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Tech

China Extends Military Exercises as Taiwan Battles Cyberattacks

That’s the headline on my most recent story, with my colleague Joyu Wang, which ran online Monday and on Tuesday’s WSJ page one.

It began:

China said it was extending its military exercises around Taiwan following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit last week while Taiwan’s military on Monday accused Beijing of carrying on sustained cyberattacks against the island that rendered key government-run websites inaccessible.

China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, said Monday that it would continue with exercises for an unspecified period of time after wrapping up four days of maneuvers between Thursday and Sunday, which demonstrated its ability to effectively blockade the island.

The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, which oversees operations closest to Taiwan, said Monday’s drills focused on joint antisubmarine and sea assault operations around the island, with new footage released on its social media account showing naval ships and fighter jets involved in a joint exercise.

In addition to its more visible military maneuvers, Taiwanese Lt. Gen. Lu Chien-chung told a news conference Monday, “the Chinese Communist Party didn’t go easy on the internet,” accusing Beijing of continuing a campaign aimed at crippling key Taiwanese websites.

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Tech

Pro-Beijing Online Campaign Targets U.S.-Based Xinjiang Researcher, Cybersecurity Firm Says

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

HONG KONG—A pro-Beijing online propaganda campaign has used phony websites and social-media posts to try to discredit a prominent German anthropologist who has investigated China’s crackdown on Muslims, according to cybersecurity researchers.

The activity, which dates to last year and continues, is part of a complex effort to push pro-China narratives using more than 70 suspected inauthentic news websites in 11 languages, all tied to a Chinese public-relations firm, according to a new report made public Thursday by the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Mandiant Inc.

There is no evidence linking the activity to the Chinese government, Mandiant said, but the public-relations firm advertised its services as “positive energy packages.” State media in China have used the term “positive energy” to refer to the dissemination through social media of messages that promote Beijing’s views and policies.

To target the anthropologist Adrian Zenz, who has sifted through large numbers of Chinese government documents to illuminate the mass detention and policing of Turkik Muslims in Xinjiang, the campaign manufactured website articles and a December Twitter post. The tweet contained what Mandiant calls three fabricated letters purporting to show Mr. Zenz has received funding for his research from Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump.

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Journalism Tech

Amazon Sues Administrators of More Than 10,000 Facebook Groups Over Fake Reviews

That’s the headline on a story I wrote Tuesday. It begins:

Amazon.com Inc. said it filed a lawsuit against the administrators of what it says are more than 10,000 Facebook groups used to coordinate fake reviews of Amazon products.

Those in charge of the Facebook groups solicit the reviews for items ranging from camera tripods to car stereos in exchange for free products or money, Amazon said in a statement.

The activity, which is against Amazon’s rules, occurs across Amazon’s stores in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan, the company said. Such bogus reviews are typically used to boost products’ ratings and increase the likelihood customers buy them.

The lawsuit represents “proactive legal action targeting bad actors,” Amazon Vice President Dharmesh Mehta said.

My colleague Nicole Nguyen wrote last year about the problem of inauthentic reviews on Amazon.

And she has a new story out Wednesday, in the wake of Amazon’s suit, with tips on spotting fake reviews.

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Journalism Tech

Facebook Parent Meta Details Human-Rights Efforts

I’m late in sharing it here, but that’s the headline on a story I wrote last week with my colleague Salvador Rodriguez. It begins:

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. released its first annual report Thursday on the effect its services have on global human rights, highlighting its efforts to combat challenges including human trafficking, the spread of misinformation and attacks on election integrity.

Facebook’s global operations are drawing scrutiny from rights groups and regulators. While user growth has stalled in rich countries, it continues to expand internationally, especially in populous, developing markets.

You may recall I wrote in November about Facebook’s India human rights impact assessment, a separate report that was commissioned some time ago. Rights groups told me they believed Facebook was trying to stifle it.

This newest report contains a summary of the India HRIA. The HRIA was done by a law firm Facebook commissioned to do the work. Facebook says it has no plans to release the HRIA in its entirety.

That’s drawn more criticism from groups that contributed to the HRIA. One called Facebook’s decision “deeply disappointing.”

You can read Facebook’s full human rights report on their website here. The India material begins on page 57.

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India Journalism Tech

Twitter Fights India’s Order Compelling the Company to Block Some Tweets

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

Twitter Inc. said Tuesday it has filed a legal challenge against the Indian government’s orders that the social-media company block some users’ accounts and individual tweets in the country, ramping up a battle over online speech between U.S. tech giants and New Delhi.

In recent weeks, Twitter rendered unviewable in India tweets from a prominent Indian journalist and the founder of a popular fact-checking website, according to a public database of removal requests for online material. The two between them have more than two million followers.

The tweets, from journalist Rana Ayyub and from Mohammed Zubair of the Alt News website, referred to what they called an anti-Muslim climate in the country. Last month, the killing of a Hindu man by two Muslim men who said they were avenging an insult to Islam inflamed religious tensions in the country.

