Posts Tagged ‘Whatsapp’

WhatsApp co-founder leaving Facebook in dispute over privacy issue

May 1, 2018

Jan Koum, the co-founder of WhatsApp, announced that he will be leaving the messaging service and its parent company Facebook Inc. Koum reportedly clashed with Facebook over plans to use WhatsApp users’ personal data.

WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum (Getty Images for Discovery/L. Cunningham)

In a post on his Facebook page, WhatsApp co-founder said he was leaving the smartphone messaging service and breaking with its parent company Facebook.

The world’s most popular instant messaging apps

“It’s been almost a decade since [co-founder Brian Acton] and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an amazing journey with some of the best people,” Koum said in the post, adding: “But it is time for me to move on.”

Read moreWhatsApp raises minimum age for users in Europe

His decision comes amid a data privacy scandal that has been dogging WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook Inc. for weeks.

In response to Koum’s post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thanked Koum for teaching him more about encryption and “its ability to take power from centralized systems and put it back in people’s hands.”

“Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp,” Zuckerberg said.

Read moreGhana asks mosques to turn down the noise and use WhatsApp for call to prayer

Data Mining vs. Data Privacy

Clash over personal data

Koum didn’t provide a reason for his sudden departure, except to say that he wanted to spend more time “collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate Frisbee.”

His exit is likely linked to clashes he had with Facebook over WhatsApp’s strategy and the parent company’s plans to use users’ personal data and weaken the app’s encryption, the Washington Postreported earlier on Monday.

WhatsApp currently claims to have over 1.2 billion users worldwide. The app quickly grew in popularity in part due to its policy of storing encrypted messages on users’ smartphones and not on a central company server — making it more private.

Koum founded the messaging service along with Brian Acton in 2009. Facebook Inc. bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion (€15.7 billion). Acton left the company last September to start a non-profit.

Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have spent weeks dealing with the fallout from a personal data scandal involving political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. It was revealed last month that the personal data of 87 million Facebook users wound up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm tied to US President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

rs/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)


Online myth busters fight tide of fake news in India

April 23, 2018

Fake news in India has caused riots, stampedes and murders…

© AFP/File / by Abhaya SRIVASTAVA | Exposing fake news before it spreads is a herculean task in India, where an estimated quarter of a billion people use social media

NEW DELHI (AFP) – As grief and outrage over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old crescendoed in India last week, a wrenching video of the supposed victim singing “her last song” lit up phones across the country.But it was a hoax. The clip was nearly a year old and the girl someone entirely different, a lie that was discovered by a team of fact checkers who debunk the “fake news” shared by millions of Indians every day.

It is a herculean task exposing fake news before it spreads like wildfire in India, where an estimated quarter of a billion people use Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

Small teams of myth busters must compete with huge volumes of content being shared in a multitude of languages, in many cases by first-time internet users unskilled in discerning fact from fiction.

Independent fact checkers know the stakes are especially high in India, where fake news has quickly ignited violence.

Erroneous rumours of a salt shortage sparked panic across four states in November, triggering stampedes outside marketplaces that left one woman dead and countless injured.

Angry mobs in eastern India beat seven men to death in May after they were accused of child trafficking in unverified messages circulated on social media.

– Velocity creates veracity –

Govindraj Ethiraj, founder and editor of Boom, a fact-checking website, said his team encountered at least a dozen instances of fake news a day “that can cause serious harm”.

“India is perhaps the only country where there are such violent outcomes of fake news,” he told AFP.

“The way it manifests itself in India, I don’t think it happens in any other country. We are worst affected by this menace.”

Boom, which revealed the viral clip of the alleged child rape victim to be a fake, has just six people on its staff and is one of a handful of independent fact-checking teams in India.

Facebook this week announced a partnership with Boom to monitor state polls in Karnataka, its first such initiative in India, as the social media giant faces global scrutiny over its platform being misused to meddle in elections.

India is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing internet markets, with just over a third of its 1.25 billion people connected to the web.

