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Hong Kong Journalism Newley's Notes Tech

NN226: Scoop — WhatsApp, Tech Giants Stand Firm in Hong Kong

Sent as an email newsletter (sign up here) Thurs., July 9.

👋 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.

This week’s NN is late. I’d meant to send it Monday evening, but then this happened. See image above.

🚨 I got the exclusive that WhatsApp – quickly followed by Facebook, then Twitter and Google – was suspending its processing of requests for user data from Hong Kong.

WhatsApp and its tech peers were prompted to do so by China’s imposition here in the city of a wide-ranging new national security law.

I’m proud to say we had the news for our subscribers before anyone else, and it was followed by outlets around the world.

🗞 The story also ran on the front page of Tuesday’s WSJ:

🎧 I was on our The Journal podcast to talk about the story (listen here), and I was also on our Tech News Briefing show (listen here).

The Journal podcast

For more on China, Hong Kong, and the new law, read on…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🇨🇳 1) What’s Hong Kong’s new national security law all about? “Experts say its provisions fundamentally alter the legal landscape in Hong Kong, carving out space within the city’s Western-style rule-of-law system for mainland Chinese methods of enforcing Communist Party control,” my colleague Chun Han Wong reports.

⏲️ 2) Things are happening fast here in HK, my colleague Dan Strumpf wrote in a story out Wednesday about the inauguration of a new home for China’s security agents:

“First the construction signs went up, then a flagpole appeared and police officers started to swarm the streets. Within hours, a skyscraper hotel in a cozy neighborhood of bars, apartments and boutiques was transformed into something new: the headquarters of Beijing’s powerful new security agency for the city.”

🧙‍♂️ 3) And in non-China/Hong Kong news: “How J. K. Rowling Became Voldemort”:

“Younger Millennials – those born around 1990, the same time as Harry Potter’s lead actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson – feel just as strongly about transgender rights. To many of them, it is the social-justice cause, their generation’s revolutionary idea.”

✍️ 4) “In an era that fetishizes form,” Joyce Carol Oates “has become America’s preëminent fiction writer by doing everything you’re not supposed to do.”

🚷 5) A Japanese city has passed a draft ordinance aimed at stopping people from using their smartphones while walking.

💬 6) Social media first brought about “context collapse” (people talk to everyone all at once, rather than distinct people or groups), and now, writes Nicolas Carr, it has created something more serious: “content collapse.” “A presidential candidate’s policy announcement is given equal weight to a snapshot of your niece’s hamster and a video of the latest Kardashian contouring,” he says.

⏳ 7) Shot: “Back to the Future” was released 35 years ago last week. Here are 30 facts about the great film, one of which – you’re telling me they started filming with Eric Stoltz instead of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly?! – I find mind-blowing.

🎹 8) Chaser: The Nostalgia Machine is a website where you enter a year, click a button, and jam to some sweet tunes from yesteryear.

✏️ 9) Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side,” has started cartooning again (this time on a tablet).

🐶 10) Dog-related video of the week: You rang? (Thanks, Anasuya!)

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.” – Epictetus

•••

🤗 What’s new with you? Hit reply to send me tips, queries, random comments, and videos of adorably attentive pups.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook, Twitter, Google Face Free-Speech Test in Hong Kong

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Eva Xiao, out Friday. It begins:

U.S. technology titans face a looming test of their free-speech credentials in Hong Kong as China’s new national-security law for the city demands local authorities take measures to supervise and regulate its uncensored internet.

Facebook Inc. and its Instagram service, Twitter Inc. and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, operate freely in the city even as they have been shut out or opted out of the mainland’s tightly controlled internet, which uses the “Great Firewall” to censor information.

In Hong Kong many citizens have grown accustomed to freely using their accounts to speak out on political matters, voice support for antigovernment protests, and register their anger at China’s increasing sway over the city.

