India Journalism Tech

Fired Americans Say Indian Firm Gave Their Jobs to H-1B Visa Holders

That’s the headline on my latest exclusive, out a few weeks ago.

It generated a lot of reader interest, and was picked up by several news outlets in India and the U.S.

It began: <-- 🎁 Gift link

A U.S. visa program for skilled foreign workers has long stoked concerns over American workers losing their jobs to lower-paid foreigners. Now a group of experienced American professionals is accusing an Indian outsourcing giant of firing them on short notice and filling many of their roles with workers from India on H1-B visas.

The American workers say that India’s Tata Consultancy Services illegally discriminated against them based on their race and age, firing them and shifting some of their work to lower-paid Indian immigrants on temporary work visas.

Since late December, at least 22 workers have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against TCS, whose clients have included dozens of the U.S.’s biggest companies.

The American former TCS employees are Caucasians, Asian-Americans and Hispanic Americans ranging in age from their 40s to their 60s and living in more than a dozen U.S. states. Many have master’s of business administration or other advanced degrees, according to the complaints, which were viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

While companies often conduct layoffs that affect workers with more seniority, the American professionals say TCS broke the law by targeting them based on protected characteristics of age and race. They say the company’s move demonstrated preferential treatment to Indian workers in the U.S. on the coveted visas.

A TCS spokeswoman said allegations that the company engages in unlawful discrimination are meritless and misleading. TCS has a strong record of being an equal opportunity employer in the U.S., acting with integrity in its operations, she said.

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India Journalism Tech

India’s TikTok Ban Is a Cautionary Tale for the U.S.

I’m late in posting this, but that was the headline on a story my colleague Vibhuti Agarwal wrote last month.

It began: <-- 🎁 Gift link

NEW DELHI—Gayatari Mohanty always wanted to be a dancer. But her father, who washes cars for a living, and her mother, a domestic helper, didn’t have enough money for lessons. So the 19-year-old New Delhi native taught herself.

One day in 2019, Mohanty discovered TikTok. She and a friend were drawn to the platform’s lighthearted videos. They often rushed home from school to upload clips of Mohanty’s spirited dancing to retro Bollywood songs from the 1960s and 70s.

Soon Mohanty had gained some 5,000 followers. That didn’t make her a star or earn her any money, but it was enough to boost her confidence.

“My skill gave me my biggest achievement in life,” she said. “TikTok became my stage where I could show my dancing skills and get appreciated for it.”

That all ended suddenly the next year, when India’s government banned the Chinese short video-sharing titan, citing cybersecurity concerns.

“It felt like a personal loss, like someone close to me was no more,” she said.

The South Asian nation provides a case study in what happens when the wildly popular service goes away, as it might in the U.S. A bipartisan bill that sailed through the House this month would force parent company ByteDance to sell the platform’s U.S. operations or face a ban. President Biden has said he supports such legislation, which will now go to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

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A British Businessman Worked in China for Decades. Then, He Vanished.

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive with my colleague Neil Western out Thurs.

It begins: <-- 🎁 Gift link

HONG KONG—Ian J. Stones, a British business executive, worked in China for four decades, including with big U.S. firms such as General Motors and Pfizer before setting up his own consulting firm. Then, in 2018, he disappeared from public view.

Stones has been detained in China since then with no public mention of the case from Chinese or U.K. authorities.

The quiet detention of a foreign businessman who is well known within China’s business community underscores the risks of operating in the country, which has an opaque legal system that is controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal that Stones had been sentenced to five years in prison for illegally selling intelligence to overseas parties. The ministry said he appealed his conviction but the appeal was rejected in September last year.

Informed of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response, Stones’s daughter, Laura Stones, said neither the family nor British embassy staff had been permitted to see any of the legal documents related to the case, and therefore she couldn’t comment on the details.

“There has been no confession to the alleged crime, however my father has stoically accepted and respects that under Chinese law he must serve out the remainder of his sentence,” she said.

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Journalism Tech

Steamy Romances and Vampires: The Chinese-Backed App Appealing to American Moms

That’s the headline on my newest story, which I wrote with my colleague Rachel Liang. It was out Tuesday.

It begins: <– 🎁 Gift link

Joey Jia witnessed the 2020 implosion of short-form video app Quibi and thought: I can do better.

Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg’s high-profile but short-lived startup charged users $4.99 a month for slick content meant to appeal to a wide user base. Jia, a veteran of Chinese tech companies, says he saw a market in the U.S. for a cheaper streaming app with a narrower target audience.

Last year, Jia launched ReelShort targeting women, especially stay-at-home moms between the ages of 18 and 45, who he says love romance and fantasy stories. It draws on the success of similar apps in his native China, featuring dramas with episodes that last about a minute, compared with Quibi’s five to 10 minutes.

ReelShort specializes in bingeable, steamy romances, tangled family dramas, handsome billionaires, beautiful women—and vampires and werewolves. The actors are mostly Western, and the dialogue is in English.

The formula is gaining traction with American consumers. The app briefly surpassed ByteDance’s TikTok as the most downloaded entertainment app in Apple’s App Store last month. Of the 16 million global downloads the app has garnered so far, some 4.8 million are in the U.S., making it the company’s biggest market, according to mobile data and analytics provider More than 60% of the firm’s revenue comes from the U.S., according to Jia.

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Journalism Tech

Inside Meta, Debate Over What’s Fair in Suppressing Comments in the Palestinian Territories

That’s the headline on my latest story, an October 21 exclusive with my colleagues Sam Schechner and Jeff Horwitz.

It begins <– free link 🎁

After Hamas stormed Israel and murdered civilians on Oct. 7, hateful comments from the region surged through Instagram. Meta Platforms managers cranked up automatic filters meant to slow the flood of violent and harassing content.

But still the comments kept appearing—especially from the Palestinian territories, according to a Meta manager. So Meta turned up its filters again, but only there.

In an internal forum for Muslim employees, objections poured in.

“What we’re saying and what we’re doing seem completely opposed at the moment,” one employee posted internally, according to documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Meta has publicly pledged to apply its policies equally around the world.

The social media giant has been wrestling with how best to enforce its content rules in the midst of the brutal and chaotic war. Meta relies heavily on automation to police Instagram and Facebook META 2.91%increase; green up pointing triangle, but those tools can stumble: They have struggled to parse the Palestinian Arabic dialect and in some cases they don’t have enough Hebrew-language data to work effectively.

In one recent glitch, Instagram’s automatic translations of users’ profiles started rendering the word “Palestinian” along with an emoji and an innocuous Arabic phrase as “Palestinian terrorists.”

And when Meta turns to human employees to fill the gaps, some teams have different views on how the rules should be applied, and to whom.

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India Journalism Tech

Billionaire Bets That a $12 Mobile Phone Can Get More of the World’s Most Populous Country Online

That’s the title of my latest story, out Thursday. It begins: 🎁 <-- free link

Even as 5G mobile networks begin to expand in India, about half of the country’s 1.4 billion people remain disconnected from the Internet.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani is betting a new web-enabled mobile phone that costs about $12 can change that and win yet more customers for his dominant wireless-network provider.

The device, launched in July by Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm, resembles the simple, durable Nokia phones from decades past. It has a physical keyboard, a small screen and a camera, and comes in basic colors like blue, black, gray and red.

While the device isn’t 5G-capable, it offers 4G speeds, meaning it can stream music and video via pre-installed apps from Reliance Jio’s services, which include content such as Bollywood films, cricket matches and pop music. The phone can also be used to make digital payments, a practice that has boomed in India in recent years.

Many Indians who are online access the Internet via smartphones. But a smartphone in India typically costs more than $250, far out of reach for millions of people who make just a few dollars a day.

“There are still 250 million mobile-phone users in India who remain trapped in the 2G era, unable to tap into basic features of the internet,” Akash Ambani, Mukesh Ambani’s son and the chairman of Reliance Jio, said when launching the phone. He was referring to people using basic mobile devices, which often lack web connections.

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Journalism Tech

Huawei’s New Gadgets Show How China Aims to Move Forward Without Foreign Tech

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Monday with my colleague Yang Jie.

It begins:

TOKYO—Huawei, China’s rival to Apple in smartphones and the world’s leading provider of telecoms infrastructure, is out to prove it isn’t just surviving Washington’s campaign to crush it, but is in the vanguard of Beijing’s drive for self-reliance in technology.

After the buzz around Huawei’s new high-speed smartphones, which appeared to show that China can swerve around U.S. efforts to block its access to cutting-edge technology, the company on Monday unveiled its latest tablets, smartwatches and earphones—supported by a homegrown challenger to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, global standards in wireless communication.