Cheap data packages and inexpensive smartphones are bringing millions of new users online who are often unable to detect real news from fake, said Pratik Sinha, founder of “anti-propaganda site” AltNews.

“Suddenly people, especially from rural areas, are inundated with information and are unable to distinguish what is real from what is not,” he told AFP.

“They tend to believe whatever is sent to them.”

Many of the hoaxes debunked by AltNews have incendiary potential: false allegations of low-caste Indians going on a destructive rampage, or Hindu women being taunted by Muslims in a hotbed state.

Ethiraj said this content often swirled “in corners of the country that we don’t even know about”, going viral in one of India’s myriad regional languages.

Once it takes off, it can be hard to stop: “Velocity creates veracity. People start believing it,” he said.

It was a problem that “lawmakers and the police are finding difficult to deal with”, Ethiraj added.

– Photoshopped pictures –

Prime Minister Narendra Modi this month reversed an order to punish journalists found guilty of reporting fake news after an outcry over press freedom.

Some government ministers from the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have fallen foul of fake news.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted about an Oscar-winning music director supporting a BJP curb on cow slaughter, later conceding the information “seems unverified”.

Cow slaughter is a hot-button issue in India as the majority Hindus consider the animal sacred.

A photo of Modi sweeping a floor went viral ahead of the 2014 election he won with a thumping mandate. It was later revealed the image was doctored.

A year later, an image of Modi surveying flood damage was pulled from a government website after being exposed as photoshopped.

Pankaj Jain, founder of, said the rise of fake news presented challenges ahead of India’s 2019 general election and it was important to present the truth to the people.

“They need to be shown the truth in the way in which they consume (news) most like regional language channels and newspapers,” he said.


“Deepfake” — Using artificial intelligence to make anyone say or do anything on video — Next big danger for Facebook, Google, others

April 22, 2018

Times of India


  • Deepfake is the new frontier in fake news where artificial intelligence is used to make anyone say or do anything on video.
  • Desktop tools like FakeApp make deepfakes absurdly easy, a matter of hours to make. And it has already resulted in a spurt of AI porn.

No automatic alt text available.

Recently, someone claiming to represent an Indian political party approached an artificial intelligence engineer with a special request: Create “deepfakes” for propaganda.

Deepfake is the new frontier in fake news + where artificial intelligence is used to make anyone say or do anything on video. Last week, the usually quiet Barack Obama popped up in an online video calling US president Donald Trump “a total and complete dips**t”.

Well, Obama never said those things, and the video turned out to be what is called a deep fake, a type of video featuring realistic face swapping. It was created by director Jordan Peele in partnership with Buzzfeed as a warning about not automatically trusting anything on the internet.

Digital fakery is not new — we know photos can be morphed, videos can be edited. Face swapping tech is not new either. But now, with deep learning by machines, these tricks can be automated, and the tools are accessible to many more people, says Rishabh Srivastava of Loki Technologies, a machine learning startup.

Current forensic tools won’t detect this fakery: Cyber expert

Subodh Kumar, a professor at IIT Delhi who specialises in computer graphics and visualisation, explains that the idea is for a neural network to learn the points of the face, then find and learn the function that will describe each image. “It creates a succinct representation of the face — mathematically, not geometrically — and then a symmetric function that gives you back the image. So you do that for person X from the many images in a video, and reverse map it for person Y,” he says. By finding points of correspondence, you can overlay one face on another, then blend it to look smooth.

The big problem is that current forensic tools will not be able to detect this fakery, explains cybersecurity expert Akash Mahajan. “With deep learning, when you have recurrent multiple steps, it is hard to trace back the trail the machine took to reach the output,” he says. So the hoaxslayers and fact-checkers we now have, or even forensics experts who look for audio glitches, shadows and visual discrepancies to spot fakes, won’t be able to help.

Desktop tools like FakeApp make deepfakes absurdly easy, a matter of hours to make. And it has already resulted in a spurt of AI porn. Late last year, a Reddit user called Deepfakes showed how you could transpose a celebrity’s face onto someone else’s body, while keeping the expressions of the original.

