Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

China vs Google, Facebook and other US internet giants: a lesson in internet oversight for the West — Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice

December 13, 2017

Jesse Friedlander says while the US government is playing catch-up with the globally powerful tech companies of Facebook, Google and others, Beijing’s tight grip on cyberspace appears to be paying off

By Jesse Friedlander
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 5:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 6:52pm

Watching US technology leaders try to curry favour at China’s premier internet conference is instructive of the quickly shifting power dynamics among global tech giants. China is the only major market where Silicon Valley’s greatest companies have yet to gain a foothold. Famous for their “take no prisoners” aggressiveness and willingness to break the rules, the leaders of these companies on this occasion, in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, displayed modesty and submission to authority.

At the back of everyone’s mind must be Uber, which, despite its first-mover advantage, was forced to beat a retreat last year after losing billions trying to establish its business in China.

California’s Silicon Valley has long been home to libertarian technologists, who place their faith in the ability of unfettered innovation to solve real human and business problems. Largely free from government regulation, these brainy optimists have developed ideas that have radically changed the way people work, communicate, shop and learn. In the process, they have disrupted – or eliminated – countless companies that relied on traditional approaches to providing goods and services.

Today, the most prominent examples of Silicon success stories are the vaunted “FAANG” stocks, an acronym for FacebookAppleAmazon, Netflix and Google. Individually, each of these companies dominates its market segment in the United States and in most international markets.

 A scene from the Netflix TV series, Glow. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, collectively known by the acronym “FAANG”, are the most popular tech stocks in the market. Individually, each dominates its market segment in the US and in most international markets. Photo: Netflix via AP

For example, Facebook is the world’s largest social media company with over two billion active users. Together with Google, the two giants account for 84 per cent of global digital advertising spending. Amazon has 44 per cent of e-commerce sales in the US. Altogether, “FAANG” has a market capitalisation in excess of US$2.5 trillion, which surpasses that of France, the world’s seventh-largest economy.

It would appear that most Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice

Given the compelling value proposition offered by their services, these new-economy companies have developed large and reliable user bases of individuals, businesses, schools and even governments.

On the back of their tremendous success, these companies have grown so large that their power and influence is unassailable, even by the government in some respects. More than just a challenge to traditional businesses, new-economy companies are a major social force, with the power to affect political outcomes, personal careers, and even the general mood of society. Armed with reams of our personal data and sophisticated algorithms, they alone determine what information we consume, the prices we pay for products and if we are even allowed to participate in certain online activities.

At the moment, there is little consensus in the US on if and how new-economy companies should be regulated. Perhaps counter-intuitively, China may serve as a role model for Western governments as they contemplate oversight of internet companies. Indeed, China was among the first countries to express concern about the potential negative side-effects of the internet.

 Chinese magazines featuring President Xi Jinping on the cover are seen during the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, on December 3. Photo: Reuters

Much to the consternation of Western observers, China has made a series of controversial moves aimed at taming the internet, including: the creation of a “Great Firewall”, which prevents unfettered access to the web; disallowing anonymous postings and other online activity through real-name authentication; monitoring and restricting the content of internet media companies; and, holding direct and indirect stakes in certain technology companies.

While derided as draconian by critics who value free self-expression, these measures have undoubtedly helped ensure that the Chinese web remains a safer and more orderly space with less content hostile towards individual public figures and subgroups. While the US struggles with issues of ad hominem attacks and fake news, China has developed arguably the world’s most advanced e-commerce and logistics ecosystem.

From the Chinese perspective, the government’s oversight of cyberspace has helped to create a more healthy and harmonious society, something that is sorely lacking in the US.

A clear negative consequence of China’s strict controls is a lack of choice for consumers. Facebook, Twitter, Google, The New York Times, CNN and other American media are all inaccessible from within the Chinese Great Firewall.

Watch: China blocks Microsoft’s Skype in November this year

More recently, WhatsApp, and Microsoft’s LinkedIn have also been blocked. That being said, surveys consistently reveal that Chinese consumers enjoy an enviable amount of options for goods, services and intellectual content important to them. To be sure, Chinese public opinion also consistently shows a high degree of satisfaction with government policies and optimism towards their individual and the nation’s future.

It would appear that most Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice. For the Chinese government, this is at the forefront of their minds as they consider what role, if any, they will allow Silicon Valley’s winners to play in China.

Jesse Friedlander, CFA, is co-founder and chief investment officer of Des Voeux Partners, a multifamily office that manages intergenerational wealth. His areas of interest include macroeconomics, geopolitics, language and culture


Singapore: Defence Minister to invite hackers to break into its Internet-connected systems to detect weaknesses

December 12, 2017


SINGAPORE – In a first for the Singapore Government, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) will be inviting about 300 international and local hackers to hunt for vulnerabilities in its Internet-connected systems next year, in a bid to guard against ever-evolving cyber threats.

From Jan 15 to Feb 4, these selected experts will try to penetrate eight of Mindef’s Internet-facing systems, such as the Mindef website, the NS Portal and LearNet 2 Portal, a learning resource portal for trainees.

