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Web browsers unite against reported Kazakhstani surveillance

A Kazakhstani resident waves a flag at a 2016 auto rally. Photo: Patrick Baz via AFP/Getty Images

Google, Mozilla and Apple are taking a coordinated action to prevent the Kazakhstani government from using bulk surveillance on citizen web browsing.

The big picture: Web browsers use a system known as certificates to verify and encrypt communications with websites. Kazakhstan is reportedly forcing residents to circumvent that system by using a national certificate rather than the trusted certificates browsers normally use.

Why it matters: The national certificate would give the Kazakhstani government the ability to snoop or even change internet communications.

Google, Mozilla and Apple, makers of the Chrome, Mozilla and Safari web browsers, have agreed not to accept that national certificate, making it difficult for the national certificate scheme to work. Google and Apple's operating systems dominate the cell phone market, making their browsers the default web browsers of the mobile internet.

Between the lines: The three tech firms can pull this move off based on Kazakhstan's small market power and the relative lack of other options for web browsing and mobile operating systems.

  • But that could change as nations like China develop native options to expand their influence.
  • A confluence of geopolitical turmoil accelerated both China's attempts to create native alternatives to Western technology and international alliances against Western notions of a free and open internet. Western web browsing may not be a permanent check on governments like Kazakhstan.