Even a few Bollywood actresses like Priyanka Chopra have been deepfaked, in violation of their rights and dignity. Crude splice and dice videos are already commonplace — Arvind Kejriwal’s speech was allegedly faked during the Punjab election to suggest he wanted people to vote for the Congress — but AI could bring a new sophistication to these attempts. “We are vigilant to the danger of deepfakes, but the media and the public are not,” says Ankit Lal, social media head of the Aam Aadmi Party. “Some media organisation could get a deepfaked video of Arvind (Kejriwal) or any other politician and run it as the truth: that is the danger we anticipate,” he adds.

Of course, right now it doesn’t take deepfakery to dupe people, points out Pankaj Jain of SM Hoax Slayer.

“People will believe even a celebrity picture with a fake quote, as recently happened with Amitabh Bachchan,” he says. While this gullibility is generally true, and people tend to believe what we want to believe, realistic video footage is usually taken as documentary proof. It could be hugely destabilising if phony videos are passed off as truth on social media.

“While we have not seen deepfakes of Indian politicians on open platforms like Facebook and Google yet, it’s hard to know if they have been spread on closed platforms like WhatsApp,” says Srivastava. It’s entirely likely to happen soon, given the flood of misinformation that already exists.

In today’s world, when machines can recombine audio and video to create an alternative reality, seeing is not believing.


Singapore police warn of scam involving hacked WhatsApp accounts

April 18, 2018

SINGAPORE: The police have received reports of WhatsApp accounts being taken over by scammers, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said in a news release on Wednesday (Apr 18).

Victims would first receive a WhatsApp message from one of their contacts, whose WhatsApp account might have been compromised. The message asks for WhatsApp account verification codes that the victims would have received through SMS.

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“The victims would subsequently lose access to their WhatsApp account once the WhatsApp verification codes are sent to the scammers,” the police said.

SPF added that a variant of the scam has been reported overseas where the scammers were known to have used the compromised accounts to deceive the account holders’ contacts into purchasing gift cards and sending over the password for the cards.

The scammers then sold the gift cards online.

The police advised members of the public to beware of unusual requests received over WhatsApp, even if they were sent by their WhatsApp contacts.

Anyone with more information on such scams can call the police hotline at 1800-255-0000, or dial 999 for urgent police assistance.

To seek scam-related advice, members of the public may call the National Crime Prevention Council’s anti-scam helpline at 1800-722-6688 or visit

Source: CNA/mn(cy)


Russia begins blocking access to Telegram

April 16, 2018


© AFP | Popular messaging app Telegram says it has 200 million active users
MOSCOW (RUSSIA) (AFP) – Russia’s communications watchdog on Monday began blocking access to the popular messaging app Telegram after a court banned the service for refusing to give security services access to private conversations.”Roskomnadzor has received the ruling of (Moscow’s) Tagansky court to block Telegram’s services on Russian territory. This information was sent to providers on Monday 16th of April,” the watchdog said in a statement.

Some Russian internet providers began blocking Telegram on Monday afternoon.

“Russian authorities have begun blocking Telegram. The service could be unstable without a VPN. We will inform you on the developing situation,” the messaging app notified its Russian users.

The Kremlin’s press service told journalists on Monday that it will be switching to ICQ, a 1990s chat service now owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s, to communicate with them.

“It is telling that authoritarian governments (e.g. Russia) are trying to block Telegram over encryption, but are more relaxed when it comes to other encrypted messaging apps,” Pavel Durov, the app’s maverick creator — dubbed Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg — wrote on Twitter.

Writing on Vkontakte, the social media platform he founded that is now under state control, Durov said the decision harms Russia’s national security as users will switch to WhatsApp and Facebook which are “controlled from the US.”

“We believe the ban is anti-constitutional and will continue to defend the right of Russians to private messaging,” Durov, who left Russia in 2014 and is now based in Dubai, said.

Durov has long said he will reject any attempt by the country’s security services to gain backdoor access to the app.