These registered hackers can earn cash rewards – or bounties – between $150 and $20,000, based on how critical the flaws discovered are. Called the Mindef Bug Bounty Programme, it will be the Government’s first crowdsourced hacking programme.

This follows an incident earlier this year when Mindef discovered that hackers had stolen the NRIC numbers, telephone numbers and birth dates of 854 personnel through a breach of its I-Net system.

One of the systems being tested, Defence Mail, uses the I-Net system for Mindef and SAF personnel to connect to the Internet.

On Tuesday (Dec 12), defence cyber chief David Koh announced the new programme after a visit to the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre (CyTEC) – a cyber “live-firing range” where servicemen train against simulated cyber attacks – at Stagmont Camp in Choa Chu Kang.

On the significance of the “Hack Mindef” initiative, he told reporters: “The SAF is a highly networked force. How we conduct our military operations depends on networking across the army, navy, air force and the joint staff.

“Every day, we see new cyber attacks launched by malicious actors who are constantly seeking new ways to breach our systems… Clearly, this is a fast-evolving environment and increasingly, you see that it is one that is of relevance to the defence and security domain.”

The bigger picture is that cyberspace is emerging as the next battlefield, said Mr Koh, who is also deputy secretary for special projects at Mindef.

“Some countries have begun to recognise cyber as a domain similar to air, land and sea. Some have even gone so far as to say that the next major conflict will see cyber activity as the first activity of a major conflict,” he added.

Servicemen at the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre at Stagmont Camp on Dec 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN


While there will be some risks in inviting hackers to test the systems, such as an increase in website traffic and the chance that these “white hat” hackers will turn over discovered vulnerabilities to the dark Web, measures will be put in place.

“(If) we can’t even manage the increase in traffic, that in itself would be a vulnerability that we would need to address,” said Mr Koh.

White-hat hackers are those who break into protected systems to improve security, while black-hat hackers are malicious ones who aim to exploit flaws.

The programme conducted by US-based bug bounty company HackerOne is expected to cost about $100,000, depending on the bugs found. But Mr Koh noted that this would be less than hiring a dedicated vulnerability assessment team, which might cost up to a million dollars.

Mr Teo Chin Hock, deputy chief executive for development at the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), said: “By embarking on a bug bounty programme, companies have the advantage of uncovering security vulnerabilities on their own by harnessing the collective intelligence and capabilities of these experts and addressing these vulnerabilities before the black hats do.”

In a statement, he added that the CSA is currently in discussions with some of Singapore’s 11 designated critical information infrastructure sectors which have expressed interest in exploring a similar programme for their public-facing systems.

Major Yiew Pie Ling (centre) taking Mr David Koh, deputy secretary (Special Projects), Mindef, and chief executive of the newly created Cyber Security Agency (CSA) of Singapore, through a demonstration of a mock cyber attack at the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre at Stagmont Camp on Dec 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Large organisations, such as Facebook and the United States Department of Defence, have embarked on similar initiatives with some success.

For instance, a similar Hack the Pentagon programme, also conducted by HackerOne, was launched by the US defence department in 2016. A total of 138 bugs were found by more than a thousand individuals within three weeks.

The initiative caps a year in which Singapore has been gearing up for the battlefront in cyberspace.

In March, it was announced that the Defence Cyber Organisation will be set up to bolster Singapore’s cyber defence, with a force of cyber defenders trained to help in this fight.

Yemen’s Houthis kill 20, arrest dozens in latest crackdown

December 12, 2017

A Yemeni fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president flashes his Kalashnikov assault rifle as he walks on a road leading to the town of Khokha which was retaken from Shiite-Huthi rebels, about 120 kilometres south of the Huthi rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida, on December 10, 2017. (AFP)

CAIRO: Yemen’s official news agency SABA said the Houthi militias have killed at least 20 people and detained dozens across the country’s north since assassinating former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Houthis appear to be escalating their crackdown on any possible sign of rebellion among their one-time allies from Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress. They are also shutting down the Internet and tightening an already existing media blackout.
According to SABA, now under control of the internationally-recognized government, the Houthis also blew up 20 houses in the northern province of Hajja and replaced the province’s governor who was a onetime Saleh associate.
The agency reported on Monday that the Houthis also arrested 49 people in Mahwet, another northern province in Yemen.
Houthi violence continued despite a call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a renewed push to end the war.

Antitrust Examining Google Dominance on Web Advertising

December 11, 2017

Move comes after Israel’s Artimedia files complaint against search giant

Nati Tucker Dec 11, 2017 6:56 AM

File photo: The Google logo is seen on a door at the company's office in Tel Aviv January 26, 2011.

File photo: The Google logo is seen on a door at the company’s office in Tel Aviv January 26, 2011. Baz Ratner / Reuters

For the first time ever, Google has come into the crosshairs of Israel’s Antitrust Authority, which has begun examining the implications of its dominance of the internet advertising market as a possible restraint of trade.

The authority, which confirmed it has begun looking into the matter, has until now refrained from doing so because it never received an official complaint nor has it found any indication that the law was violated. As a result, Google has never been declared a monopoly nor have any restraints been placed on its ad business.

