Sunday, April 5, 2020

Reality of White-listed websites in J&K

Pallavi Sareen

Jammu, Jan 29: Many websites on the white-list issued by J&K administration are not functional on 2G.

Entertainment sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Voot or Hotstar which are primarily video-sharing platforms are unnecessarily included in the white-list since their content cannot load on reduced 2G speed.

Similar is the case with e-banking websites wherein the time one has between login and transaction is limited to 2 mins and with 10 to 20 kbps speed, it becomes impossible to make an online transaction. Also, payment gateways through which these payments happens like Billdesk, U-Pay, etc are not white-listed and thus the online transaction fails. While it may even be possible to make the transaction through UPI or the bank’s app, since neither Playstore nor Appstore has been enabled, only those with pre-installed apps are able to use it. Therefore, these websites are futile to be whitelisted.

Also, many users have complained that even 2G service has not been enabled by the Telecom Operator ‘Idea’. Idea customer case website is also not on the list of white-listed websites.

Furthermore, the website that J&K administration put a lot of effort into for saving the time and effort of the citizens while filing a grievance, “jkgrievance.in” also known as “Awaz-a-aam” was also not among the white-listed websites.

Many online shopping websites like Myntra, Flipkart, Amazon, websites of courier companies, Swiggy, Zamato, Fabindia and others were also white-listed under “Utilities”. However, a resident of Kashmir alleged that courier services are non-functional & their offices are closed in valley.

Also, since no local e-commerce website was white-listed, it created an unfair market for indigenous businesses of J&K that have an online presence.

Theprint.in, Outllook and Moneycontrol are among the websites that were written twice making the number of accessible sites look higher. Apple.com, Office.com have been erroneously mentioned as “search engines”.

In Jammu and Kashmir, by an order of the Principal Secretary in the Home Department of the Government of J&K, 2G internet was restored in J&K. However, according to the order social media would remain blocked and only 301 websites would be accessible to the users on 2G internet.

The order itself is contradictory since, despite social media websites or applications allowing peer-to-peer communication such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube being barred, JioChat remained white-listed.

While the order does mention that the process of whitelisting would be a continuous process and the list would be modified, it has not been explicitly mentioned what would be the parameters for judging whether a website should be white-listed.

This does raise Net Neutrality concerns in Jammu and Kashmir. Due to the white-list, people have started using various VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to access social media sites and other websites which J&K administration has banned. Despite it being mentioned in the order that VPNs would also be banned, proper measures have not been taken to disable access to VPNs.

According to the order, the restrictions will be reviewed after January 31st.

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