Posts Tagged ‘WeChat’

How China Walled Off the Internet

November 20, 2018

Today, China has the world’s only internet companies that can match America’s in ambition and reach.

It is years ahead of the United States in replacing paper money with smartphone payments, turning tech giants into vital gatekeepers of the consumer economy.

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And it is host to a supernova of creative expression — in short videos, podcasts, blogs and streaming TV — that ought to dispel any notions of Chinese culture as drearily conformist.

All this, on a patch of cyberspace that is walled off from Facebook and Google, policed by tens of thousands of censors and subject to strict controls on how data is collected, stored and shared.

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China’s leaders like the internet they have created. And now, they want to direct the nation’s talent and tech acumen toward an even loftier end: building an innovation-driven economy, one that produces world-leading companies.

Not long ago, Chinese tech firms were best known for copying Silicon Valley.

The New York Times

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But the flow of inspiration now runs both ways. American social media executives look to Tencent and ByteDance for the latest tricks for keeping users glued to their phones.

Tencent’s WeChat app, an all-in-one hub for socializing, playing games, paying bills, booking train tickets and more, paved the way for the increasingly feature-stuffed chat apps made by Facebook and Apple. Facebook recently took a page from TikTok, a Chinese service that is a sensation among Western tweens, by releasing its own highly similar app for creating goofy short videos.

If people in the West didn’t see this coming, it was because they mistook China’s authoritarianism for hostility toward technology.

But in some ways Chinese tech firms are less fettered than American ones. Witness the backlash against Big Data in the United States, the calls to break up giants like Facebook and the anxiety about digital addiction. None of those are big problems for Chinese companies.

In China, there is pretty much only one rule, and it is simple: Don’t undermine the state.

So titans like Weibo and Baidu heed censorship orders. Unwanted beliefs and ideologies are kept out.

Beyond that, everything is fair game. Start-ups can achieve mammoth scale with astonishing speed; they can also crash brutally. Thanks to weak intellectual property protections, they can rip one another off with abandon — not great for rewarding innovation, but O.K. for consumers, who get lots of choices.

And the money just keeps flowing in.

In another advantage, old-school industries like media, finance and health care have been dominated by lumbering state-run giants. That has allowed internet champions like Alibaba and Tencent to sew themselves into these businesses with ease.

With their mobile payment platforms, the two giants have built sprawling ecosystems in which vast amounts of commercial activity now take place. Little remains of daily life that has not been transformed. Shopping. Getting a loan. Renting a bike. Even going to the doctor.

This level of clout hasn’t gone unnoticed by China’s leaders. Never in the Communist era have private entities wielded such influence over people’s lives.

To keep tech in its place, the government is demanding stakes in companies and influence over management. Regulators have reprimanded online platforms for hosting content they deem distasteful — too raunchy, too flirty, too creepy or just too weird.

That’s why the best way for tech companies to thrive in China is to make themselves useful to the state. Nearly everyone in China uses WeChat, making the social network a great way for the authorities to police what people say and do. SenseTime, whose facial recognition technology powers those fun filters in video apps, also sells software to law enforcement.

The risk for these companies is that the government demands more, sucking away resources that could be better spent chasing innovations or breaking into new markets.

In China, says Lance Noble of the research firm Gavekal Dragonomics, the government’s support “can be a blessing and a curse.”

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China ups cash rewards for citizens who report porn

November 16, 2018

China is raising the cash rewards paid to citizens for reporting pornographic and “illegal” publications to authorities, government regulators said Friday.

Starting December 1, people can rake in up to 600,000 yuan ($86,000) for reporting illegal content, online or otherwise, double the 300,000 yuan under previous guidelines.

What counts as “illegal” content in China is broadly defined, but includes work that “endangers national unity”, “leaks state secrets”, and “disturbs social order” — umbrella terms that are also sometimes used when authorities punish or silence Chinese dissidents and rights campaigners.

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The new rules, published by a bureau under the top media regulator, come as Beijing ramps up controls on content.

Earlier this week the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said it had “cleaned up” 9,800 accounts on Chinese social media platforms which it accused of spreading “politically harmful” information and rumours.

The internet regulator also chastised popular social media platforms WeChat and Weibo for negligence and “irresponsibility”.

