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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Google Faces Pressure in Hong Kong Over Search Results for National Anthem

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

HONG KONG—Google is under fire from officials and legislators in Hong Kong over a pro-democracy song that is showing up in search results for the national anthem, raising tensions between American tech giants and authorities as Beijing tries to spread patriotism in the city.

Two members of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing legislative council in recent days have joined the city’s chief secretary in criticizing the Alphabet Inc. unit for showing the song, “Glory to Hong Kong,” among its top results.

Hong Kong’s official anthem has been China’s “March of The Volunteers” since Beijing regained sovereignty over the former British colony 25 years ago. Antigovernment protesters in 2019 adopted “Glory to Hong Kong”—before the imposition of a national security law—and it has featured prominently on Google and YouTube since then.

That has led to confusion in recent weeks at sporting events when the protest anthem was played, angering local officials and triggering an investigation by the Hong Kong police’s organized crime bureau.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment, though the company has said its search results are determined by algorithms—not by human curation—and that results some might find objectionable can occur when search queries match text on webpages. The company says it only removes content that violates Google’s policies or specific legal obligations.

Last week, a third lawmaker staged a protest with several people at Google’s Hong Kong office. It was a rare show of anger against an American tech firm in a city where access to the internet—unlike in mainland China—has remained mostly unfettered. That is a key reason why global companies operate in the city.

Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Eric Chan Kwok-ki, told media outlets in recent weeks that the government was discussing the search results with Google and its video platform, YouTube.

“It’s about dignity and respect,” said one of the lawmakers, Duncan Chiu.

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Journalism Tech

Kanye West Suspended From Twitter After Swastika Tweet

That was the headline on my latest, a story out Friday with my colleague Sarah Needleman. It begins:

Twitter Inc. again suspended Kanye West’s account after the musician and designer posted a swastika in a tweet that the social-media platform’s owner, Elon Musk, said violated its rules.

Mr. West, who now legally goes by Ye and had recently returned from a previous Twitter suspension, on Thursday posted a picture of a swastika merged with the Star of David.

Asked on Twitter by a user to “fix Kanye please,” Mr. Musk replied: “I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

Mr. West’s account then began displaying a message saying it was suspended, with no tweets visible.

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Journalism Tech

Twitter Becomes Stage for China Protests Despite Ban by Beijing

That was the headline on a story out Wednesday I wrote with my colleage Selina Cheng. It begins:

HONG KONG—Twitter is banned in China, but it is proving a critical platform for getting videos and images of protests occurring across the nation out to the rest of the world.

China’s robust internet censors have sprung into action to scrub domestic social media of photos and video streams showing demonstrations against harsh Covid restrictions, spurring citizens to circumvent the nation’s Great Firewall.

Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009, but people in the country are able to access it using virtual private networks, or VPNs, which disguise their locations. They can then send material via the platform’s messaging system to a handful of widely followed Twitter users, who in turn broadcast it globally.

One Twitter user who lives outside China and goes by the name of Li Laoshi, or Teacher Li, said he has been receiving more than a dozen messages per second with protest material at some points since public unrest erupted—the same number he used to get a day—so that he could repost them publicly.

“My daily routine is: wake up, post online, and feed my cat,” he said. The goal of the account, created in May 2020, is to record events that are subject to censorship in China, his profile states. It had more than 759,000 followers as of Wednesday, more than triple the number before protests began, according to social-media analytics site Social Blade.

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India Tech

Meta-Backed Meesho Is Beating Amazon, Walmart in Race for Indian Shoppers

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

An upstart e-commerce service is winning more new shoppers in India than Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart, posing a challenge to the U.S. retailing titans, which have plowed billions of dollars into the world’s biggest untapped digital market.

Bengaluru-based Meesho is leading the burgeoning social-commerce sector, allowing users to sell items by sharing product listings with friends via Meta Platforms Inc.’s popular WhatsApp messaging service, along with Facebook and Instagram. Meta is also an investor in Meesho, with an undisclosed stake.

