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Newley's Notes

NN258: Confident Canines

Hong Kong license plate: sadness

Sent as an email newsletter April 11, 2021. Join my email list to get future editions.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Image of the week, above: a personalized license plate spotted here in Hong Kong.

😔 Insert “mood: 2021” joke here.

(Once again, kudos to Anasuya for the snapshot!) Pair with: “No drama,” spotted last year.

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 📦 “Amazon employees in Alabama voted not to unionize, handing the tech giant a victory in its biggest battle yet against labor-organizing efforts that fueled national debate over working conditions at one of the nation’s largest employers,” my colleague Sebastian Herrera reports.

2) 🧠 How will we remember the pandemic? Through anecdotes and stories, writes Melissa Fay Greene at The Atlantic. “The process of crafting these stories will help determine our resilience and well-being. How we tell our stories can transform how we move forward from hard times.”

3) 🇬🇧 Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, died at age 99. They were married for 73 years.

4) 💰 China has created its own digital currency, a “a re-imagination of money that could shake a pillar of American power.” Fascinating story by my colleague James T. Areddy.

5) 🌏 The U.S. National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2040 report, released every four years, is out. Institutions may face “cascading global challenges,” such as “climate change, disease, financial crises and ever-advancing technology,” VOA reports.

6) 🧰 Data-driven WSJ deep dive: “Where Can You Find a New Job? Try These U.S. Cities.” Hint: Think “Silicon Slopes…”

7) 🧙‍♂️ A made-for-TV film based on Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” released in the Soviet Union in 1991, was long forgotten. Now it’s enjoying a new life on YouTube.

8) 🎧 Podcast of the week: Economist Tyler Cowen speaks with poet – and former General Foods executive – Dana Gioia on topics ranging from Jell-O marketing techniques to poetry, art, literature, Catholicism – and that sandbox in Brian Wilson’s house.

9) 🤑 Longread of the week, in Bloomberg Businessweek: “Bill Hwang Had $20 Billion, Then Lost It All in Two Days.

10) 🌋 Mesmerizing timelapse video of the week: 18 days of Icelandic volcano eruptions packed into 5 minutes.

•••

🦴 Dog-related video of the week: “This Is Called Trust.”

•••

📖 What I’ve been reading:

After reading Steven Pressfield’s excellent “The War of Art,” I turned to a journalistic classic: Janet Malcolm’s 1990 book “The Journalist and the Murderer,” which was originally serialized in the New Yorker.

It’s about a fraud lawsuit Jeffrey MacDonald – who was convicted of murdering his wife and children – brought against Joe McGinniss, who wrote a bestselling book about the case, “Fatal Vision.” Malcolm – who was herself sued by the subject of a profile – explores topics such as journalistic ethics, psychology, and truth. Highly recommended.

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

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Newley's Notes

NN257: Microphone-Munching Mongrels

KitKat pop-up in HK

KitKat pop-up in HK

Sent as an email newsletter April 5, 2021. Enter your email address to get future editions.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

🐰 I hope you had a restful Easter, friends.

🍫 Image of the week, above, amid a chocolate-centric holiday: There is a new KitKat popup store here in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district.

Special “limited edition” flavors for sale include matcha, ruby chocolate, and yuzu. Open until May 2. Find more info here. (Well spotted and photographed, Anasuya!)

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 🗞 My latest, an exclusive that went online Friday and was in Saturday’s print WSJ: Facebook Staff Fret Over China’s Ads Portraying Happy Muslims in Xinjiang. The story begins:

HONG KONG – Facebook Inc. is blocked in China, but Beijing is a big user of the platform to spread its political views to hundreds of millions of people overseas, sometimes via advertisements.

Now, some Facebook staff are raising concerns on internal message boards and in other employee discussions that the company is being used as a conduit for state propaganda, highlighting sponsored posts from Chinese organizations that purport to show Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs thriving in China’s Xinjiang region, according to people familiar with the matter.

🧵 I wrote more in this Twitter thread.

2) ✈️ People in America are traveling again as the vaccine roll-out continues. On Friday the TSA screened the highest number of people – more than 1.5 million – since the Covid–19 pandemic began.

3) 🔍 Video cameras, facial recognition, license plate readers, cell tower records: “How America’s surveillance networks helped the FBI catch the Capitol mob.”