Now, however, Artimedia, an Israeli platform for video advertising has filed a complaint.

According to the complaint, which was filed by attorney Uri Baram, deals specifically with banner ads on the internet. Artimedia, which like Google didn’t confirm the report, claims that Google online-advertising services “illustrate Google’s tremendous conglomerate power, which extends across the digital advertising continuum in all its forms.”

“[It] sheds light on Google’s varied and sophisticated ways of exploiting its status to push competition away,” the complaint says.

Consumers know Google best as a search engine as well as for its Youtube videos, email services, Android operating system and Waze navigation service. But a key part of its business is selling advertising through online exchanges.

Its dominance is particularly strong in so-called programmatic ads, which are bought automatically through an online exchange that matches advertisers with the demographics they are seeking. When a Web page is being loaded and has the space for an ad on it, information that’s been gathered about both the user and the kind of Web page being loaded is sent back and forth to an ad exchange. The space gets auctioned off to the highest bidder, all in the space of milliseconds without the user experiencing any delay in uploading the page.

Google operates two services – one called Google Display Network, and another called DoubleClick for Publishers, which offers a technical service of helping Web publishers manage their ad inventories and upload ads.

In principle, DFP operates independently and offers ads from GDN and rival services, like Sikendo and Positive Mobile, but Artimedia asserts that DFP gives preference to GDN “in a malicious and sophisticated way.” Rivals can’t access from DFP all the information they need to manage ad inventory.

In June, the European Union fined Google a record 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in the first of three investigations into the company’s dominance in searches and smartphones. The ruling opens the door for further regulatory actions against more crucial parts of Google’s business, including online ad buying.

Nati Tucker
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Jailed for a Text: China’s Censors Are Spying on Mobile Chat Groups

December 7, 2017

Authorities scour private chats on messaging apps for blacklisted words, sensitive images

PUYANG, China—One night this September, construction supervisor Chen Shouli fired off a joke in a chat group.

“Haha,” he typed on his black iPhone 7, followed by an off-color wisecrack about a rumored love triangle involving a celebrity and one of China’s most senior government officials.

Four days later, he says, the police telephoned, ordering him in for questioning.

“I thought, I haven’t done anything wrong, have I? I’m law-abiding,” recalls Mr. Chen, a wiry 41-year-old. “So I went in. Once I arrived, they wouldn’t let me leave.”

Mr. Chen was locked in a cell for five days, he says. According to the police report, his comment on the WeChat messaging app was deemed “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a broad offense that encompasses gang fighting and destruction of public property and is punishable by detention without trial.

In China’s swiftly evolving new world of state surveillance, there are fewer and fewer private spaces. Authorities who once had to use informants to find out what people said in private now rely on a vast web of new technology. They can identify citizens as they walk down the street, monitor their online behavior and snoop on cellphone messaging apps to identify suspected malcontents.

Years ago, in the Mao Zedong era, people were sent to prison, labor camps and death for opinions expressed in private. In the decades since China launched economic reforms after Mao’s death, prosperity and social mobility created room for more personal freedom and expression. Now China appears to be reverting to old form, empowered by new digital surveillance tools.

That means ordinary people such as Mr. Chen increasingly find themselves investigated and punished for imprudent comments they thought were private. It is now easy for a regular citizen to step over the brink, with a stray comment to family or friends screenshotted into evidence, without the need for an informant.

Mr. Chen is now marked as a troublemaker by local officials and police, who have warned him to mind what he does. Some friends, he says, now keep their distance.

One recent afternoon, he argued with his wife about the detention in their cramped one-bedroom apartment on the edge of the small eastern city of Puyang.

“This incident is over,” she told him.

“You don’t understand,” he shot back. “It’s far, far from over.”

Police in Puyang didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Tencent Holdings Ltd., which owns WeChat.

In September, amid a drunken-driving clampdown in the city of Jieshou, auto mechanic Yang Qingsong used an expletive in a WeChat post to question the intelligence of police for doing checks in the rain. Police detained Mr. Yang for five days, saying his post to a group with 241 people “created negative social effects,” according to an account of the incident the police posted on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

“Had I known it would be so serious, I wouldn’t have sent it,” says Mr. Yang, 24, who set up his own auto-repair shop last year.

‘We already can’t speak on blogs. Can we draw a bottom line somewhere? Can we speak a little bit in our living rooms?’

—Zhu Shengwu, lawyerUnlike postings to a blog or Twitter-like microblog, which are generally public platforms, chats on messaging apps such as WeChat are more private, limited to members accepted into a group. Larger ones have to meet stricter registration conditions imposed by the company, and WeChat caps groups at 500.

Zhu Shengwu was an intellectual-property lawyer in cases involving technology firms such as search engine Baidu Inc. before taking on a free-speech case this year. He says that monitoring closed chats is akin to eavesdropping in someone’s home.

“We already can’t speak on blogs,” says Mr. Zhu. “Can we draw a bottom line somewhere? Can we speak a little bit in our living rooms?”