And on Thursday CAC published new rules requiring online platforms to save a plethora of user data, including chat logs, network addresses, and device type, by the end of the month.

The information would be included in “security assessment reports” — which police and CAC can request from platforms as needed.

The new requirements are part of CAC’s efforts to tighten control over sites that influence public opinion, such as chat groups, blogs, and Twitter-like Weibo, which was forced to roll out real-name registration in 2012.

Oversight of social media has ramped up in recent years as part of the government’s push to “promote the healthy, orderly development of the Internet, protect state security and public interest”.


China’s Tencent beats estimates with 30% profit rise

November 14, 2018

Chinese internet giant Tencent said on Wednesday it posted a nearly 30 percent rise in profit in the most recent quarter as new games already in the pipeline mitigated any impact from a government crackdown on the game sector.

Shenzhen-based Tencent said net profit came in at 23.33 billion yuan ($3.39 billion) in the three months ending September 30, beating a Bloomberg analyst estimate of 18.39 billion yuan.

Tencent’s earnings have drawn close scrutiny after the company posted a two percent year-on-year fall in profit for the preceding quarter, which Bloomberg data indicated was the first such decline in at least a decade.

Known for its ubiquitous WeChat social media and messaging programme, Tencent relies heavily on revenues generated by video games played by its users, and the company outlook has been clouded by a government freeze on approvals for new game titles since earlier this year.

The government also has initiated a campaign to tighten regulation of the fast-growing industry amid concerns over gaming addiction.

The recent negative news has lopped a stunning amount off of Tencent’s total market value — more than $250 billion — this year as its Hong Kong-listed shares plummeted.

Tencent said smart-phone game revenue grew seven percent in the third quarter to 19.50 billion yuan.

But PC client game revenues were down 15 percent to 12.4 billion yuan “due to user migration to mobile games and the high base in the same quarter last year.”

Revenues got a boost from the release of 10 new titles during the quarter, Tencent said, adding that it had 15 more games in the pipeline and ready for release.

Analysts said the China gaming industry — the world’s largest, and dominated by Tencent — could feel a squeeze soon due to the cut-off in new title approvals, but added that licensing was expected to resume soon and that the industry continues to enjoy high user demand.


Australia trade minister to visit China in sign of thaw

November 3, 2018

Australia’s trade minister will travel to China on Sunday, in a sign that political tensions between the two countries may be easing.

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Simon Birmingham, the first senior Australian government official to visit China in a year, will attend the China International Import Expo, or CIEE, seen as an attempt by Beijing to allay foreign concern about its trade practices.

Relations between Australia and the world’s no.2 economy have been at low ebb over accusations of China’s influence in Australia’s media, universities and politics and its use of loans to build leverage over poorer South Pacific island nations.

In August, Australia banned Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from supplying equipment for a 5G mobile network citing national security risks, a move the Chinese telecoms gear maker criticised as being “politically motivated”.

China, however, remains Australia’s top goods and services trading partner, accounting for 24 percent, or A$183.4 billion ($132.01 billion), of total trade in 2017, according to data from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Birmingham said in a statement on Saturday that Australia’s “high-level” delegation, which includes representation from state and territory governments, “reflects our ongoing commitment to our relationship with China”.

The minister’s press office would not immediately comment on whether Birmingham would meet with any senior Chinese officials on his trip to Shanghai.

Later in the week, Birmingham will visit Hong Kong where he is expected to meet with Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau, “to move forward negotiations on the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to open the CIEE with a speech on Monday. No officials from the United States, China’s top trading partner, will attend, although leaders from 18 countries and thousands of foreign companies will be present.

Online Gaming Target of Chinese Government: Tencent reorganization planned to comply

September 30, 2018

Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings announced on Sunday its first restructuring in six years, as it faces increased challenges from tighter government regulations.

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BEIJING: Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings announced on Sunday its first restructuring in six years, as it faces increased challenges from tighter government regulations.

The Shenzhen-based and Hong Kong-listed company will integrate the original seven business groups into six, including a new one on cloud and smart industries, the company said in a statement.

Tencent will “further explore the integration of social, content and technology that is more suitable for future trends, and promote the upgrade from consumer internet to industrial internet”, it added.