4) 🏠 U.S. housing boom 2.0? "Limited housing supply, low rates, a global reach for yield, and what we’re calling the institutionalization of real-estate investors has set the stage for another speculative investor-driven home price bubble.” Smart story by my colleague Ryan Dezember.

5) 🪙 Two fascinating archeology stories caught my eye this week. The first: Arabian coins from the 17th century found in New England could provide a hint as to the fate of pirate Henry Every.

6) 🦜 …and the second: mummified parrots found in Chile show how people during the 12th and 15th centuries ferried goods – via llama – from the Amazon jungle through the Andes to the Atacama Desert.

7) 🎧 Hua Hsu in the New Yorker on the growing popularity of podcasts by professional athletes: “If athlete-driven podcasts were once shoestring affairs, they’ve now been absorbed into the sports-media economy.”

8) ❓Reddit thread full of interesting tips: “What is the most effective psychological ‘trick’ you use?”

9) 🏀 Buzzer-beater of the week: Jalen Suggs’s bank shot from just inside mid-court, sending Gonzaga past UCLA and into the NCAA final.

10) 🛰 See a satellite tonight: “No telescope required. Click to search for viewing times at your location.”

•••

🦴 Dog-related video of the week: “A dog in Russia grabbed the reporter’s microphone and ran away during a live broadcast.” (Bonus, related video: “Interviewing Pets With a Mini Microphone Compilation.”)

•••

📖 What I’ve been reading:

I finished Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” and then turned to the Steven Pressfield classic “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles,” which I enjoyed. Searching for my next nonfiction read…

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.” – Marcus Aurelius

•••

🤗 What’s new with you? Hit reply to send me tips, queries, random comments, and videos of spotlight-stealing dogs.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Journalism Tech

Facebook Staff Fret Over China’s Ads Portraying Happy Muslims in Xinjiang

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive that went online Friday and was in Saturday’s print WSJ. It begins:

Facebook Inc. is blocked in China, but Beijing is a big user of the platform to spread its political views to hundreds of millions of people overseas, sometimes via advertisements.

Now, some Facebook staff are raising concerns on internal message boards and in other employee discussions that the company is being used as a conduit for state propaganda, highlighting sponsored posts from Chinese organizations that purport to show Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs thriving in China’s Xinjiang region, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. and some European governments say Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, citing a campaign that includes political indoctrination, mass internment and forced sterilizations.

Facebook hasn’t determined whether to act on the concerns, say people familiar with the matter. The company is watching how international organizations such as the United Nations respond to the situation in Xinjiang, one of the people said. The U.N. this week called on firms conducting Xinjiang-linked business to undertake “meaningful human rights due diligence” on their operations.

Click through to read the rest.

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Newley's Notes

NN256: Savvy Street Dogs

Sichuan soup

Sent as an email newsletter March 29, 2021. Sign up to receive future dispatches in your inbox.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

🥢 Image of the week, above: a delectable Sichuan soup we had with a friend on Saturday. I’d never had it before. It’s called suan cai yu and it is fantastic: poached fish, pickled greens, and chilis. More on the dish is here.

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 🚢 A massive, 1,300-foot container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, snarling global shipping traffic. Here’s a high-res image taken from space.

👉 The incident has spawned many, many jokes. There’s IsTheShipStillStuck dot com, for all the latest news. There’s a parody dating app (“Meet other singles stuck in the Suez Canal”). And there’s even a website that lets you drag the ship to different locations on a global map.

🚨 Oh, and the very latest: The ship now appears to be nearly free.

2) 🦠 Good news on the vaccine front from the U.S.: more doses are on the way. Manufacturers have been boosting production; one estimate says they’ll hit 132 million doses in March, up from fewer than 50 million last month, my colleague Peter Loftus reports.

3) 💉 Speaking of vaccines: Hong Kong in recent weeks began offering shots to people over the age of 30 – and also suffered a new cluster of infections, requiring some people to quarantine in government facilities. For a description of what it’s all been like, read this essay by Ben Kostrzewa, a trade attorney here in the city, featuring some striking images of his lodgings: “From Quarantine to Vaccine in a Week.”

4) 💻 File under “effects of the pandemic”: overwork. “Employees say work-life boundaries blurred, then vanished,” my colleague Chip Cutter reports, “as waking life came to mean ‘always on’ at work.”