Chinese dissidents and foreign academics had predicted that information dispersed over the internet and through mobile communications would loosen the government’s grip. But Chinese authorities have surmounted, one by one, the technological difficulties of monitoring text messages, emails, blogs and chat sites. Messaging apps, and WeChat in particular, are its latest challenge.

WeChat is China’s most popular social-media platform, by far, with users sending 38 billion messages each day. It isn’t clear how many private WeChat messages get deleted by Tencent because of government censorship requirements. WeChat also has a function to post publicly. Citizen Lab, an internet research center at the University of Toronto, examined 36,000 public posts in 2015 and found 4% were censored.

Software employed by WeChat appears to automatically scrub posts containing words on a blacklist, which is continually amended by human censors, according to Citizen Lab. The technology has now advanced to identify images deemed sensitive, which are then removed during transmission without the sender being alerted to the disruption.

The government has introduced rules and judicial interpretations making it a crime punishable by up to three years of prison time to spread what officials deem “false rumors.” A new rule this fall made any individual who forms a private chat group legally responsible for comments posted there by others.

Most people caught posting objectionable content just see it deleted and sometimes receive a warning. Heavier punishment usually is reserved for people already targeted by authorities for being known political critics or social activists, or for having a record of past offenses.

Wang Jiangfeng, pictured in a undated photo supplied by his wife, is serving a 22-month prison sentence for disparaging government leaders in a WeChat chat group.Photo: Sun Wenjuan

Wang Jiangfeng lost his job at a local agricultural cooperative in the eastern city of Zhaoyuan more than a decade ago, after he was accused of embezzling a payment from an apple-juice factory, says his wife, Sun Wenjuan. Mr. Wang denied the accusation and called his dismissal unjust. He spent years petitioning government offices from Zhaoyuan to Beijing for redress, landing him repeatedly in detention and alienating local officials in the process, she says.

After he called President Xi Jinping a “baozi”—a steamed dumpling—in one WeChat post, and Chairman Mao a “bandit” in another, Mr. Wang was arrested, court records say. A local court in April sentenced him to two years in prison, a term that was reduced to 22 months after a retrial last month.

The prison sentence “was clearly motivated by retaliation,” Ms. Sun says. “The local officials had their eyes on him.”

Mr. Wang sobbed after the initial verdict, shocked that WeChat comments could draw such a harsh penalty, says Mr. Zhu, his lawyer. Shortly after the first sentencing, Mr. Zhu began criticizing the justice system in posts on the Weibo microblog. The provincial justice department ruled that several posts endangered national security, disbarring him as punishment.

‘The local officials had their eyes on him.’

—Sun Wenjuan, wife of Wang Jiangfeng

The Zhaoyuan People’s Court, which sentenced Mr. Wang, didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did the Shandong provincial justice department, which disbarred Mr. Zhu.

Stern treatment is now being meted out to ordinary people without records of prior offenses, according to Mr. Zhu and other lawyers.

“In the past, there were these kinds of cases at times,” says Mo Shaoping, a prominent human-rights lawyer. “But it wasn’t like now, where they are seizing people so blatantly and confidently.”

China’s Public Security Ministry, Justice Ministry and Cyberspace Administration didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Chen, the construction supervisor in Puyang, says that while he wasn’t an activist, he was interested in politics and social issues—frequent topics of the chat group “Drips of Water Wear Through Stone.” Some talk in the group touched on Guo Wengui, a self-exiled billionaire living in New York who frequently used Twitter and other social media outside China to accuse senior Chinese officials of misconduct. Mr. Guo says he wants to expose what he calls China’s “kleptocrats” and bring rule of law to the country.

Censors and police wanted to squelch comments from Mr. Guo that leaked through the firewall and to prevent any disruption to a critical Communist Party congress in October to reappoint Mr. Xi as China’s top leader.

‘In the past, there were these kinds of cases at times. But it wasn’t like now, where they are seizing people so blatantly and confidently.’

—Mo Shaoping, human-rights lawyer


Politically minded Chinese complained of a tide of chat-group shutdowns. Mr. Mo, the rights lawyer, said his WeChat account was suspended in October, after he forwarded a news report about Mr. Guo to a few friends in one-on-one chats. Though he has defended many dissidents, including the writer and eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, he says he never before lost his WeChat account.

Mr. Chen typed his joke at 10:45 p.m. on Sept. 15, starting with “Haha.” Alluding to an allegation made by Mr. Guo, he wrote that if the rumors are true about an affair between a TV singing-competition star and someone surnamed Meng, then that would make the singer’s husband a cuckold.

Mr. Chen named the singer and her husband, but only used the official’s surname. For politically minded Chinese, the “Meng” clearly referred to Meng Jianzhu, who oversaw the nation’s law-enforcement system. Mr. Meng didn’t respond to a request for comment submitted for him through China’s Foreign Ministry.

Mr. Chen doesn’t know how his comment got flagged. While police often monitor the social-media accounts of known social activists, Mr. Chen had no previous run-ins with authorities, he says. He thinks the official’s name he mentioned may have been on a watch list, or perhaps someone among the chat group’s 453 members tattled.

