Categories
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.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
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.

Click through to read the rest.

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.

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Book Notes

Book Notes: ‘Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built,’ by Duncan Clark

Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built

From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned, and to point out titles I think are worth consulting.

They’re neither formal book reviews nor comprehensive book summaries, but I hope you find them useful. For previous postings, see my Book Notes category.

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built

Published: 2016
ISBN: 9780062413406
Amazon link

Brief Summary

The story — told by China expert, former investment banker, and onetime Alibaba advisor — of how Jack Ma founded the country’s online shopping juggernaut and built it into a growing global force.

My Three Key Takeaways

  1. Jack Ma is unlike founders of other global tech titans. He’s not a graduate (or even a dropout) of a top university. He’s not a technical whiz. He doesn’t come from a privileged background — his mother was a factory worker and his father was a photographer. He was never an engineer or a banker, but instead worked for some time as an English teacher before launching various businesses.

    But he is a curious person, a big believer in the power of the internet, and a quirky and charismatic leader — he is known for “Jack Magic“: his ability, like Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field,” to inspire and win people over.
  2. Alibaba wasn’t built as a clone of Amazon or eBay any other e-commerce equivalent, exactly. It was designed to connect sellers to buyers, and designed specifically for China.

    Ma’s understanding of what Chinese consumers and merchants want has allowed him to outlast other rivals.
  3. Ma thinks long-term, but it’s unclear how his more recent bets (forging into cloud computing, sports, media) will pay off.
  4. Some notable quotations (all emphasis mine)

    • “Jack, more than any other, is the face of the new China. Already something of a folk hero at home, he stands at the intersection of China’s newfound cults of consumerism and entrepreneurship.” (Introduction, p. xii.)
    • “China’s e-commerce market differs in important ways from the United States and other Western economies, the legacy of decades of state planning and the important role still played by state-owned enterprises. Alibaba has sought out and exploited the inefficiencies these have created, first in e-commerce, now in media and e-commerce.” (Introduction, p. xv.)
    • Household spending in the United States drives two-thirds of the economy, but in China it barely accounts for one-third. (p. 3.)
    • “Alibaba has a much greater impact on China’s retail sector than Amazon does in the United States. Thanks to Taobao and its sister site, Tmall, Alibaba is effectively China’s largest retailer. Amazon, by contrast, only became one the top ten retailers in America in 2013.” (p. 4)
    • “In the same way Alibaba has exploited the inefficiency of offline retail, offline banking has proved a ripe fruit for it to pick.” (p. 19)
    • “When he was asked which person had most inspired him, Jack replied without hesitation, ‘Forrest Gump.’ His interviewer paused, then said, ‘You know he’s a fictional character?'” (p. 25)
    • “Perhaps the most famous lesson of Jack the teacher is known by heart by every Alibaba employee: ‘Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.’ Jack describes this as Alibaba’s philosophy.” (p. 27)
    • “Alibaba has been a team effort from the start. Jack doled out much more equity, and at an earlier stage, than many of his Internet founder peers. But he has kept a firm control on the company through his gift for communicating and his lofty ambitions.” (p. 35)
    • “Although it sickened thousands and killed almost eight hundred people, the outbreak had a curiously beneficial impact on the Chinese Internet sector, including Alibaba. SARS validated digital mobile telephony and the internet, and so came to represent the turning point when the internet emerged as a truly mass medium in China…Crucially for Alibaba, SARS convinced millions of people, afraid to go outside, to try shopping online instead.” (p. 159)
    • “The tide was turning against eBay. From a market share of more than 90 percent in 2003, eBay’s market share fell by half the following year — barely ahead of Taobao.” (p. 173)
    • “At the entrance to its VIP visitor suite there is a photo from July 2007 of Jack welcoming Xi Jinping to Alibaba. Xi today of course is president of China but back then he was Communist Party secretary of Shanghai.” (p. 239)
Categories
Journalism Newley's Notes

NN201: Newest Page One Story — Podcast Appearance — 1 Billion Surveillance Cams — Bonus Puppy Content

2019 12 04wsjpage1

Sent as an email newsletter December 9, 2019.

👋 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.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

Apologies for NN’s absence last week. After an enjoyable Thanksgiving…your faithful correspondent promptly fell ill. But I’m back now!

✍️ I’m proud to say I had another page one story (the second in a week’s time, following my piece on lending apps), this one out on Wednesday. The headline: U.S. Tech Giants Bet Big on India. Now It’s Changing the Rules.

And the first few grafs:

NEW DELHI – After Walmart Inc. sealed a $16 billion deal last year to buy India’s biggest domestic e-commerce startup, it got some bad news. India was changing its e-commerce regulations.

Foreign-owned online retailers would need to modify their supply chains and stop deep discounting. Those rules didn’t apply to Indian companies.

India, the world’s biggest untapped digital market, has suddenly become a much tougher slog for American and other international players.

It’s not just Walmart, but also the likes of Amazon, Google, and Facebook’s WhatsApp that are facing shifting regulatory sands.

Please give it a read.

📹 Meanwhile, my colleague Liza Lin and I had a story out Friday that has captured a lot of attention (it was even shared on Twitter by Marco Rubio. The headline: A World With a Billion Cameras Watching You Is Just Around the Corner. It begins:

As governments and companies invest more in security networks, hundreds of millions more surveillance cameras will be watching the world in 2021, mostly in China, according to a new report.