5) 🇨🇳 In geopolitical takes: When it comes to Taiwan, historian and author Niall Ferguson sees only trouble ahead for the U.S. and China. “While America’s multitasking foxes have been adding to their laundry list of grievances, the Chinese hedgehog has steadily been building its capacity to take over Taiwan,” he writes.

6) 🏀 Longread of the week: “Kobe Bryant’s Tragic Flight,” by Jeff Wise in Vanity Fair.

7) 🎨 You can now search more than 480,000 of the Louvre’s works via the museum’s website.

8) 🐳 Sign of the apocalypse, 2021 edition: “Humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers, and no one knows why.”

9) 🦐 Sentence of the week, continuing the maritime theme: “This is not General Mills’ first shrimp rodeo.”

10) 🦄 Feel-good dog-related story of the week, from Kenansville, North Carolina: Sisu (who kind of looks like our Ginger) finally got his purple unicorn toy. (Thanks, PB!)

•••

🦴 Dog-related video of the week: “Two strong independent Doggos who don’t need no Hooman for backrubs.”

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“The secret of happiness is something to do. — John Burroughs

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN255: Office pups transporting pens

Sent as an email newsletter March 21, 2021. Sign up to receive future dispatches in your inbox.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

🍫 Image of the week, above: Yes, that is a gin and tonic-flavored Easter egg I spotted in a Marks and Spencer grocery store here in Hong Kong. It’s a new product, apparently. The Easter confection 2021 demands!

My latest at Newley.com

🐦 I mentioned, in NN249 last month, that we’d recently been on a birding trip here in Hong Kong. I have more details in a just-published blog post: Birdwatching in Hong Kong’s Mai Po Nature Reserve.

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 👉 A man killed eight people in three spas in the Atlanta area Tuesday, including six women of Asian descent. The shootings have mobilized “Asian-Americans who have seen their communities victimized by hate crimes over the past year, even if police haven’t determined whether the shooting belongs in that category,” my colleagues Valerie Bauerlein, Esther Fung and Cameron McWhirter report.

2) 🎬 Oscar nominations are out. “Mank” – a black and white Netflix film, starring Gary Oldman, about Herman J. Mankiewicz and the filming of “Citizen Kane” (trailer here) – got ten. Last year was, as the AP put it, “a pandemic year that shuttered movie theaters and upended the movie business.”

3) 🌁 RIP Silicon Valley? Tim O’Reilly points out four challenges the region faces, beyond Covid–19: the life sciences revolution, looming tech regulation, climate change, and the “end of the betting economy.”

4) 🌏 Excellent piece by Anna Rasshivkina, Cengiz Yar and Devi Lockwood at Rest of World: “From a florist in Tehran to a chef in Bangkok, meet nine workers who turned their homes into makeshift offices during the pandemic.”

5) 📱 Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman, reporting for Buzzfeed News: “Facebook Is Building An Instagram For Kids Under The Age Of 13.”

6) 🤯 Astounding: Watch a TikToker make an elaborate video in mere seconds.

7) 🎵 What’s going on with musical genres? “As record stores close and streaming algorithms dominate, the identities that music fandom supplies are in flux,” Amanda Petrusich writes in the New Yorker.

8) 💻 Tool of the week: Zoom Escaper, which lets you “escape Zoom meetings and other videoconferencing scenarios” by allowing you to “self-sabotage your audio stream, making your presence unbearable to others.”

9) 👏 The award for walrus impression of the week goes to the guy interviewed at the beginning of this RTE News report.

10) 👩‍🎨 Museo is a “visual search engine that connects you with the Art Institute of Chicago, the Rijksmuseum, the Harvard Art Museums, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the New York Public Library Digital Collection.” All images are in the public domain.

•••

🦴 Dog-related video of the week: “This is Minnie. She’s the Executive Pen Transporter for this office. As you can see, she takes her job very seriously. 13/10”

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

I’m still working my way through Yuval Noah Harari’s thought-provoking “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.” – Coco Chanel

•••

🤗 What’s new with you? Hit reply to send me tips, queries, random comments, and videos of dogs helping with office tasks.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Hong Kong

Trip Report: Birdwatching in Hong Kong’s Mai Po Nature Reserve

Despite its urban density and thousands of skyscrapers, Hong Kong is home to significant biodiversity and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.

I was surprised, when we moved here last year, to learn about all the hiking available along myriad trails and in the city’s many country parks.

Then early last month we got an opportunity to something I’d never done before: go birding.