Mr. Chen, who stands shy of 5 feet tall, recalls growing up poor, feeling hunger pangs and scrounging for food. Donggancheng village, outside Puyang, had no electricity, and the family home was made of blocks of mud mixed with wheat stalks. His father, one of only three college graduates in the village of 3,000, was the local doctor.

Like many of his neighbors, Mr. Chen now has a car and a smartphone. He and his wife live in a two-story apartment building near where Donggancheng village once stood. Together they run a small shop selling smartphones, while he works construction jobs and she sells insurance.

Inside China’s Surveillance State

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After first his father and then his mother were diagnosed with cancer, the family’s savings were drained paying medical bills. His unhappiness with the medical system drove him to seek information in WeChat groups, he says. He wondered whether the factory pollution ravaging the surrounding countryside caused his parents’ cancers. He says he began calling the local environment bureau to report violations.

As he read and chatted more on his phone, he learned that some major nations had free universal health care and that, also unlike many other world powers, China had autocratic rule.

“Gradually I became aware of it all,” says Mr. Chen. “My thinking didn’t develop in a day or two. It slowly, slowly accumulated.”

When Mr. Chen reported to the local police station on Sept. 19, he says, officers made it clear they had seen his WeChat post. They asked him to confirm that his WeChat name was “The Flash of a Thought.” Then they asked him to pull up the chat group on his phone.

Mr. Chen says officers grilled him for hours on everything from whether he has religious beliefs to what he thinks about China’s leaders and blacklisted dissidents. He says he wasn’t mistreated.

Security cameras were installed near Chen Shouli’s apartment in Puyang. Photo: Eva Dou/The Wall Street Journal

He and several cellmates took turns taking cold showers in the hot weather, then sat around on stools because lying down wasn’t allowed for most of the day, he says. At night, unable to sleep, he ruminated about his situation. His cellmates, he says, thought it hilarious that he was there for a WeChat comment.

After his release, Mr. Chen says, relatives, friends and officials all told him to learn his lesson and move on. Still, his detention nagged at him more than he anticipated. “I’ve lost some friends,” he says. “Some people now speak to me with reserve.”

Security cameras were installed outside his apartment building. Mr. Chen doesn’t believe they are there because of him.

He and some other villagers discussed his detention recently over a lunch of dumplings and fiery baijiu grain liquor. A neighbor said it was Mr. Chen’s own fault for writing the comment. “There are things you can say, and things you can’t say,” another neighbor piped in.

“If you were punished, you surely did something wrong,” said the ruddy-faced village chief, Yang Cunfu. “That online post had too big an impact on society.”

Mr. Chen responded that a post that starts with “haha” shouldn’t create such a stir: “I still don’t think I did anything wrong.”

—Josh Chin contributed to this article.

Apple, Facebook find something to praise China for amid Internet clampdown — “The Chinese government … doing a fabulous job on that.”

December 5, 2017

WUZHEN, CHINA (REUTERS) – Top executives at Apple Inc and Facebook Inc managed to find something to praise Beijing for at an Internet conference in China this week, even as its Communist Party rulers ban Western social media and stamp on online dissent.

China’s World Internet Conference attracted the heads of Google and Apple for the first time to hear China vow to open up its Internet – just as long as it can guard cyberspace in the same way it guards its borders.

The tacit endorsement of the event by top US tech executives comes as China introduces strict new rules on censorship and data storage, causing headaches for foreign tech firms permitted to do business in China and signalling that restrictions banning others are unlikely to be lifted any time soon.

“I’d compliment the Chinese government in terms of leadership on using data,” Facebook vice-president Vaughan Smith said on Tuesday (Dec 5), citing government bodies such as the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

“The Chinese government, the CAC and MIIT are doing a fabulous job on that.”

Facebook and Google are not accessible in China behind the country’s Great Firewall, along with major Western news outlets and social media sites, while Apple is subject to strict censorship. The US firm removed dozens of popular messaging and virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China App Store this year to comply with government requests.

 Image may contain: 1 person, text

“The theme of this conference, developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits, is a vision we at Apple share,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said on Sunday. The audience cheered him twice – once when he reached the podium, and again when he bowed.

China cracks down on any sign of online criticism of the government which it sees as a threat to social stability and one-party rule.

Some embassies, business groups and foreign firms steer clear of the highly choreographed Internet event, analysts say, because of the perceived propaganda.

But diplomacy seemed to rule the day at the conference, held in the ancient scenic city of Wuzhen in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and neither Smith nor Cook addressed issues of censorship or cyber regulation.

Cook has made frequent trips to China over the past year, as the firm has looked to revive sales in the market and make a push into services that require working with local partners on data storage.

“Companies that have sent high-level delegations to this conference in Wuzhen in the past have often done so because there is some type of significant issue with their access to the market,” said an industry source familiar with the event who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

At the event itself, conference guests were treated to a bubble of uncensored Internet in hotels, including access to Google, Facebook and foreign news outlets with specialised codes handed out to guests.