The ban followed a long-running battle between authorities and Telegram, which has a reputation for securely encrypted communications, as Moscow pushes to increase surveillance of internet activities.

Telegram, a free application that lets people exchange messages, stickers, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted more than 200 million users since its launch by Durov and his brother Nikolai in 2013.

Telegram is especially popular among political activists, of all stripes, and is used by the Kremlin to communicate with journalists, but it has also been used by jihadists.

Russia has acted to curb Internet freedoms as social media has become the main way to organise demonstrations.

Indonesia blocks online-blogging site Tumblr over porn

March 6, 2018


© AFP/File | Tumblr has fallen foul of Indonesia’s government
JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia has blocked online blogging service Tumblr over pornographic content, the government said Tuesday, in Jakarta’s latest crackdown on obscenity.

The government of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation blocked Tumblr on Monday, saying the New York-based company had not replied to its February letter demanding that pornographic content be scrubbed from the platform within 48 hours.

The ministry of technology and information said it had received multiple reports about obscene content on the microblogging and social networking website, which has about 400 million blogs on its service globally.

“After investigating, we found at least 360 Tumblr accounts contained pornographic content,” ministry spokesman Noor Iza told AFP.

Tumblr could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jakarta in 2016 threatened to block Tumblr’s service in the country of 260 million but did not follow through on the threat.

The ministry on Tuesday said Tumblr would be accessible again once the company complied with the government’s order.

The shutdown was met with anger by some internet users.

“Those 360 accounts are less than one percent” of the total users, one said on Twitter.

“It’s like burning an entire forest just to kill one worm. You might as well block Google.”

Indonesia brought in a tough anti-pornography law in 2008 that criminalises any work deemed obscene.

It blocked popular video-sharing website Vimeo in 2014 after accusing it of hosting pornographic content.

Last November the government threatened to ban social network Facebook and messaging app WhatsApp unless the platforms removed obscene Graphics Interchange Format material from their services.

This year Google pulled Blued, one of the world’s largest gay dating apps, from the Indonesian version of its online store in response to government demands.

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


Afghanistan moves to block WhatsApp, Telegram messaging services

November 4, 2017


KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s telecoms regulator wrote to internet service providers this week ordering them to block the messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram but it was not immediately clear whether they had complied.

Use of social media and mobile instant messaging services has exploded in Afghanistan over recent years. Social media users and civil rights groups reacted with outrage to initial reports of the move and the letter sent by telecoms regulator ATRA was widely shared on social media.

Some media reports, citing unidentified sources, said the move had been ordered by the National Directorate for Security to thwart the use of the encrypted messaging services by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the reports.

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The acting minister for telecommunications, Shahzad Aryobee, posted a message on Facebook saying that the telecoms regulator had been ordered to put a gradual block on the services to improve their functioning after complaints had been received.

“The government is committed to freedom of speech and knows that it is a basic civil right for our people,” he wrote.

The letter by telecoms regulator ATRA, dated Nov. 1 and signed by an official of the regulator, directed internet companies to block Telegram and Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) WhatsApp services “without delay” for a period of 20 days.

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However, the service worked normally this week and still appeared to be working normally on Saturday on both state-owned operator Salaam and private service providers.

On Friday, there were reports of interruptions but it was not clear whether they were caused by a deliberate shutdown or by the unrelated issues with WhatsApp services that were experienced in several countries.

Mobile phone services have been one of the big success stories in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power by a U.S.-led campaign in 2001, but there are also frequent complaints from users about quality and coverage.

WhatsApp and similar services, including Facebook Messenger and Viber, are widely used by Afghan politicians and members of the government as well as by the Taliban, which has a sophisticated social media operation of its own.

The movement’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, wrote to reporters this week giving his Viber number “in case WhatsApp is not working”.

Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Paul Tait

Facebook, Take Note: In China’s ‘New Era,’ the Communist Party Comes First

November 2, 2017

U.S. tech companies need to rethink their relationship with China—and fast

The Wall Street Journal

American tech giants need to rethink their relationship with China. Now.