Yes, my first organized birding experience took place in a city of more than 7 million people, one of the world’s most densely populated places.

And it was awesome!

Mai Po, just across from Shenzhen

A friend arranged a guided trip, via the Hong Kong WWF, to Mai Po Nature Reserve. As you can see in the map above, this is a large wetlands area near Yuen Long, a town in the north of the city’s New Territories, across the water from Shenzhen.

To get to the the WWF’s Long Ping visitor center, we took the MTR’s West Rail Line, got off at the Long Ping station, and walked from there.

Ours was the aptly-titled “Flap Your Wings” tour, which included transport via shuttle bus to the reserve, a short distance away. Binoculars were provided, as were permits to enter the reserve.

Near the entrance to the reserve
Near the entrance to the reserve

During the five-hour tour, conducted by an expert volunteer guide, we walked along boardwalks built into the mangrove swamps, and stopped at various blinds to look out at the birds on the mudflats.

Many of the creatures, as I understand it, stop over in Hong Kong as they migrate south for the winter, stopping for rest in the wetlands area. I was shooting photos with my iPhone, so didn’t get any good close-ups, but our guide had a spotting scope that we used.

Walking through the mangroves
Walking through the mangroves
I just flew in from
A hint at where birds are heading, or have come from
Looking out from a blind
The view from a blind, looking out at the wetlands
Socially distanced birding
Socially distanced birding
Mudflats
Mudflats
The weather was gorgeous
Fine weather and blue skies
A far cry from skyscrapers downtown
A far cry from skyscrapers
Yours truly
Yours truly
Hard at work
Concentrating

Here’s a list of the birds we saw. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

  • Northern Shoveler
  • Tufted Duck
  • Great Cormorant
  • Little Grebe
  • Black Wing Stilts
  • Western osprey
  • Saunder’s Gull
  • Wimbrell
  • Chinese Pond Heron
  • Grey Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Little Egret
  • Western Osprey
  • Pied Avocet
  • Whimbrel
  • White Breasted Water Hen
  • Greater Spotted Eagle
  • White-throated Kingfisher
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Oriental Stork
  • And the highlight, due to their rarity: Black Faced Spoonbill

That’s 22, by my count.

An excellent trip. Highly recommended.

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN254: Leaping Labradors

Sent as an email newsletter March 14, 2021. Sign up to receive future dispatches in your inbox.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Image of the week, above: “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS,” by Beeple. (More on this below…)

🗞 My latest in The WSJ:

My newest story, out Wednesday with my colleague Drew FitzGerald:

Facebook Drops Plan to Run Fiber Cable to Hong Kong Amid U.S. Pressure. The story begins:

A Facebook Inc. consortium withdrew its bid to build a new internet conduit between California and Hong Kong after months of pressure from U.S. national-security officials, the latest sign of a deepening rift between the two governments.

Click through for more.

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 🎨 Art-meets-tech story of the week: Beeple – the digital artist I mentioned a couple weeks ago – sold an NFT of his work for $69 million in an auction at Christie’s. That’s the third highest price tag for any living artist’s work.

2) 💰 …Wait, sold a what? NFT stands for non-fungible token; it’s a kind of digital certificate of authenticity based on a blockchain. For an explanation, check out this episode of Planet Money’s Indicator podcast, and this episode of our Tech News Briefing podcast.

3) 📷 “More than 100 employees at security camera startup Verkada Inc. could peer through the cameras of its thousands of customers, including global corporations, schools and police departments, according to three former employees aware of the company’s security protocols,” Bloomberg News’s William Turton and Ryan Gallagher report.

4) 🇲🇽 Mexico is set to pass a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, which would make it one of the world’s biggest regulated markets for the drug.

5) 🎵 RIP Lou Ottens, the Philips engineer who invented the cassette tape in the early 1960s. He was 94.

6) 🗺 From Singapore to Paris to the U.S. Virgin Islands, this New York Times interactive shows how people in global tourists destinations have been dealing with the pandemic, one year on.

7) 👏 Twenty-five-year-old Truman Cheng, a graduate student here in Hong Kong, successfully proposed a unique new Lego set: Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

8) 🐻 Sentence of the week, in Hollywood Reporter: “Universal is behind Cocaine Bear, which is based on an untitled spec written by Jimmy Warden, inspired by events that took place in Kentucky in 1985.”

9) 🗣 An excellent resource, with tons of links to new services and apps: “How to learn a language (and stick at it),” by University of Leeds lecturer John Gallagher.