Tencent will also set up a technology committee.

Tencent, hit by China’s intensified crackdown on online gaming, has reported its first quarterly profit fall in nearly 13 years.

The main business of Tencent, which was founded in 1998, is video games but the company also runs China’s dominant social network, WeChat, with more than 1 billion users.

(Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Richard Borsuk)


Back-to-school ceremony fail: Pole Dancing kindergarten principal in China sent home without a job

September 4, 2018

A kindergarten principal in China trying to liven up a formal back-to-school ceremony with a racy pole dancer was fired after angry parents lit up social media with complaints.

Like most schools across China, the Xinshahui Kindergarten in the southern city of Shenzhen marks the start of the school year with a ceremony, usually consisting of performances and speeches.

But Monday’s edition, which included the risque pole dance, cost principal Lai Rong her job.

© AFP | A headteacher in China has been sacked for bringing a pole dancer to a back to school ceremony

Videos circulating on social media showed a scantily-clad dancer in hot pants shimmying up and down a pole to thumping music as stunned children in marching band uniforms looked on.

Others tried to mimic the sultry moves, with several small boys gyrating their hips and dancing around each other. In the background, shocked parents could be heard commenting about the suitability of the performance.

Many took to social media to express their outrage, threatening to pull their children out of school and calling for Lai’s resignation.

“Pole dancing at a school welcome ceremony? How can I trust my children with them? I’m going to pull my kid out and ask for a refund,” one parent wrote on social media platform WeChat.

“Is the principal an idiot?” another commented on the Twitter-like site Weibo.

In a text message to parents, Lai apologised for the “horrific viewing experience” and for not checking the dancer’s performance, adding that the dance was intended to liven up the atmosphere.

Hours later, local education authorities announced they had fired the principal and put Xinshahui under investigation.

“Other schools in the district should reflect on this incident and strictly uphold education standards,” the Bao’an education bureau said in a statement.

“I may as well be dead. I already lost the hope to live,” Lai told state-run tabloid the Global Times.

This was just one of several incidents in a shaky start to the Chinese school year.

Over the weekend, parents complained that a television programme deemed mandatory viewing by state educators on Saturday night included 12 minutes of advertisements, mostly promoting online tutoring courses and stationery sales.

Earlier the same day, police arrested 46 people in central Hunan province after hundreds gathered to express dissatisfaction with the local school system.

According to posts on social media, parents were incensed when they were told they would have to move their children into dormitories at a local private school, dramatically increasing tuition fees.



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Photo from the China National Pole Dancing Team


A stripper performing at a funeral in the rural northern Chinese province of Hebei 

A stripper performing at a funeral in the rural northern Chinese province of Hebei

China: Zidan Duanxin takes on WeChat — China’s most downloaded free app in the Apple store

September 2, 2018

New Chinese messaging app Zidan Duanxin takes on WeChat
Challenger is barely 2 weeks old but has already been downloaded 7.2m times

By Louise Lucas in Hong Kong and Sherry Fei Ju in Beijing

China’s growing band of challengers to Tencent and Alibaba has added a new member to its ranks: an app that is taking aim at the messaging world dominated by WeChat.

Zidan Duanxin is barely two weeks old but it has already become China’s most downloaded free app in the Apple store, according to market data company App Annie. This has prompted WeChat, the Tencent-owned platform with 1bn user accounts, to improve its own voice to text translation, according to analysts.

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The app had been downloaded about 7.2m times by Friday, according to Qimai Data, a provider of online data services.

Zidan Duanxin, which means “bullet message” in Chinese, raised Rmb150m ($22m) in just seven days ahead of its launch. It is the brainchild of Luo Yonghao, a 46-year-old former English teacher who also goes by the nickname “Fatty Luo”.

Mr Luo has built a wide following as an entrepreneur, in part through the novel product launches deployed by Smartisan, the smartphone maker he founded, that witnessed customers buying tickets to attend the events.

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Zidan Duanxin is the brainchild of Luo Yonghao, a former English teacher

He has also won plaudits for his championing of consumer rights, most notably when he took a sledgehammer to a refrigerator in protest against manufacturer Siemens’s alleged lax quality controls.