The need to do so was evident on Monday when Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook and a bevy of other leaders in the worlds of technology, finance and industry were whisked to the Great Hall of the People to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Mr. Xi was fresh off a Communist Party congress that anointed him as China’s paramount leader. The business chieftains, members of an advisory board to Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, were the first foreigners to congratulate Mr. Xi in person on his success.

Congratulate, they did. According to the official People’s Daily, Mr. Cook expressed his admiration for Mr. Xi’s leadership in global governance. Mr. Zuckerberg borrowed a phrase from Mr. Xi’s speech to the congress, “Never forget where you started,” and hoped China would develop as fast as it has the past 30 years.

Asked about the meeting, Apple declined to comment other than to point to remarks Mr. Cook made during a teleconference with analysts in August when China’s censorship policies came up: “We believe in engaging with governments even when we disagree.” A Facebook spokeswoman also didn’t directly comment but reiterated a statement that the company remains interested in China and is focused on getting Chinese businesses to use its ad platform.

Messrs. Cook and Zuckerberg weren’t the only ones who spoke during the meeting. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Blackstone Group Chairman Stephen Schwarzman and Jim Breyer, an early Facebook investor and chairman of the advisory board, also praised Mr. Xi’s leadership of China.

China hasn’t been an easy market for foreign companies in many sectors. Technology is particularly fraught because it influences the way people think and thus is being brought under ever tighter control by Mr. Xi’s government.

Mr. Zuckerberg and the other American technology leaders should recognize that China is entering a “new era”—a phrase used in the title of Mr. Xi’s speech to the congress. In this era, according to Mr. Xi’s policy blueprint, the Communist Party will be supreme. The bargaining power of foreign tech companies, never high, is likely to dwindle.

“Zuckerberg and so forth have many illusions about China,” says Chen Zhiwu, director of Asia Global Institute and professor of economics at the University of Hong Kong.  Chief among them, he said, is a tendency to see Chinese leaders as economic pragmatists and play down political statements. “They should understand it’s really different this time,” he says.

China’s tech giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Jack Ma and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s Pony Ma, were also at the meeting with Mr. Xi, sitting in the second row. Microsoft Corp.’s CEO Satya Nadella and iPhone manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group founder Terry Gou were there, too, part of the roughly two dozen advisory board members to attend.

A five-minute report shown on national television’s prime-time newscast featured 10 seconds of applause for Mr. Xi from the executives. That was after he told them that the goal of education is to “train the builders and successors of socialism with Chinese characteristics, not bystanders and opponents.”

‘Zuckerberg and so forth have many illusions about China. ’

—Chen Zhiwu, director of Asia Global Institute and professor of economics at the University of Hong Kong

Social-media users cackled about the event. Some referred to Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Cook as “comrades.” Others said the executives looked like representatives of the toothless government advisory body the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference reporting to Mr. Xi. Some publications closed off their social-media posts’ comment function.

During Mr. Xi’s first five years in power, censorship has grown more severe, taking aim at critical remarks and foreign content. That trend looks likely to worsen. “The party leads everything” is a sentence that the recent congress added to the party constitution at Mr. Xi’s behest.

Mr. Zuckerberg, who shed his usual casual wardrobe for a suit and a tie to see Mr. Xi, should have seen this coming. When Mr. Xi took power in 2012, only Facebook was blocked. Now Facebook’s Instagram is blocked and WhatsApp is partially blocked. Apple has had to police its app offerings in China, removing applications that circumvent censorship.

Especially challenging for the foreign tech leaders to understand is that the party’s priorities have shifted under Mr. Xi from economic growth to political control and what that might mean for their businesses. According to his newly endorsed policy program, Mr. Xi sees a strategic opportunity to make China a rich superpower. Only the party can provide the leadership—and maintain the firm control—necessary to do that.