Meesho was the world’s most-downloaded shopping app during the first half of this year, according to app analytics firm Apptopia, with shoppers pointing to its ease of use, wide selection of products and low prices. Some 127 million people downloaded the app, which is available only in India, compared with 81 million downloads for Amazon and 50 million for Flipkart during the period.

Amazon and Flipkart are “more for the top 1%-5% of the population” in terms of income, specializing in more expensive goods such as smartphones and televisions, said Meesho Chief Financial Officer Dhiresh Bansal.

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India Tech

Proton CEO Is Shutting Down India VPN Servers to Protest Cybersecurity Rules

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

The Swiss company behind well-known virtual-private-network service Proton VPN is pulling its servers from India, the latest provider to do so in response to new government rules that companies and rights groups say threaten users’ privacy.

India’s agency overseeing computer security will effective Sunday require VPN operators in the country to collect information such as customers’ names, email addresses and the IP addresses they use to connect to the internet. The companies must maintain the data for at least five years and furnish it to authorities when asked.

India’s move will undermine internet freedom and endanger activists and whistleblowers, who often use VPNs to protect their identities from the government, Proton AG Chief Executive Andy Yen said in an interview Thursday. Virtual private networks let internet users shield their location and identities online by encrypting and routing their traffic through “tunnels” between their services and customers’ computers.

“It’s going to have a chilling effect. I find it really sad that the world’s largest democracy is taking this path,” Mr. Yen said. “On paper India is supposedly taking a different path from China and Russia,” where similar rules are in place, he said.

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A related story from a few weeks back is here.

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India Tech

Global VPN Providers Pull India Servers Over New Cybersecurity Rules

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

Major global providers of virtual private networks, which let internet users shield their identities online, are shutting down their servers in India to protest new government rules they say threaten their customers’ privacy.

The Indian agency overseeing computer security will soon require VPN operators in India to collect information such as customer’s names, email addresses and the IP addresses they use to connect to the internet. Providers must maintain the data for at least five years and furnish the information to authorities when asked.

India’s Computer Emergency Response Team has said the new rules, which will be implemented from Sept. 25, are needed to tackle cybercrime and defend the “sovereignty or integrity of India” and the security of the state.

But the withdrawing VPN companies and internet-rights groups say by collecting such data, the companies will imperil their users’ privacy and curtail online speech. Digital groups say the government’s rules amount to overreach and are more typical of those imposed in China or Russia than in democracies.

Among the VPN services that have shut down their local servers in India:

  • NordVPN
  • Private Internet Access
  • IPVanish
  • TunnelBear
  • ExpressVPN
  • Surfshark

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Tech

Roblox Poaches Seasoned Meta Executive as It Chases Growth in Asia

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive with my colleague Sarah Needleman, out Friday. It begins:

HONG KONG—Roblox Corp. has poached a Meta Platforms Inc. executive for the newly created role of Asia-Pacific head of public policy, as the videogame company chases growth in the region.

Steve Park, the longtime government relations head for South Korea and Japan at Facebook’s parent company, will join Roblox next week, a spokeswoman for the San Mateo, Calif.-based company said.

Mr. Park has been at Meta for more than eight years and in a previous position worked on the company’s Oculus virtual-reality business, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr. Park declined to comment on his appointment, referring queries to the Roblox spokeswoman.

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Hong Kong Tech

Hong Kong’s Crackdown on Dissent Hits Facebook Pages

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

HONG KONG—A national-security crackdown in Hong Kong has extended to Facebook pages on which many workers and residents traded gossip.

Several prominent Facebook pages that were used to share anonymous comments about government and educational institutions in Hong Kong have shut down in recent days, following the arrest last week of two men by national-security police on suspicion of sedition. The men were administrators of a social-media group and suspected of publishing posts that “promote feelings of ill-will,” police said.

Soon after the arrests, a Facebook page called Civil Servant Secrets that had more than 204,000 followers went offline. It displayed a message saying its content was no longer available, which typically means administrators have deleted it. Last month the page hosted a video showing a police officer who appeared to be sleeping in a break room while on duty.

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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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Categories
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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