Now the U.S. tech companies face a high-wire act, analysts say, if authorities here ask them to delete user accounts or their content. Refusal could invite Beijing’s scrutiny and potentially put them at risk of legal action under the new national-security law. Complying would alienate longtime users in the city, some of whom continue to speak out on their platforms, and leave the companies open to criticism from politicians in the U.S. or U.K.

Click through to read the rest.

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Journalism Tech

India Ban Disrupts TikTok Users and China’s Digital Ambitions

That’s the headline on my newest story, our Tuesday, with my colleague Liza Lin. It begins:

India’s decision to ban dozens of Chinese apps is a big setback for China’s top tech firms trying to replicate their remarkable domestic success globally, as they are now stymied in what many consider the world’s last great untapped digital market.

India would block new downloads and prevent or disrupt access for existing Indian users of 59 Chinese apps in a matter of days, a government official who is familiar with the matter said Tuesday. “We have already asked Google and Apple to take note of the government’s latest decision and remove the apps,” the official said, “They are in the process of executing the ban.”

The official, who declined to be named, also said authorities are working with internet service providers to block access for existing app users.

Among the apps are Bytedance Ltd.’s wildly popular TikTok—which has been downloaded 660 million times in India, the company’s largest market by users outside China—along with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s UC Browser and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat messaging platform. Some TikTok users in India have started to receive error messages and are unable to access the video app, according to checks by The Wall Street Journal.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Hong Kong Journalism

U.S. Businesses Brace for Damage as Tensions Grow Over Hong Kong

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Sunday. It begins:

HONG KONG—Rising tensions between the U.S. and China over Hong Kong have American businesses caught in the crossfire.

Companies in the global financial and trading hub, already battered by a year of violent protests and the coronavirus pandemic, face a long period of further uncertainty amid a fight that they fear could disrupt their operations and that casts doubt over their long-term future here.

After China last week approved a plan to impose new national-security laws on Hong Kong, President Trump on Friday said the U.S. would no longer treat Hong Kong as a separate entity from China and would roll back policy exemptions for the city. They could include measures such as export controls, tariffs and visa restrictions, according to analysts, but businesses will have to wait for details and the timing of any moves.

“It’s going to be a challenging week ahead as there are no firm details on how this special economic relationship will be untangled,” said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. More clarity is “essential because our business here is large and important,” she said.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism

Twitter Flags Trump Tweet About George Floyd Protests for ‘Glorifying Violence’

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Friday, with my colleague Andrew Restuccia. It begins:

Twitter Inc. shielded from public view tweets from President Trump and the White House for breaking what the company said are its rules about glorifying violence, a step that is likely to escalate tension between the president and the social-media giant.

The decision came one day after Mr. Trump signed an executive order taking aim at what he alleged was censorship by social-media companies, calling Twitter “an editor with a viewpoint.”

Mr. Trump, in tweets posted shortly after midnight on Friday, criticized protesters clashing with police in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday after a white officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck. The protests have turned violent, with a police station being set on fire overnight.

The president called the demonstrators thugs and warned: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

That phrase has a fraught history dating back to 1967, when Miami Police Chief Walter Headley used it at a news conference to explain how the threat of police violence had prevented riots and looting in the city. Mr. Headley’s comments and his “get-tough” approach to crime sparked outrage in Miami’s black community, and riots broke out in the city in the summer of 1968.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Hong Kong Journalism

Coronavirus Doesn’t Have to Be So Deadly. Just Look at Hong Kong and Singapore

coronavirus Hong Kong Singapore

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Tuesday, which I wrote with my colleague Feliz Solomon. It begins:

Hong Kong and Singapore reported their first cases of the novel coronavirus in January. Four months later, the densely packed Asian metropolises, with a combined population of about 13 million, have seen 27 fatalities between them.

Just 0.4% of those with confirmed infections have died in Hong Kong. In Singapore—less than 0.1%. If the U.S. had a similar fatality rate as the average of the two, its death toll would now stand at about 4,100, rather than 98,000 and growing.

“When you overwhelm health systems a lot more people die,” said David Owens, founder of Hong Kong medical practice OT&P Healthcare, who has treated patients for Covid-19. Hong Kong and Singapore “didn’t let the epidemic run wild.”