That means that as they pursue greater access to China’s huge market, the foreign tech firms are going to have to accept a bigger role for the party. The government is already seeking a say in management decisions by some tech firms. It is demanding access to user data and investing heavily in surveillance technologies.

Facebook is drawing heat in the U.S. and Europe about Russia’s use of its platform to meddle with elections. In his remarks to Mr. Xi, Mr. Zuckerberg said, “If billions in the world could hear China’s voice, the world will become a better place.” A question is what will Facebook do when it is the Communist Party’s voice that demands to be heard?

Write to Li Yuan at

China internet censorship: New crackdowns and rules are here to stay

October 28, 2017

Image may contain: 6 people, people sitting and indoor



Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a message for the world during his opening speech at the 19th Communist Party Congress: China supports an open economy, and it will further liberalize its markets to foreign investors.

But while the leadership talks of financial liberalization, some facets of life inside the world’s second-largest economy are becoming a lot less free.

That’s especially true for digital communication inside China. Regulators have moved aggressively to curtail what the country’s more than 750 million internet users can or cannot do online. While Beijing has shut out access to Google and Facebook in the past, new restrictions introduced this year have been some of the strictest ever, according to experts.

This year, authorities have cracked down on China’s top video-streaming websites, doubled down on their crackdown of virtual private networks (VPNs), removed foreign TV shows from online platforms, required users to register to online forums with their real names and introduced laws that hold chat group admins accountable for what is said in their spaces.

New rules also require online news websites to be overseen by government-approved editorial staff and for workers to have reporting credentials from the central government.

Those limitations are likely here to stay, and may even grow, tech experts and china watchers told CNBC.

Circumvention intervention

Internet users in China have long relied on circumvention tools to access hundreds of websites that have been blocked by the country’s censorship apparatus.

Zahra, a student who has been living in the mainland for six years, had relied on VPNs to get past China’s infamous “Great Firewall” and connect to the outside world. It also allows users privacy by hiding browsing activities from internet service providers.

The 23-year-old medical student, who asked to be identified by only her first name, told CNBC that VPNs allowed her to access YouTube and numerous reference websites that were relevant to her coursework.

“It’s like being shut off from the world.”-Zahra, a medical student in China, who relies on VPN for her studies.

While Beijing allowed users some wiggle room in the past, commentators said pressure had been mounting on authorities to rein in China’s growing online space. Unlike the heavily regulated offline media in the country, the internet had allowed anyone to disseminate information and express critical opinions with little chance of punishment.

“The increasing pressure to gain control over online media is longstanding, reflecting Xi’s goal to treat online media in the same way as traditional media,” Paul Triolo, practice head for geo-technology at consultancy Eurasia Group, told CNBC.

As a result, authorities this year have aggressively targeted VPNs as part of what they characterized as an effort to clean up China’s domestic internet.

Though quite a few VPN services are still functioning on the mainland, a source told CNBC in July that some of the remaining companies could end up collaborating with the authorities and hand over user data when requested.

Zahra told CNBC that it has become harder in recent months to rely on VPNs to access banned websites from the mainland. Many of the services, she said, were either not working or the connections through them were very slow.

“It’s like being shut off from the world,” she said.

China’s new cybersecurity law leaves companies with uncertainty  

It’s not just VPNs, either. Authorities have also stepped up restrictions in other areas to control the online narrative surrounding the country’s national and political identity.

The moves from the Chinese government keep “surprising me (in not a good way) in terms of what else they can regulate, control and censor,” Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told CNBC in an email. “Let’s also not forget that they push propaganda and misinformation actively.”

He even predicted that Beijing officials could begin “taking a more active role outside their borders. There have been signs of that: lobbying at the UN level, the kidnapping of the booksellers, the great cannon, etc.”

Reports have previously detailed the “Great Cannon” — a term coined by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab for a Chinese tool that can flood a website with traffic to overwhelm its servers and, as a result, force it offline.

For now, Tsui explained the current restrictions to control the domestic internet are on multiple levels that “push the Great Firewall even higher.”

