WhatsApp suspended in Brazil; Facewatch, a crowdsourced watchlist in the U.K.; and more.

  • The world is on fire: Five years ago today, a Tunisian vegetable seller named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire after a policewoman confiscated his cart and insulted him, an event that set off the Arab Spring. That woman, Faida Hamdy, tells the Telegraph’s Radhouane Addala and Richard Spencer, “Sometimes I wish I’d never done it.” Bouazizi’s sister Samia tells them that “My brother is a lover of life and he would have rejected both the stupid politicians and death-loving extremists. My brother died for dignity, not for wealth or an ideology.”
  • The balkanization of the internet: A Brazilian court has temporarily suspended usage of the WhatsApp app across the country because of its refusal to cooperate in a criminal investigation, the BBC reports. The app has more than 100 million users in Brazil, making it the most popular app in the country.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was “stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.
  • Related: In Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman explain how the European Court of Justice’s ending of the Safe Harbor agreement allowing American firms to circumvent tough European data privacy rules is rooted in Continental unhappiness with the NSA’s surveillance overreach. They write:

    “By transforming U.S. technology companies into tools of national intelligence, Washington has badly damaged their corporate reputations and exposed them to foreign sanctions. Their international profits—not to mention a substantial chunk of the U.S. economy—depend on the free flow of information across borders. Foreign officials, political activists, and judges who limit these flows to protect their citizens from U.S. surveillance strike at the heart of these companies’ business models. The ECJ’s Safe Harbor ruling has now forced Washington to decide whether it values its unrestricted ability to spy on Europeans more than an open Internet and the economic well-being of powerful U.S. businesses.”

  • This is civic tech: In Punjab, India, health officials started asking local workers fighting the annual dengue fever outbreak to put timestamps on their reports, and soon added geotagging of mosquito sightings and patient reports. The results have been dramatic, as Apolitical reports. (Apolitical is a new global NGO focused on how public servants worldwide are addressing the world’s greatest challenges, started by longtime Personal Democracy Media friend Lisa Witter among others.)
  • In Ghana, local elected officials are engaging with citizens taking questions by phone and the WhatsApp platform, as part of a government accountability project supported by the Media Foundation for West Africa, GhanaWeb reports. (h/t Apolitical)
  • Campaign watch: The top searched political figures of 2015, according to Google, were Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Deez Nuts, John Boehner, Marco Rubio, Jimmy Carter and Justin Trudeau. In that order.
  • Trump could easily mount an independent run for the presidency, should he be denied the GOP nomination, Ben Schreckinger reports for Politico.
  • Brave new world: In the U.K., the crowdsourced watchlist Facewatch, which is used by around 10,000 retail businesses to spot potentially troublesome customers, has been updated so it can interface with real-time facial recognition systems, reports Sebastian Anthony for ArsTechnica. This means the system will be able to tell a store-owner if someone on the watchlist has just entered their premises. This is a recipe for trouble. As he notes, “Facewatch lets you share ‘subjects of interest’ with other Facewatch users even if they haven’t been convicted. If you look at the shop owner in a funny way, or ask for the service charge to be removed from your bill, you might find yourself added to the ‘subject of interest’ list.
  • Opening government: City Limits’ Adam Wisneiski takes a close look at how New York City is implementing its landmark open data law, passed in 2012, and finds “little progress beyond what was built under [Mayor] Bloomberg.”