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Illustration by Greg Ruben / Axios

Three million North Koreans now use the intra-country cell phone network called Koryolink. That may sound like progress, but that cell phone network is just "giving the North Korean government more control," according to a U.S. government-funded report from InterMedia, which assembled its findings based on responses from 34 North Korean defectors.

Why it matters: North Korea is trying to create "the appearance of development and modernization," but it's really seeking new ways to control its populace's media consumption. North Korea's surveillance state now goes "beyond what is observed even in other authoritarian states or closed media environments," the report said, and citizens are subject to monitoring from more than eight ministries and organizations.

  • "TraceViewer," created in 2013 and installed by default on North Korean phones, takes periodic screenshots of browser history and bulk exports the screenshots to inserted memory cards, making it nearly impossible to hide non-state media.
  • With expanded cellphone use, the government now doesn't have to rely on just human raids to gather information; it can monitor cell networks. Plus, jailbreaking North Korean phones is almost impossible, and North Korea doesn't have to rely on ISPs to spy on people in the country's network (as most other countries do), since the service provider is run by the state.
  • Officials use jammers along the Chinese border to prevent North Koreans from using Chinese cellphone signals.

Aside from cell phone monitoring, North Korea's Red Star Operating System seeks out undesirable phrases or sentences in documents and deletes them, reboots computers if users try adding firewalls, and watermarks documents to track their circulation to clamp down on non-state media.

In response, North Koreans are starting to use thumb drives more since they can hold more content and are easier to share or hide during raids than DVDs. And North Koreans keep two televisions: one runs the state channel and is displayed while the other is hidden and used to watch illegal media.

Go deeper

41 mins ago - World

China and Russia vaccinate the world — for now

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While the U.S. and Europe focus on vaccinating their own populations, China and Russia are sending millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world.

Why it matters: China's double success in controlling its domestic outbreak and producing several viable vaccines has allowed it to focus on providing doses abroad — an effort that could help to save lives across several continents.

Ina Fried, author of Login
50 mins ago - Technology

Report: China will dominate AI unless U.S. invests more

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S., which once had a dominant head start in artificial intelligence, now has just a few year's lead on China and risks being overtaken unless government steps in, according to a new report to Congress and the White House.

Why it matters: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who chaired the committee that issued the report, tells Axios that the U.S. risks dire consequences if it fails to both invest in key technologies and fully integrate AI into the military.

Americans agree about more issues than they realize

Data: Populace Inc.; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Many Americans assume the rest of the country doesn't share their political and policy priorities — but they're often wrong, according to new polling by Populace, first seen by Axios.

Why it matters: The polling reveals that despite growing political polarization, Americans share similar long-term goals and priorities for the country.