On a technical level, he said, China is increasing disruptions to messaging services like WhatsApp or circumvention tools like VPN. Existing regulation such as real-name registration are being enforced more strictly and new laws are holding more platform stakeholders liable for online content, he said.

“Controls on new media are much stricter now than we have seen at any point since the dawn of the internet,” David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, told CNBC.

Since regulators have “effectively neutralized” the dissemination of any unwanted information in traditional media, “the real heart of controls is shifting to cyberspace,” he added.

Regulations vs. ‘special measures’

Beijing has often made headlines for restricting the flow of information online, but this time is fundamentally different, experts said.

Historically, authorities have tightened controls over the domestic internet in the lead up to the once-every-five-years Communist Party Congress. Even though the event drew to a close on Tuesday, regulators are unlikely to now roll back many of the tighter regulations, analysts said.

There are two kinds of restrictions used by the authorities.

First are the publicly announced moves introduced by regulatory bodies, explained Rogier Creemers, a researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands. So-called special measures are the other kind of restriction. They are aimed at creating a stable online environment during a major event like the Party Congress, Creemers explained.

Companies themselves may seek to clamp down on their users ahead of such important national occasions, said Charlie Smith, the co-founder of China censorship monitor, who operates under a pseudonym. Such private sector measures include preventing certain videos from being shown or not letting users alter their profile pictures.

“These are moves being made to make sure that your users do not do anything stupid during the Congress,” Smith said. “These restrictions will be lifted as soon as the meeting is over.”

But Smith said the crackdown on circumvention tools like VPNs were likely to stay and the “current state of difficulty” that the Chinese encounter when trying to access the free internet is going to be the “new normal.”

Creemers concurred, telling CNBC that broader regulations were “likely here to stay.”

Eurasia Group’s Triolo added that Xi’s vision of cyber-sovereignty means that “China should be able to control and monitor all internet traffic that traverses China’s internet infrastructure.”

On top of all the external controls, Beijing is also considering taking a stake in some of China’s largest internet companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. Planting a flag in those firms would likely give the Chinese government a more absolute role in corporate decision-making.

Beijing’s 2017 crackdown

Jan. 22 – China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says it will clean up the domestic internet by March 31, 2018.

May 2 – The Cyberspace Administration of China introduces new restrictions that require online news platforms to be managed by party-sanctioned editorial staff.

Jun. 1 – China’s new cybersecurity law goes into effect, which requires foreign businesses in the country to store crucial data on local servers. The move draws criticism due to vaguely defined terminology and worries over potential surveillance.

Jun. 22 – Beijing shuts down online video services of three Chinese media sites: Weibo, ACFUN and Previously, authorities shuttered 60 popular celebrity gossip social media accounts for not being in line with “core socialist values,” according to Reuters.

Jun. 29 – The Ministry of Culture shuts down 12 live-streaming mobile apps and hands out administrative punishments to another 20.

Jul. 10 – Beijing orders China MobileChina Telecom and China Unicom to bar the use of VPNs by Feb. 1, 2018, according to a report.

Jul. 18 – Reports say users experience difficulties sending and receiving photos on Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger without a VPN.

Jul. 31 – iPhone-maker Apple pulls several VPN services from the local version of the App Store — the move is slammed by multiple VPN service providers online.

Sept. 4 – China bans streaming of dramatic video content that does not have government permits.

Sept. 7 – China issues new rules that require internet chat service providers to verify the identities of users and keep a log of group chats for no less than six months, according to Reuters. Those rules also require those who manage chat groups to monitor the online activity of their fellow forum members. The regulations also said that chat group service providers had to establish a credit scoring system.

Sept. 25 – Regulators fine tech giants BaiduWeibo and Tencent for failing to deal with pornography, violence and other banned content on their social-media platforms.

Oct. 1 – New rules require internet users to register their real names when using online forums. Authorities have attempted to push “real-name” registration before — users of social media platform Weibo and online portal Sohu have been asked register their identities in the past — but those initiatives were not as strictly implemented.

—Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Lokman Tsui is a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.