10) 🎳 This is the coolest drone video shot inside a bowling alley that you will ever see. Here’s the backstory.

•••

🐶 Dog-related video of the week: A classic from 2014 that is worth revisiting. “Run Walter, RUN!!”

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“There is no better teacher than history in determining the future…There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.” – Charles T. Munger

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook Drops Plan to Run Fiber Cable to Hong Kong Amid U.S. Pressure

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Drew FitzGerald, out Wednesday. It begins:

A Facebook Inc. consortium withdrew its bid to build a new internet conduit between California and Hong Kong after months of pressure from U.S. national-security officials, the latest sign of a deepening rift between the two governments.

The social-media giant told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in a filing it would withdraw its application to land the Hong Kong-Americas project, known by its abbreviation HKA, pending a new request for “a possibly-reconfigured submarine cable system.”

Facebook and several telecommunications-industry partners first filed for permission to build the fiber-optic cable in 2018. It would have connected two sites in California with branches to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Click through to read the rest.

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Newley's Notes

NN253: Snack-Savvy Shepherds

Sent as an email newsletter March 7, 2021. Sign up to receive future dispatches in your inbox.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

🖌️ Image of the week, above: a recent weekend watercolor. As my dad always says: “Just let go and paint!”

My latest in The WSJ:

👉 I had an exclusive, out Friday, with my colleague Jeff Horwitz.

The headline: India Threatens Jail for Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter Employees.

The story begins:

“India’s government has threatened to jail employees of Facebook Inc., its WhatsApp unit and Twitter Inc. as it seeks to quash political protests and gain far-reaching powers over discourse on foreign-owned tech platforms, people familiar with the warnings say.”

Click through to read the rest.

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 🔍 “Google plans to stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites,” my colleagues Sam Schechner and Keach Hagey, reported, “a change that could hasten upheaval in the digital advertising industry.”

2) 🚀 Nasa’s Perseverance rover has been sending back some incredible images from Mars.

3) 🍎 In Covid-hit New York, residents are showing their pride in the city, helping out the local economy, and making a fashion statement by purchasing merchandise from local businesses. Here’s a gallery.

4) 🎬 Golden Globes roundup: “Nomadland” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” won for best drama and best comedy, respectively. “The Crown” was a big winner of TV prizes.

5) ✉️ Tech-related longread of the week, from Cal Newport (whose books “Deep Work” and “Digital Minimalism” I recommend) in The New Yorker: “E-mail Is Making Us Miserable.” (Note: But not Newley’s Notes, right?!)

6) 💻 Zoom meetings wearing you out? Stanford researchers explain four reasons for the fatigue, and offer four ways to beat it.

7) 🤖 “The future is already here,” William Gibson once wrote. “It’s just not evenly distributed.” Case in point: Some U.S. states are passing laws that allow robots to be legal “pedestrians” on sidewalks.

8) File under: life in 2021. The $24.99 Fisher-Price My Home Office set comes with “a pretend laptop, 4 fabric apps to attach to the computer screen, a wood smartphone and headset for all those important business calls, and a to-go cup for kids to sip their favorite beverage.”

9) 🌏 Pretty cool: Disney’s newest animated film, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” just out, features Disney’s “first Southeast Asian heroine.” (Watch the trailer here.)

10) 🐀 Capybara-related video of the week: “When you try to eat the chillest animal on earth.” Best comment: “He’s so chill because he knows he’s too chunky to get eaten by that bird.”

•••

🐶 Dog-related video of the week: “i know a snack when i hear one.”

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

Having enjoyed Yuval Noah Harari’s 2014 book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” (my book notes here), I’ve turned to his subsequent book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” – Michelangelo

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
India Journalism Tech

India Threatens Jail for Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter Employees

That’s the headline on my latest story, an exclusive out Friday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz.

It begins:

India’s government has threatened to jail employees of Facebook Inc., its WhatsApp unit and Twitter Inc. as it seeks to quash political protests and gain far-reaching powers over discourse on foreign-owned tech platforms, people familiar with the warnings say.

The warnings are in direct response to the tech companies’ reluctance to comply with data and takedown requests from the government related to protests by Indian farmers that have made international headlines, the people say. At least some of the written warnings cite specific, India-based employees at risk of arrest if the companies don’t comply, according to some of the people.

Click through to read the rest.