Top 10 Most Shocking Technology Bans in History

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From the launch of the World Wide Web just over 40 years ago to the rise of AI with the release of ChatGPT in November last year, technology continues to revolutionise how we work, communicate and collaborate. 

With great change, however, comes great resistance — especially when the technology in question impacts the very fabric of society. Over the years, governments and lawmakers around the world have introduced a range of restrictions and regulations to dampen the impact of technological innovation and lower its risk to society. 

The most notable example is the EU’s recently implemented Digital Services Act, which serves to create a safer digital space by protecting people’s personal data online and preventing large tech companies from gaining total dominion over their respective markets.

While regulatory measures like this serve to protect society from the implications of rapid technological development, others seek to eradicate specific technologies from society entirely by issuing country-wide bans that remove access to certain technologies. 

From restricting small, dangerous gadgets, or blocking entire social media networks, we're counting down some of the most shocking technology bans in history. 

Google Street View – banned in Germany, Austria and Greece

Google Street View is a popular and powerful tool that allows users to virtually explore streets and landmarks in a given area. But, despite its widespread use and convenience, a number of countries around the world have banned Google Street View due to privacy concerns. One of the most notable examples is Germany, where Street View was banned for several years before being eventually re-introduced with strict regulations. In 2010, Google launched Street View in Germany, but the country's data protection authorities immediately raised concerns about the collection and storage of personal data. In response, Google allowed residents to opt out of having their homes included in the service and implemented measures to blur faces and license plates. 


However, this was not enough to appease the German authorities, and Street View was ultimately banned in the country until 2017. Other countries that have banned Street View include China, Austria, Greece, and South Korea. In each of these cases, concerns about privacy and the collection of personal data were cited as the primary reasons for the ban.  Despite the bans, Google has continued to expand and update the service, offering users new ways to explore and navigate their surroundings. As the use of technology continues to evolve, it remains to be seen whether Street View will face further restrictions or if it will continue to grow and expand in the years ahead.

Laser Pointers – banned in US, UK, Canada and Australia

It seemed like such a good idea. As Microsoft’s Powerpoint overtook slide projectors, lasers, once restricted to missile defence systems and rock concerts, allowed a presenter to emphasise a point without blocking the slides. But laser pointers quickly became smaller and more powerful, and governments around the world were quick to restrict the sale and use of the gadgets, citing safety concerns and multiple incidents of misuse. Laser pointers emit a concentrated beam of light that can cause eye damage if directed towards a person's eyes. This risk is heightened with high-powered laser pointers, which are often marketed as "laser pens" and can be easily purchased online. In some cases, laser pointers have been used to deliberately harm people, including pilots and law enforcement officers. 


Because of this, many governments have taken action to restrict the use of laser pointers. In the US for instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has restricted the sale of laser pointers over 5 milliwatts (mW) and has warned consumers against using laser pointers in a dangerous or illegal manner. Meanwhile, In the UK, the sale of laser pointers over 1 mW is banned, and possession or use of a laser pointer in a public place is illegal. Other countries that have banned or restricted the use of laser pointers include Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. In each case, the goal is to reduce the risk of eye damage and prevent incidents of misuse.

Facebook – banned in China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh 

Facebook may be the world’s largest social media platform today, but Meta’s project zero has been banned in a number of countries for a variety of different reasons, ranging from concerns about privacy, content and online security. One of the most notable examples is China, where Facebook has been banned since 2009. The Chinese government blocks access to Facebook and other popular social media platforms in order to control the flow of information and prevent the spread of dissent. Similarly, In Iran, Facebook was banned in 2009 after the country's disputed presidential election sparked protests that were organised in part through the social media platform. 


Another common reason for Facebook's ban is due to concerns about content. In some cases, governments have banned Facebook due to the spread of hate speech or misinformation. For instance, in Myanmar, Facebook was banned in 2018 due to its alleged role in the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment and fake news. Similarly, in Sri Lanka, Facebook was banned in 2018 after it was linked to a series of communal clashes that were fueled by hate speech. Some countries have also banned Facebook due to concerns about privacy and security. In countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, Facebook has been banned for years due to concerns over the spread of sensitive information and cybercrime.

TikTok – banned on government devices in US, UK, and EU

What was once a dancing app for children under the name Musically is now one of the most popular social networking sites in the world, with 70 per cent of US teenagers accessing TikTok daily. But the popular Gen-Z video-sharing app has recently come under fire from governments in the US, UK and EU, who have expressed their concerns about the app’s handling of user data and potential links to the Chinese communist party. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is Chinese-owned, and as per Beijing law, all Chinese companies must share data with the government. TikTok was recently wiped from government phones in the US, UK and Canada because of this, with lawmakers warning the app posed a risk to national security. US Congress is also attempting to issue an outright ban on the app or force Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company, to sell the app to a US owner to prevent Beijing from potentially accessing the sensitive data of government officials. 


Though being Chinese-owned, TikTok is not available in China, instead going by the name of a different app; Douyin. Douyin is a hugely popular app and one of the most widely used social media platforms, but the Chinese government has implemented strict regulations on the app's content and ownership, and ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, has faced scrutiny from Chinese regulators. TikTok has denied any wrongdoing, stating that it stores US user data on servers located in the US and that it has strict privacy policies. However, the US government has maintained that TikTok poses a national security risk, with concerns that the app could be used to spread disinformation, manipulate public opinion, or facilitate espionage. 

Blackberry phones – banned in Saudi Arabia and UAE 

Blackberry, once a popular smartphone brand, has faced bans in several countries over the years. One of the main reasons for these bans was the company's encryption technology, which made it difficult for governments to monitor communications. Some governments, such as India and Saudi Arabia, demanded that Blackberry provide them with access to user data, but the company refused to compromise on its encryption policy, leading to a ban. In 2010, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) banned Blackberry services citing concerns over national security. The ban was lifted later that year after Blackberry agreed to comply with government regulations. 