Messaging is a challenging sector to disrupt, with even Alibaba struggling repeatedly to build a social network capable of taking on WeChat. Mr Luo, in a post on social media site Weibo, conceded that “uninstalling WeChat is not realistic”.

But like analysts and hardcore fans, Mr Luo believes Zidan Duanxin can become a niche product without needing to topple its biggest rival.

Matthew Brennan, of China Channel consultancy, pinned the company’s early success on three factors: the personality of its founder, resentment among some users over WeChat’s market dominance and a number of superior features, including its voice to text translation capability.

“This is definitely not a WeChat killer,” he said. “But you could see it being a niche thing with hardcore followers.”

Being a minnow also has the advantage, at least temporarily, of being below the radar. WeChat is heavily monitored, making Zidan Duanxin “a much safer place to send sensitive information”, he said.

This year has seen a spate of challengers taking on China’s tech giants.

Douyin, the short-form video streaming app, sent ripples across the industry, winning users’ time not just from competing video services but also from other entertainment such as Tencent’s gaming.

In retail, three-year-old Pinduoduo has wooed shoppers and merchants and launched an initial public offering recently, giving it a market valuation of nearly $30bn.

Social Media Psychosis: Musk-Trump Disease is Born

August 24, 2018

In the age of social media, every opinion counts. Everyone feels free, and in fact empowered, to state his own views publicly.

But this may not be a good thing for either individuals or national governments.

Many learned scientists have said that social media encourages mob behavior. While democracies used to rely mostly upon the ballot box, with relative calm between election cycles, our current state of affairs is a continuous volley of charges and counter charges, in public, and not necessarily “in the public interest.”

Over night, Australia removed and replaced its prime minister in a vote of lawmakers, apparently because he was too calm and plodding for the current world.

People seem to be “juiced” toward conflict, anger, retribution and upheaval.

Wasn’t the Russian election meddling campaign about creating disunity?

How are they doing?

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Human being don’t normally thrive on upheaval as a way of life. And the psychological toll this takes, though difficult to measure, seems to be one declared universally “bad” by experts in the human brain.

Video games have been declared addictive yet parents seem not to care. Maybe because, social media like Facebook itself may also be addictive, and capturing the brain of many adults.

As a newspaper opinion writer, or columnist, I was once told by an angry reader to “stay in my lane.” Almost without thinking, I responded, “My lane is the world.”

Most psychologists — then — would have called that an egotistical, narcissistic and potential psychopathic response.

Today, everyone thinks he  or she can comment upon everything and anything on social media. Day and night.

But nobody seems to know or care that this could be a wave of egotistical, narcissistic and potential psychopathic mob behavior difficult if not impossible to stop.

Fortunately we haven’t had any social media related lynchings as yet, except in India and who knows  where else.

Competent medial authorities have told me that Elon Musk and Donald Trump are two people that just should just get off Twitter. Their unrestrained outbursts may be amusing but they could also be self destructive.

Maybe some bright young psychologist will study and name this self-destructive social media psychosis: Musk-Trump Disease.

This should be a lesson to us all to back off our social media use and give our brains a rest.

But it won’t. Your brain is too tricky for that.

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom


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The face of the Big Data backlash? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—pilloried here at a protest in Washington, D.C., earlier this year— is the most visible tech executive to grapple with fallout from a data scandal.
The face of the Big Data backlash? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—pilloried here at a protest in Washington, D.C., earlier this year— is the most visible tech executive to grapple with fallout from a data scandal. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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Neuroscience may help explain a current lack of social and emotional skills, impulse driven decision making and mob-like behavior in society…

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Social media is making children regress to mentality of three-year-olds, says top brain scientist

Videogame Developers Are Making It Harder to Stop Playing

August 20, 2018

layers are logging more hours as developers find new ways to keep them engaged

Attendees play ‘Fortnite’ at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles in June.
Attendees play ‘Fortnite’ at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles in June. PHOTO: PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Videogames have gotten harder to turn off, mental-health experts and parents say, raising concerns about the impact of seemingly endless gaming sessions on players’ lives.

Game developers for years have tweaked the dials not only on how games look and sound but how they operate under the hood, and such changes have made videogames more pervasive and enthralling, industry observers say.