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Hong Kong Loses Court Bid to Ban Protest Song Appearing on Google

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Friday. It begins:

HONG KONG—A judge rejected a government bid to ban the dissemination online of a popular pro-democracy song, dealing a blow to Hong Kong’s efforts to extend a national-security crackdown to online platforms such as Google.

The ruling, delivered by one of the city’s national-security case judges handpicked by the government’s leader, is the latest in a series of setbacks dealt by the city’s courts to local authorities that are seeking to eliminate dissent.

If the judge had agreed to give the order, which sought to ban distribution of the song “Glory to Hong Kong” worldwide, it would have set the city on a collision course with Google and other platforms. Analysts said such a ban could have led the companies and their services to exit the financial center, which has for decades enjoyed a mostly open internet, unlike in China.

The case has added to the chill facing tech companies in Hong Kong, shifting the target for online dissent from individuals to platforms themselves. American tech giants in recent months have been shutting out users bit by bit in Hong Kong amid concern over the national security law.

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Journalism Tech

Meta’s Threads Isn’t Labeling Propaganda Accounts From Russia, China State Media

WSJ Meta Threads propaganda

That’s the headline on a story I had out Wednesday. It began:

State-backed news outlets from Russia and other authoritarian governments have rushed to join Meta Platforms’ new Threads microblogging service, posting propaganda such as a fake video purporting to show President Biden in a store perusing books on dementia.

Unlike on Facebook and Instagram, their verified accounts on Threads aren’t labeled as state-controlled media, raising questions over how the Facebook parent intends to police content on its Twitter rival that launched this month. Twitter, now being rebranded as X, in 2020 began applying labels to state-run news organizations; under Elon Musk, it removed them in April.

Meta also in 2020 began applying such labels to state-run media accounts on Facebook and Instagram. That came after independent studies found Russian influence campaigns ahead of the 2016 election used such services to suppress voter turnout and boost Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

Meta launched Threads before the service was fully built out to capitalize on Twitter’s struggles under Musk, The Wall Street Journal has reported. That means Threads lacks basic moderation features including the labels.

Russia’s RT and Sputnik News, China’s CGTN and Xinhua News, and Fars News—run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard—have attracted more than 270,000 followers on Threads since the service launched this month, according to a tally by the Journal. That is far fewer than the hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers they have built over the years on Twitter.

Sputnik News, a Russian outlet that analysts describe as publishing propaganda, posted last week a manipulated video purporting to show Biden perusing books next to a sign saying “Brain exercises for dementia.”

Fact-checking groups debunked the video in 2020, saying that it took real footage of Biden looking at books in a store and superimposed a sign nearby that said “Brain exercises for dementia.” Sputnik News didn’t post the video to its Instagram account, where it is labeled as a state-affiliated organization.

After the Journal asked a Meta spokeswoman about the video of Biden on Threads, the post began showing a label describing it as “False information,” saying “independent fact-checkers say this information has no basis in fact.”

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Journalism Tech

Zuckerberg’s Quest to Re-Enter China Faces Challenge: His Own Words

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Monday with my colleague Raffaele Huang. It begins:

HONG KONG — Mark Zuckerberg in late 2021 had a question for those working on Meta Platforms’ strategy for its virtual-reality headset: If Apple can sell iPhones in China, and Tesla can sell cars, why can’t we sell our devices there?

The question, posed on a video call, led to a push by Meta to restart its China business by selling its Quest headsets in the country, according to a person familiar with the matter, more than a decade after Facebook was blocked there.

The company held discussions with several Chinese tech companies and has made progress with videogame powerhouse Tencent Holdings, people familiar with the matter said. But the effort faces challenges, in part because Chinese executives worry that Zuckerberg isn’t seen as friendly to China, according to people familiar with the matter.

In recent years the Meta founder has accused China of stealing technology and taken aim at ByteDance, the Chinese owner of video-sharing platform TikTok. That has undermined a charm offensive Zuckerberg undertook in Beijing in 2016 and bolstered negative views of the entrepreneur in Beijing, the people said.

Officials’ perceptions of Zuckerberg could add uncertainty should Meta and its partner seek licenses and approvals for their products and services in China, some of the people said.

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