So, you’ve heard of those notorious hacker-for-hire companies like NSO Group and Hacking Team that make a living out of helping their clients play Big Brother on unsuspecting folks. Well, here’s a fun fact: about ten years ago in India, there was a startup called Appin Technology doing pretty much the same thing but somehow managing to fly under everyone’s radar. And guess what? They’re still at it! Not hacking per se, but rather trying to hack away any evidence of their past misdeeds.
For quite some time now, our dear friends over at Appin Technology have been playing hardball with anyone who dares mention their alleged cyber-miscreant days. Their weapon of choice? Good ol’ lawsuits and legal threats aimed at silencing publishers around the globe. But just when they thought they could erase history one lawsuit at a time, an alliance of anti-censorship crusaders has emerged to give them a taste of their own medicine.
The saga took an interesting turn when the Association of Appin Training Centers, a newer organization that sounds suspiciously like our friends at Appin Technology, managed to get a Delhi court to order Reuters to take down an article detailing the startup’s alleged past exploits. The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) wasn’t having any of it and decided to step in on behalf of other media organizations caught up in this legal whirlwind.
Now here’s where things get really juicy: none other than Techdirt and MuckRock found themselves on the receiving end of emails from Appin Training Centers demanding they wipe clean all content related to allegations against Appin Technology. Talk about trying to erase your past! But our brave heroes at EFF were quick on their feet, arguing that just because some Indian court says so doesn’t mean everyone else has to play along.
Techdirt founder Mike Masnick couldn’t agree more. He hopes this whole censorship debacle will shine an even brighter spotlight on Appin Technology’s shady past. In fact, he’s hoping for what he calls “the Streisand effect,” named after Barbra Streisand who tried unsuccessfully once upon a time ago to suppress photos of her Malibu home only for it garner more attention as a result!
In another twist, Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), an anti-secrecy nonprofit is also joining forces with EFF and others in creating what they call “a warming effect,” the opposite of a “chilling effect” that legal threats are known to create. Their aim is to make would-be censors think twice before trying to suppress information and assure other journalists that their work can survive despite such threats.
Appin Training Centers, Rajat Khare, and Reuters have all stayed mum on this brewing storm. But one thing’s for sure: this fight against censorship isn’t over yet!
The plot thickened in November 2022 when the Association for Appin Training Centers threw a defamation lawsuit at Reuters based merely on unsolicited messages sent by its reporters to employees and students of Appin Training Centers! They accused Reuters not only of defamation but also “mental harassment, stalking, sexual misconduct and trauma.” Talk about drama!
A year later though, Reuters published an article titled “How an Indian Startup Hacked the World.” The judge initially sided with Appin Training Centers stating that such an article could negatively impact India’s student population. And just like that, they got permission from court allowing them to demand take downs of any content related to their alleged past hacking activities.
A startup allegedly “hacked the world.” Then came the censorship—and now the backlash.