The cities’ fatality rates—among the lowest in the world—show that coronavirus outbreaks don’t have to result in large-scale loss of life. Their playbook: test widely, quarantine aggressively and treat patients early to avoid fatal complications and overburdened health systems.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism

Inside Facebook and Private Equity’s $8.8 Billion Bet on India’s Richest Man

Facebook Jio

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. and a trio of U.S. private-equity firms have in the past month poured billions of dollars into an upstart mobile operator controlled by India’s richest man.

The stakes, which add up to $8.8 billion, amount to a bet that Jio Platforms Ltd. and Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and largest shareholder of its parent company, Reliance Industries Ltd., are the players best positioned to bring legions of Indian consumers fully online and into e-commerce.

Facebook’s April announcement that it would invest $5.7 billion for a stake in Mumbai-based Jio was quickly followed by $750 million from Silver Lake and $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners. On Sunday, Jio said it was raising $870 million from another private-equity powerhouse, General Atlantic.

I also discussed the piece on an episode of our Tech News Briefing podcast. Click here to listen, or search for the show wherever you listen to podcasts.

Categories
Hong Kong Journalism

Coronavirus Creeps Back in Hong Kong as Local Transmissions Are Reported

Coronavirus in Hong Kong

That’s the headline on a story I wrote with my colleague Joyu Wang yesterday. It begins:

HONG KONG–After 23 days without a locally transmitted coronavirus case and with much of the city returning to normal life, health officials here are investigating how a 66-year-old woman and her granddaughter tested positive.

The test results, announced Wednesday, illustrate the continuing challenges for authorities world-wide in eliminating the disease even in places that were successful with containment earlier on.

Seven close contacts of the woman have shown symptoms and have been sent to the hospital for testing, officials said Wednesday. The woman has no recent history of travel and hasn’t had contact with known carriers of the disease, officials said. They added that they plan to test residents of their apartment buildings.

The positive results drew a collective sigh from Hong Kongers who have been slowly resuming their normal life routines. Some government health advisers have set a mark of 28 days—or two quarantine periods without a local infection—as a key milestone toward victory over the coronavirus. The two new infections bring the total recorded in the city of about 7.5 million residents to 1,051, with four deaths—which is still relatively low.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Facebook Takes $5.7 Billion Stake in India’s Jio Platforms

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Wednesday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It begins:

Facebook Inc. said it would pay $5.7 billion for just under 10% of Indian telecom operator Jio Platforms Ltd., a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.

The deal, unveiled late Tuesday, is Facebook’s largest overseas investment and gives it the opportunity to bring its WhatsApp messaging service—which has more than 400 million users in India—into closer partnership with the mobile operator that upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans.

Jio Platforms Ltd. and its subsidiary, mobile operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., are part of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Jio Infocomm provides services to about 388 million customers.

The deal shows how Facebook, like other tech giants, is pushing ahead and taking advantage of its relative strength during a pandemic that is causing most other industries to retreat.

In a subsequent story, I looked a little closer at the who gets what out of the deal. The lede:

Facebook Inc.’s $5.7 billion tie-up with an Indian mobile leader could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan—both coveting e-commerce.

Now the two companies are expected to square off against some formidable online shopping rivals: Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc., which have each invested billions in the South Asian market.

Categories
Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Battles Coronavirus Misinformation

whatsapp forwarding

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Tuesday. It begins:

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is limiting users’ ability to forward content on its encrypted messaging platform, as misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic proliferates on the service in its biggest market, India.

In one of the biggest changes WhatsApp has made to a core feature, the company said Tuesday that its more than two billion users globally can now send along frequently forwarded messages they receive to only one person or group at a time, down from five.

In recent weeks the company has “seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation,” the company said.

WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that enables users to click an icon next to frequently forwarded messages—those forwarded at least five times—to search the web for their contents and verify them before sending the message to others, a WhatsApp spokeswoman said.

Click through to read the rest.