viber etc,” Cull told Fin24.
Cull said a challenge about regulating OTT is that “just about everything provided over the network could be regarded as an OTT”.
“Once you can’t divide them up, it obviously becomes ludicrous to try and regulate them,” Cull added.
He further said that there are two “fascinating” points to watch regarding the OTT regulation hearings later this month.
“The parties which are in the firing line here – in terms of the regulation – are not the usual suspects such as ISPs (internet service providers) and smaller players looking to compete. We’re talking about Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the like,” Cull told Fin24.
“So, we’re talking about substantial multinationals that have an interest here.
“And the second thing is that this is one of the rare telecommunications issues which people get. So, they understand WhatsApp. They know what it means to the spend on communication,” Cull said.
Data journalism takes top prize in revamped awards
The entries to the 2018 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards were extraordinarily varied and of an excellent standard, with new categories introduced which are based on content as opposed to platforms. This year, the judges decided that two entries were equally worthy of the coveted Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award.
The first co-winning entry, in the new Data Journalism category, is a set of stories by Alastair Otter and Laura Grant of Media Hack which showed how Data Journalism is shaping the future. The second co-winning entrant is Bongani Fuzile of the Daily Dispatch for his articles in the investigative category on how migrant workers were being ripped off by pension deductions (full citations below).
Convenor of the judging panel Ryland Fisher says: “This year we modernised the 12 categories that journalists could enter their work in and the change was embraced by entrants. In a turbulent time for media, the 2018 entries once again proved that there are excellent South African journalists delivering praiseworthy work, and we commend them for finding new and innovative ways to cover the news.”
Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer for Corporate Affairs at the Vodacom Group, says: “Vodacom is proud of its 17-year association with these prestigious awards, which make an important contribution to our society through the recognition of journalistic excellence. I’d like to congratulate all of tonight’s winners and, as always, I’d like to pay tribute to our hardworking judges. Ryland Fisher, Mathatha Tsedu, Arthur Goldstuck, Collin Nxumalo, Elna Rossouw, Patricia McCracken, Megan Rusi, Mary Papayya, Albe Grobbelaar and Obed Zilwa: thank you for making these awards a continued success.”
Veteran journalist and media stalwart Ms Amina Frense is the winner of the 2018 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Lifetime Achiever Award. She has spent decades in mainstream media both locally and internationally. She is a former Managing Editor: News and Current Affairs at the SA Broadcasting Corporation. She has worked in many countries abroad as a producer and a foreign correspondent, has written two books and is also a founding member of SANEF where she still serves as a council member (full citation below).
The overall winners share the R100 000 main prize. National winners in the various categories are as follows, with each winner taking home R10 000:
The entries in this category were of an exceptionally high standard. One entrant stood out and became the unanimous winner. This journalist showed an exceptional skill for story-telling and for finding unexpected angles and unknown facts. For his stories about Musangwe’s fight for recognition, Age cheating in SA football, and Hansie Cronje revisited, the winner is Ronald Masinda, and the team of Gift Kganyago, Nceba Ntlanganiso and Charles Lombard from eSAT TV.
Cons exploit Telegram ICO
Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.
In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.
The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.
Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.
“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:
- Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
- Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
- Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.