Orders from India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology compelling Twitter to block tweets “demonstrate excessive use of powers and are disproportionate,” according to a summary of the petition viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Twitter said it filed the application for a judicial review of the orders Tuesday in the high court of the state of Karnataka, where the company is registered.

If such orders aren’t followed, Twitter staff in the country could be imprisoned for up to seven years and face a fine, according to the country’s IT Act.

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Journalism Tech

Facebook Promised Poor Countries Free Internet. People Got Charged Anyway

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleagues Justin Scheck and Tom McGinty. It was on Tuesday’s WSJ front page. It begins:

Facebook says it’s helping millions of the world’s poorest people get online through apps and services that allow them to use internet data free. Internal company documents show that many of these people end up being charged in amounts that collectively add up to an estimated millions of dollars a month.

To attract new users, Facebook made deals with cellular carriers in countries including Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines to let low-income people use a limited version of Facebook and browse some other websites without data charges. Many of the users have inexpensive cellphone plans that cost just a few dollars a month, often prepaid, for phone service and a small amount of internet data.

Because of software problems at Facebook, which it has known about and failed to correct for months, people using the apps in free mode are getting unexpectedly charged by local cellular carriers for using data. In many cases they only discover this when their prepaid plans are drained of funds.

In internal documents, employees of Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. acknowledge this is a problem. Charging people for services Facebook says are free “breaches our transparency principle,” an employee wrote in an October memo.

In the year ended July 2021, charges made by the cellular carriers to users of Facebook’s free-data products grew to an estimated total of $7.8 million a month, when purchasing power adjustments were made, from about $1.3 million a year earlier, according to a Facebook document.

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India Tech

India Hits Apple With Antitrust Investigation Over App-Store Practices

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Monday. It begins:

India’s antitrust watchdog ordered an investigation into how Apple Inc. runs its App Store, becoming the most recent country to take aim at the U.S. technology giant.

The order from the Competition Commission of India said Friday that its initial view is that the Cupertino, Calif., company has violated some of the country’s antitrust laws. The body is “prima facie convinced that a case is made out for directing an investigation” into Apple, the order said.

The watchdog was responding to a complaint earlier last year from an Indian nonprofit group alleging that a 30% fee Apple charges developers selling digital content via their apps harms software makers and stifles competition. Apple has denied the claims, saying it is focused on making its devices as attractive as possible to consumers, according to the order.

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Hong Kong Tech Conference Postponed as Pandemic Restrictions Isolate Business Hub

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

HONG KONG—Organizers of a prominent international technology conference are postponing a gathering in Hong Kong that was set for March, the latest disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic to the city’s role as a global business hub.

An executive for the Dublin-based company that was organizing the annual RISE Conference said to a participant in an email, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, that uncertainties due to the pandemic have continued, and after much consideration organizers had decided to postpone it until March 2023. A company spokeswoman confirmed the news.

Web Summit, the company that hosts popular conferences that typically draw thousands and feature global technology executives and startup entrepreneurs, was first held in Hong Kong in 2015. Its speakers have included Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Joseph Tsai and Stripe Inc. co-founder and President John Collison.

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India Journalism Tech

Netflix Slashes India Prices in Battle with Amazon, Disney

That’s the headline on a story I wrote, out Thursday. It begins:

Netflix Inc. is slashing its prices in India, a key market for global growth where it trails cheaper rival streaming services from Amazon. com Inc. and Walt Disney Co.

The Los Gatos, Calif., company this week said in a blog post from India executive Monika Shergill that it is cutting its basic plan in India by 60% to 199 rupees, equivalent to $2.61, a month. Netflix also lowered prices on its least expensive plan, which offers mobile-only viewing, to $1.95 monthly. Its most expensive plan has been cut to $8.51.

Netflix has continued to switch up its strategy in the South Asian nation since launching in 2016, when it targeted the country’s more affluent consumers with plans that started at $7.50 a month.

The announcement didn’t provide a reason for the latest price reduction. A Netflix spokeswoman said the company is reducing its prices so more consumers can access its material in the country. She added that the company has been investing heavily in local content in India.

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India Journalism Tech

India Investigates Hacking of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter Account

That’s the headline on my newest story, out December 13 with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

Indian officials are investigating how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account was hacked, with a tweet to his more than 73 million followers falsely saying India was adopting bitcoin as legal tender and distributing it to people in the country.

The account was briefly compromised before being secured, the prime minister’s office said on Twitter. The issue had been escalated to Twitter Inc., and the tweet should be ignored, the office said.

Twitter said its systems weren’t breached in the hack. The company has round-the-clock lines of communication open with the prime minister’s office and secured Mr. Modi’s account “as soon as we became aware of this activity,” a Twitter spokeswoman said. A Twitter investigation showed no other accounts appeared to be affected, she added.

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