In discussions on topics such as artificial intelligence and tech innovation, overseas executives generally skirted the topic of regulation, though it surfaced at times.

“More people come to Facebook than are in China,” said Facebook’s Smith at a talk on digital economy on Tuesday. “(But) I realise not everyone in the room is familiar with Facebook.”

Jack Ma, chairman of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd which owns Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, said that foreign tech firms wishing to enter the China market should abide by its laws.

“(Foreign companies) are determined to come. Follow the rules and laws and if you’re unhappy, leave,” said Ma. “This is not a market (where) you can come and go.”


China’s Top Ideologue Calls for Tight Control of Internet

December 4, 2017

The New York Times
December 3, 2017

Wang Huning spoke Sunday at the opening of the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China.Credit Aly Song/Reuters

WUZHEN, China — Little heard from but hugely influential, the professor-turned-Communist theoretician who has been a major adviser to three Chinese leaders finally stepped out of the shadows on Sunday.

Known as the brain behind President Xi Jinping, Wang Huning made his first major speech since joining the Politburo Standing Committee, the seven-member group that rules China, at a conference created to show off the country’s technological strengths to the world.

Well known for his icy remove and support of authoritarianism, Mr. Wang called for security and order on the internet as part of five proposals he made to guide the future of cyberspace. He also emphasized China’s technological prowess, and said more should be done by the government to guide the development of new industries like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Mr. Wang stepped onto the world stage before an audience that included Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, along with an all-star cast of Chinese tech entrepreneurs, such as Jack Ma of Alibaba.

Mr. Wang, 62, had emerged as the ideological counselor to Chinese leaders and the wordsmith of Mr. Xi’s more authoritarian style before being tapped to join the Standing Committee at a Communist Party congress in Beijing two months ago. A close confidant of Mr. Xi and the two previous Chinese presidents, Mr. Wang was promoted despite never having governed a province or run a state ministry.

On Sunday, Mr. Wang praised China’s president for his “deep understanding” of internet governance. He said the international community had “warmly received” Mr. Xi’s ideas about the internet, including the concept of cybersovereignty — a Chinese policy term used to argue that countries should be free to control the internet within their borders, even if it means censoring.

“Global cyberspace governance has no onlookers — we are all participants,” he said, adding that “all parties” should have a say over how the internet is managed across the world.

The speech echoed arguments that Mr. Wang has made before. In the 1990s, as a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, he wrote that because China was so large and poor, it needed a stronger hand from the government to push through economic development. He said that such authoritarian rule was necessary for China to restore its national greatness after what the Communist Party has often described as a century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers.

This has made Mr. Wang a longtime skeptic of calls for China to allow greater democracy despite his extensive experience abroad, including in the United States. And while he has said he admires the strength of the United States, Mr. Wang has also been deeply wary of American power.

His speech on Sunday showed how China’s vision of the internet attempts to wrestle with such tension. Chinese leaders have long lauded the economic power of the internet, while being deeply cautious about its democratizing and internationalizing influence.

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© AFP/File | China is tightening restrictions on social media websites

Social media being used to ruin democracies including Philippines

November 29, 2017
Social media are increasingly being used to prop up repressive regimes and undermine democracies worldwide, according to a digital diplomacy expert. File

MANILA, Philippines — There is an increasing worldwide pattern of social media use to aid repressive regimes and undermine democracy, a digital diplomacy expert said Wednesday.

Damien Spry, a digital diplomacy researcher and consultant based in Hong Kong, said things had greatly changed since the “bliss” spawned by the Arab Spring which made people see YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as vehicles that could strengthen civil society and the public sphere.

“Maybe they weren’t wrong then, but things are different now. Social media has achieved pariah status. Like Saturn, the internet revolution is devouring its children,” Spry wrote in a commentary on the Interpreter, an online publication of the Lowy Institute which is an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney, Australia.

Spry said that Freedom House’s latest Freedom on the Net report detailed declines in internet freedom for the past seven years.

Other reports have also catalogued the breadth, variety and impact of social media manipulation in different countries including the Philippines through the use of paid and unpaid online agents and automated accounts (bots) that would post, share, like, quote and re-post content to influence politics.

In its 2017 Freedom on the Net report, Freedom House discussed how an army of social media commentators were paid to manipulate the information landscape in the Philippines to support President Rodrigo Duterte.

Freedom House said that there was an increase in reports of commentators being paid to manipulate social media information from June 2016 to May 2017.

“News reports citing individuals involved said the commenters, which they characterized as part of a ‘keyboard army,’ could earn at least P500 ($10) a day operating fake social media accounts supporting President Rodrigo Duterte or attacking his detractors,” Freedom House said.

The report also noted that overall internet freedom in the country slightly worsened during the covered period.

There were also technical attacks targeting media groups such as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines from June last year to May, according to Freedom House.

One of the bases of the Freedom House Report was an Oxford University study which found that the Duterte campaign spent around P10 million to hire trolls who would spread propaganda material online.

The study said that Duterte’s team of 400 to 500 cyber troops posted nationalistic and pro-government comments and harassed online dissenters.