In 2015, Pakistan banned Blackberry's Enterprise Services, again citing security concerns. The ban was lifted after the company agreed to provide the government with access to user data. In 2016, Indonesia briefly banned Blackberry Messenger (BBM) over concerns about the spread of "pornographic content." The ban was lifted after Blackberry agreed to work with the Indonesian government to monitor content. The bans on Blackberry in these countries highlight the tension between privacy and security concerns, particularly when it comes to encryption. While Blackberry's encryption technology provides privacy and security for its users, it also presents a challenge for governments trying to monitor communications for national security reasons. Blackberry's stance on encryption has made it a target for government scrutiny and bans, but it has also cemented the company's reputation as a secure communication platform.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – banned  in China, Russia and Iran

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have become increasingly popular in recent years as a tool for online privacy and security. However, in some countries, VPNs have been subject to bans or restrictions due to concerns about censorship, surveillance, and cybersecurity. The Chinese government, for instance, has banned the use of VPNs, citing concerns about online security and control. Only government-approved VPNs are allowed to operate in the country, and individuals who violate the ban can face fines or imprisonment. Russia has also imposed restrictions on the use of VPNs, requiring VPN providers to register with the government and comply with censorship requests. Iran and Belarus have also banned the use of VPNs, citing concerns about the spread of Western culture and the potential for online dissent. 


While some of these bans and restrictions may be motivated by legitimate security concerns, they can also limit access to important tools for online privacy and freedom of expression. VPNs can also be used to protect sensitive data and online activity from cybercriminals and other malicious actors, highlighting the importance of balancing security and privacy concerns with the need for open access to information and communication technologies.

Earphones – banned by USA Track & Field 

In 2007, USA Track & Field (USATF) implemented a ban on the use of headphones and other personal audio devices in all official races sanctioned by the organization, including marathons. The ban applied to all athletes, including recreational runners and those participating in age group events, and was implemented for safety reasons. USATF officials believed that the use of headphones could pose a safety risk by preventing athletes from hearing important instructions or warnings from officials, as well as blocking out ambient sounds that could signal potential hazards on the race course. Additionally, some officials expressed concerns that headphones could give certain athletes an unfair advantage by enabling them to listen to music or other motivational content during the race.


The ban on headphones in marathons generated some controversy among athletes and running enthusiasts, as many believed that listening to music or other audio content could enhance their performance and help them stay motivated during the long race. USATF lifted the ban on headphones for runners participating in non-championship races the following year but maintained the ban for championship races and events and those competing for awards, medals or prize money. The organisation also implemented new safety guidelines for headphone use in non-championship races, requiring athletes to use open-ear headphones that allow ambient sounds to be heard.

Mobile Phones – banned in Cuba 

Until 2008, the use of mobile phones in Cuba was heavily restricted, and ownership of mobile phones was prohibited for most Cuban citizens. The government viewed mobile phones as a luxury item and a potential threat to national security, and only a select few were allowed to own them. At the start of 2008, the Cuban government lifted the ban on mobile phone ownership, allowing Cuban citizens to own and use mobile phones for the first time. However, the cost of mobile phones and mobile services remained prohibitively expensive for many Cubans, and access to the internet was heavily restricted.


In recent years, the Cuban government has taken steps to reduce regulations on mobile phones and internet access. In 2015, the government launched a pilot program to provide public Wi-Fi hotspots in several cities and has since expanded access to the internet through mobile data plans and home internet connections. However, internet access remains heavily censored and controlled on the Island and many Cubans still face barriers to accessing mobile phones and other electronic devices.

ChatGPT – banned in Italy

ChatGPT has taken the world by storm since its launch last November due to its ability to generate plausible-sounding responses to questions, as well as create an array of content including poems, academic essays and summaries of lengthy documents when prompted by users. It is powered by an AI system that is trained on a language model that scares vast amounts of information from the internet. But it is this way of collecting data that has sparked concern among experts in Italy, and On 1 April an Italian privacy watchdog banned OpenAI’s ChatGPT after raising concerns about a recent data breach and the legal basis for using personal data to train the popular chatbot. 


The ban came days after more than 1,000 artificial intelligence experts, researchers and backers – including the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk – called for an immediate pause in the creation of “giant” AIs for at least six months amid concerns that companies such as OpenAI are creating “ever more powerful digital minds that no one can understand, predict, or reliably control”. Generative AI systems like ChatGPT are difficult to regulate at the moment, and many governments are still struggling to implement regulatory measures on the technology due to the speed it has risen to popularity. Whether Italy’s ban on the AI chatbot will need to further bans across Europe will remain unclear, but, for now, what regulatory action the technology may face in the future remains unclear. 

The Great Firewall of China 

The Great Firewall of China is a sophisticated system of internet censorship that is used by the Chinese government to control and regulate online activities within the country. The firewall has been in place since the late 1990s and is designed to prevent Chinese citizens from accessing websites and services that are deemed to be harmful or politically sensitive by the government. One of the key targets of the Great Firewall of China is social media networks. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are banned in China, and citizens are only allowed to use domestic alternatives like Weibo and WeChat, which are heavily monitored and regulated by the government.


The Chinese government justifies its internet censorship as a means of maintaining social stability and national security. However, critics argue that it is an infringement on human rights and freedom of expression. The banning of social networks is particularly controversial as it limits access to information and communication channels that are widely used in other parts of the world. Despite the restrictions, some Chinese citizens continue to find ways to access blocked websites and services using virtual private networks (VPNs) and other tools. However, the government has been cracking down on these tools in recent years, making it increasingly difficult for people to circumvent the Great Firewall.