The World Health Organization in June added “gaming disorder” to an updated version of its International Classification of Diseases, warning about a condition in which people give up interests and activities to overly indulge in gaming despite negative consequences. It is expected to be formally classified in January 2022.

Many games today are free, available on multiple devices and double as social networks. Where once games were played and put away for a while, now game companies are routinely delivering new content aimed at keeping players constantly engaged. Some new content is available only for a limited time, a maneuver that tugs at people’s fears of missing out, psychologists say.

“Videogames are engineered specifically to keep people playing,” said Douglas A. Gentile, a research scientist focused on the impact of media on children and adults. “They’re designed to hit the pleasure centers of the brain in some of the same ways that gambling can.”

The growing allure of games has parents such as Tracy Macon worried. Her 14-year-old son Matthew plays the tactical shooter game “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege” around the clock, she said. Taking away the computer he plays it on has caused meltdowns.

“He has no motivation to do anything else,” said Mrs. Macon, a 40-year-old office manager in Minneapolis. “It’s hard for the whole family.”

The videogame industry has long challenged criticism about the harmful effects of games. Its biggest trade group—the Entertainment Software Association—said the WHO’s proposal is based on “highly contested and inconclusive” research.

Some mental-health professionals say games can have a positive impact on players. They can help students improve in math and history, plus nurture team-building skills and creativity, said Rachel Kowert, a research psychologist focused on game technology. “The reputation games have is fueled by a moral panic, but their impact is more positive than negative,” she said.

Videogames are more popular than ever. Game-software revenue rose 80% between 2013 and 2017 to $97.6 billion world-wide, and this year is projected to reach $108.4 billion, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. By comparison, spending at the box office and on home-movie entertainment reached a global record of $88.4 billion in 2017, according to the latest data available from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Among the biggest changes fueling more interest in videogames is that many, such as the megahit “Fortnite,” encourage players to socialize, acting as social hot spots that are replacing malls and other teen hangouts.

After “Toon Blast” added the ability to chat and compete in tournaments with friends, people started playing 45 minutes a day on average, up from 30 minutes, according to its developer, Istanbul-based Peak Games Inc. “People like to help each other and socialize,” said Ömer İnönü, director of strategy.

The average amount of time each week people in the U.S. aged 13 and older spend playing videogames rose to 7.8 hours in 2017, up 60% from 2011, the first year the survey was conducted, according to Nielsen. It doesn’t survey children younger than 13 for research in this area.

The latest survey, taken in January, showed a drop to 6.5 hours a week. Nielsen didn’t give an explanation. Kit Yarrow, a psychologist who specializes in consumer behavior, said people likely are more reticent about their activity given repeated warnings over the years. “Once people realize they have a problem, they tend to underreport their usage,” she said.

“Fortnite,” which has amassed at least 125 million players since its July 2017 debut, embodies many of the tactics game creators use to keep people playing. It is available on many devices—consoles, computers and smartphones—and its popular last-person-standing mode is free.

Players can customize characters and buy virtual goods in ‘Fortnite’
Players can customize characters and buy virtual goods in ‘Fortnite’

Epic Games Inc. routinely changes the “Fortnite” landscape and storyline to keep players engaged. Virtual goods are frequently added to the game’s store, nudging players to customize their characters and show them off to friends.

Jake Claborn, a 16-year-old from Whitewright, Texas, said he logs into “Fortnite” for several hours daily in part because “all of my friends play it.” He says he frequently argues with his parents over the habit. “They usually have to tell me three or four times” to stop, he said.

Epic Games declined to comment.

One common feature that can help hook players is a virtual reward for logging in or completing a list of tasks daily.

“These types of extrinsic rewards build habits of regular engagement with a game, and can lead some players to compulsive or addictive behaviors,” said Patrick Jagoda, a professor at the University of Chicago who has researched how game-play techniques are used in business and culture.

Dan Hacker, a 25-year-old musician in Detroit, spends about three hours daily playing Electronic Arts Inc.’s FIFA franchise. The more time he invests in the soccer game, the more free virtual currency he acquires to spend to create a dream team.

“It definitely feels like I have an obligation to play,” he said.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at