According to Spry, these are just some of the main tactics used in manipulating information found on the internet.

He said that manipulators would feign grassroots support (astroturfing), smear opponents and disrupt online campaigns through distractions.

“The use of bots greatly amplifies impact: one human user can direct hundreds of bots to automatically generate thousands of posts and comments,” he wrote.

READ: Palace disowns deleted PCOO video promoting martial law

The large amount of content and interactions, Spry said, would push it to the top of the pile and would make it more likely to appear on social media feeds of others.

A common tactic in countering an anti-government hashtag campaign is by promoting alternative hashtags or by posting nonsense using the critical hashtag, he noted.

Spry said that some of the countries affected by this were Sudan through its “Cyber Jihadists,” the Philippines with its “keyboard army,” Turkey through its 6,000 trolls and Mexico with its 75,000 automated accounts known as ‘Peñabots.’


Trump Takeaway on Tech: Enforcement Over Regulation

November 22, 2017

By fighting AT&T-Time Warner deal and lifting net neutrality, administration signals plan to enforce old rules, not make new ones

By John D. McKinnon
The Wall Street Journal
Nov. 22, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Over just two days this week, the Trump administration has both sued AT&T Inc. to block its planned takeover of Time Warner Inc. and proposed allowing internet-service providers—like AT&T—to form closer alliances with content companies, like Time Warner.

The two government moves seem to go in opposite directions, on the one hand restricting a major telecommunications merger and on the other giving internet providers broad new powers to shape their customers’ online experiences.

But the actions reveal one consistency, and what might be viewed as an emerging Trump administration regulatory philosophy: Instead of new bright-line rules, such as those put in place under the Obama administration, it is stressing the enforcement of longstanding laws and regulations.

The moves are a shift in emphasis from the approach taken by the Obama administration, which in 2015 adopted highly specific rules governing internet providers in the name of “net neutrality,” the principle that all web traffic be treated equally. The providers were prevented from cutting deals, known as “paid prioritization,” that would give fast lanes to some kinds of content in return for a price.

And the Obama administration carried that approach into the antitrust realm, insisting in Comcast Corp.’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, Inc. earlier this decade that Comcast live up to elaborate net-neutrality restrictions, as part of the so-called behavioral remedies that were conditions of antitrust approval.

In other words, net-neutrality regulation took the place of an antitrust challenge.

Now the tables are turned. When it comes to internet policing, the FCC will ease back on its rules and turn a measure of oversight authority to the antitrust cop, the Federal Trade Commission, a deliberate action outlined Tuesday by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“As a result of my proposal, the Federal Trade Commission will once again be able to police [internet providers], protect consumers and promote competition, just as it did before 2015,” Mr. Pai said. “Notably, my proposal will put the federal government’s most experienced privacy cop, the FTC, back on the beat to protect consumers’ online privacy.”

President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda involves rolling back a broad range of Obama-era rules covering power-plant emissions, financial services and other industries.Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

In the case of net neutrality, Mr. Pai’s FCC moved fairly quickly by regulatory standards. It is too soon to know whether this enforcement emphasis will extend to other parts of the Trump deregulatory agenda, which involves rolling back a broad range of Obama-era rules covering power-plant emissions, financial services and other industries.

In the financial sector, Mr. Trump’s regulatory team has launched a review of stricter rules adopted after the 2008 bailouts. In general, officials say they want to recalibrate standards governing bank lending and other areas without scrapping them entirely.


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It isn’t clear whether financial regulators will maintain the streak of aggressive enforcement actions that began under the Obama administration. Fines levied by the Securities and Exchange Commission fell to a four-year low in the last fiscal year, though SEC officials caution against reading too much into a single year’s data.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt has touted a “back-to-basics” approach involving the reversal of numerous Obama regulations and has said he would emphasize enforcement.

“There’s a difference between creating regulatory certainty and holding polluters accountable for violating environmental laws,” said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman.

Environmental groups say the EPA’s actions so far this year don’t suggest a robust emphasis on enforcement. The agency counters that those groups’ estimates are low because it can take months or years before such an action can be completed.

Consumer groups argue that clear regulations are necessary across industries to keep companies from harming consumers. With the internet, they say, antitrust enforcement is too cumbersome, slow and potentially arbitrary to keep up with the speed of technological change.

Because the FTC doesn’t have the authority to create and enforce broad rules, it isn’t in a position to police fast and slow lanes that may harm competition, said Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science at Harvard University and a former chairman of the FCC’s Open Internet Advisory Committee. The agency can only take “individual enforcement action on the vague notion of unfair trade practices,” he said.

Conservatives who believe in a lighter-tough regulation, like Mr. Pai, generally argue that hard-and-fast regulatory rules are overly prescriptive and will slow investment and innovation.

Some free-market advocates take that even further, saying the antitrust action this week goes too far, especially given that the AT&T-Time Warner tie-up is a “vertical” merger, or one that combines two companies that operate at different stages of a supply chain.

