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Myanmar Crisis

Myanmar allows Tinder but axes dissent havens Twitter, Facebook

Junta whitelists 1,200 sites in shift from internet blackout strategy

The whitelists for internet access sent out by Myanmar's junta, led by military chief Min Aung Hlaing, include over 750 websites and over 450 domain names. (Source photos by Reuters and Yuji Kuronuma)

YANGON/BANGKOK -- Myanmar's junta has shared lists of over 1,200 online services and domain names it deems acceptable for public viewing, conspicuously excluding Facebook and Twitter as it looks to curb anti-coup protests, Nikkei Asia learned on Tuesday.

The whitelists -- shared with local internet service providers and telecommunications companies, and obtained by Nikkei from sources in the sector -- contain over 750 services and 450 domains. Nearly 50 companies in the banking and financial sector are given the all-clear, alongside more than 20 delivery services, such as Grab and Foodpanda.

Over 60 entertainment sites have won approval as well, from Instagram and YouTube to Netflix and Tinder. The entertainment category also includes The New York Times, CNN and Barron's; Nikkei Asia is not on the list.

The social media giants Facebook and Twitter, which pro-democracy protesters have been used heavily for communicating and organizing, are missing. But WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Viber and Zoom have been whitelisted, with remarks such as "Social media used by many customers for business purposes."

Whitelisted social networking services from other Asia-Pacific countries include China's WeChat, South Korea's Kakao Talk, Japan's Line and Russia's VK.

The whitelists Myanmar junta created include banking, gaming and food delivery services, plus a number of business-related websites.

The whitelists were sent out by the Ministry of Transport and Communications under the junta to ISPs and telecoms along with an order document that states a reason for whitelisting: "To reconnect the education and [small and medium-size enterprise] sectors, the [internet] service providers should follow the order to set the whitelist internet access to the user as soon as possible."

The junta included about 10 education-related internet services and over 300 business-oriented applications, along with a number of Google and Microsoft applications.

Since the Feb. 1 coup, the junta twice has imposed nationwide internet blackouts to thwart opposition. But the bold steps hampered daily business and consumers' economic activities. In a recent joint survey done by 10 foreign chambers of commerce, around a third of companies reported a reduction of more than 75% in their business activities, and nearly 13% of respondents had ceased all their activities.

However, even with the whitelists, the junta seems to be failing to reassure businesses. "Things are going to be harder. People won't be able to access the websites they need for their development," said an expert on Myanmar's telecommunication sector. "People in Myanmar would be delayed in every sector compared to other countries, as they can't even use the internet freely."

Unlike a blacklist, which lists websites that users are barred from accessing, a whitelist consists of domains that individuals are permitted to view. In general, when authorities intend to ban access to many websites, whitelisting is easier than blacklisting. In theory, internet service providers and telecoms in Myanmar are now required to free up access to listed websites and IP addresses, while blocking all others. Still, it remains unclear whether sites that did not make the lists will be completely blacked out, or whether they will still be accessible through virtual private networks.

Another point that likely will catch observers' eyes is the selection of many gaming applications along with entertainment services. While excluding Facebook and Twitter, the junta has carefully chosen about 40 gaming services, such as "Candy Crush," "Mobile Legends: Bang Bang," and "PUBG Mobile."

"The junta doesn't want youths to be involved in politics," a Yangon citizen in his 20s told Nikkei.

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