“If this one [transaction] isn’t good, what vertical integration transaction is going to be good? Virtually none,” said Fred Campbell, director of Tech Knowledge, a free-market think tank and a former head of the FCC’s wireless bureau about a decade ago. “Isn’t it a de facto regulation then that we’re just going to prohibit vertical integration?”

— Douglas MacMillan, Ryan Knutson, Ryan Tracy and Timothy Puko contributed to this article.

Write to John D. McKinnon at

Philippines: A lot of catching up to do compared to much of the rest of the world

November 20, 2017



STOCKHOLM — After a year of hosting ASEAN meetings culminating in the summits among regional leaders and with dialogue partners, the Philippines should be attracting more foreign direct investments and tourists.

Those are supposed to be among the dividends of hosting international gatherings, with preparatory meetings held the entire year.

Hosting a global event such as the Olympic Games or the World Cup means a nation – particularly the city chosen for the event – can compete with the best in the world. It’s a coming-out party, and in many host cities, the improvements undertaken to make the party a success become permanent: better roads, mass transport facilities and telecommunications services; cleaner, greener surroundings; more professional services.

This was the case when China hosted the Olympics in Beijing and the World Expo in Shanghai. There has been no turning back from being world-class.

The idea is not just to serve as gracious host, but to make the experience so memorable guests will keep coming back, and invite others to do the same. While taxpayers always gripe about the massive price tag for hosting any international event, the long-term return on investment must be so attractive that most countries that have already hosted events such as the Olympics keep vying for more chances to host them again.

The mark of an advanced economy is when it can host such events at the shortest notice, with minimal improvements required. Paris can host any global event with its eyes closed; so can New York, Tokyo and Geneva.

We’re still waiting for a chance to host our international coming-out party, prudently limiting ourselves to regional events. The rotating chairmanships of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have provided good practice in hosting world leaders and organizing supporting meetings throughout the year.

Unfortunately, many of the improvements for these events are as ephemeral as the trimming of the greenery along Roxas Boulevard for the recent ASEAN summit. And even if ministerial meetings in preparation for the summits are held around the country throughout the year, it doesn’t seem to help us catch up with our neighbors in many areas such as tourist arrivals, foreign direct investment and overall prosperity.

Here we are, one of the five founding members of ASEAN, and we’re trailing much of the rest of the region in several human development indicators. Never mind oil-rich Brunei; why are we now lagging behind Vietnam?

Last month, Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma came visiting, and was remembered for noting that our internet is “no good.”

Image result for jack ma, photos

How can we expect return business when even internet service, now one of the most basic human needs, is spotty? The service improved around the ASEAN venues during the summit and related meetings, but now it’s back to its “not good” quality. As I wrote, the improvements from hosting events are not sustained.

*      *      *

I’m in this lovely Swedish capital for an international sustainability forum. Before I left Manila, Sweden’s Ambassador Harald Fries told me that 27,000 of his compatriots visited the Philippines last year. I asked: and how many Swedes visited Thailand? Fifteen times more, he replied. Bilateral trade is also “too low,” he said ruefully, as he promised to work on improving the situation.

Air connectivity would help, the ambassador said. I had to stop over in Taipei and then enter the Schengen zone through Amsterdam before the final hop to this city. Bangkok, on the other hand, has direct flights to all the major European cities, just like the other top ASEAN travel destinations, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

We already suffer from the quality of our airports when compared with the gateways of several of our neighbors. Executives of about six Swedish companies are holding a joint seminar in Manila with representatives of the Department of Transportation and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to discuss safety and efficiency of airports.

We’re now too far behind some of our neighbors in terms of airport facilities, but maybe we can end those chronic flight delays and improve air conditioning at the NAIA.

*      *      *

At least the airport now has free wi-fi. Mon Isberto of Smart Communications told me that the company is gradually replacing its copper wires with fiber optic cables, which make internet speed 10 times faster. Optical fiber also works best with 4G LTE.

Smart has also started installing smaller cell sites to dispel health concerns over telecommunications signals, although smaller sites also mean weaker service.

Copper was a compromise technology, Mon said. The speed of replacing copper wiring depends on the support and efficiency of the local governments. Last year Cebu’s Toledo City became the first completely fiber optic service area for Smart; the latest is Naga City.

Transformation is slow. Mon said installing one cell site, from processing of documents to completion of the project, requires an average of 36 permits from the national and local governments, the barangay and homeowners’ association. The entire process could take up to a year, after which Smart must secure a separate set of permits for transmission.

Mon says other countries consider internet service as a public utility that qualifies for fast-track processing. This is not the case here. The result is the kind of service that, when visitors compare with those in much of the region, becomes another disincentive to visiting the Philippines.

Internet speed is on my mind because Sweden happens to rank third after South Korea and Norway in having the fastest internet on the planet. As rated by Akamai in the first quarter of this year, Swedish internet speed is 22.5 Mbps for fixed broadband, way above the global average of 7.2 Mbps. Hong Kong ranked fourth, Singapore seventh and Japan eighth.

The Philippines’ average internet speed was 5.5 Mbps as of the first quarter. We’re way behind Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

We have a lot of catching up to do, and the task keeps getting more challenging as our neighbors do better.