The report, from industry researcher IHS Markit, to be released Thursday, said the number of cameras used for surveillance would climb above 1 billion by the end of 2021. That would represent an almost 30% increase from the 770 million cameras today. China would continue to account for a little over half the total.

Fast-growing, populous nations such as India, Brazil and Indonesia would also help drive growth in the sector, the report said.

🎧 Other news: I was on the latest edition of the excellent Asia Matters podcast. In an episode called “What China’s ambitions tell us about tech in Asia,” I joined my ex-WSJ colleague Andrew Peaple and Julian Gewirtz of Harvard to share my perspective from India.

You can listen here, or search for “Asia Matters” on Spotify or in your favorite podcast app.

Okay – enough self-promotion. On to this week’s links…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

📈 1) Google Management Shuffle Points to Retreat From Alphabet Experiment [WSJ]

“Sundar Pichai’s appointment this week as chief executive of Google parent Alphabet Inc. effectively shifts the focus back on the company’s advertising profit machine and away from its “moonshots” and other potential new businesses.”

👓 2) Warby Parker Wants to Be the Warby Parker of Contacts [Bloomberg]

“At $440 for a year’s supply, the lenses will be slightly cheaper than many daily contacts but will be sold with what Warby says will be a much improved ordering process.”

⛺ 3) How Hipcamp Became the Airbnb of the Outdoors [New Yorker]

“Alyssa Ravasio, Hipcamp’s founder and C.E.O., is not a purist. For her, camping is a leisure activity, an escape valve, a business opportunity, a wealth-redistribution system, and a political strategy: an avenue to environmental awareness, engagement, even activism.”

🍎 4) Apple worth more than US stock index’s energy sector [Financial Times]

“Apple is now worth more than all large-cap US energy stocks put together.”

🧘 5) Buddhism scholars: Meditation apps are fueling tech addiction, not easing stress [Fast Company]

“…Buddhist apps, rather than curing the anxiety created by our smartphones, just make us more addicted to them and, in the end, even more stressed.”

🏎️ 6) These Guys Just Drove an E63 AMG Across America in a Record 27 Hours 25 Minutes [Road & Track]

“After leaving the Red Ball garage on the east side of Manhattan at 12:57 a.m. on November 10, it took Toman, Tabbutt and Chadwick 27 hours and 25 minutes to reach the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, in L.A.’s South Bay. In a car.”

💾 7) Version Museum [VersionMuseum]

“A visual history of your favorite technology.”

🗺️ 8) Map: The most common last name in every country [Reddit]

🏈 9) Sad/heartwarming dog-related story of the week: This college football player lost his parents before Senior Day, but he didn’t walk out alone [CBS News]

“A Michigan State University football player whose parents died before Senior Day walked out with his adopted dogs onto the field for the occasion.”

🐶 10) Dog-related video of the week: This is the most Indian photo bomb [Twitter: @Tim_Kimber]

💡 Quote of the week:

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Raymond Chandler

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

Newley

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Foxconn Looks Beyond China to India for iPhone Assembly

2019 01 23foxconn

That’s the headline on a story I wrote yesterday with my colleagues Yang Jie, Yoko Kubota, and Rajesh Roy.

It begins:

Apple Inc.’s largest iPhone assembler, Foxconn Technology Group, is considering producing the devices in India, people familiar with the matter said, a move that could reduce Apple’s dependence on China for manufacturing and potentially for sales.

Executives at Foxconn, a contract manufacturer that assembles a large portion of the world’s iPhones in China, are studying whether to include an India project in budget plans, one of the people said. Senior executives, possibly including Chairman Terry Gou, plan to visit India after next month’s Lunar New Year to discuss plans, the people familiar said.

Foxconn’s look at India comes as sustained friction between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology is pushing many companies to consider diversifying their supply chains away from China, a global center of assembly for smartphones, computers and other electronics.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism Tech

Popular Weather App Collects Too Much User Data, Security Experts Say

2019 01 03weather app

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

NEW DELHI—A popular weather app built by a Chinese tech conglomerate has been collecting an unusual amount of data from smartphones around the world and attempting to subscribe some users to paid services without permission, according to a London-based security firm’s research.

The free app, one of the world’s most-downloaded weather apps in Google’s Play store, is from TCL Communication Technology Holdings Ltd., of Shenzhen, China. TCL makes Alcatel- and BlackBerry -branded phones, while a sister company makes televisions.

The app, called “Weather Forecast—World Weather Accurate Radar,” collects data including smartphone users’ geographic locations, email addresses and unique 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers on TCL servers in China, according to Upstream Systems, the mobile commerce and security firm that found the activity. Until last month, the app was known as “Weather—Simple weather forecast.”

A TCL spokesman didn’t address queries about the amount of data the app collects.

The weather app also has attempted to surreptitiously subscribe more than 100,000 users of its low-cost Alcatel smartphones in countries such as Brazil, Malaysia and Nigeria to paid virtual-reality services, according to Upstream Systems. The security firm, which discovered the activity as part of its work for mobile operators, said users would have been billed more than $1.5 million had it not blocked the attempts.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism

By Me Today: China Tech Firms are Leading Asia’s Mobile Money Race

2017-09-22smartphone

The story begins:

NEW DELHI—Silicon Valley is home to the world’s most influential consumer-tech firms, but China’s online corporate titans are way ahead in the race to build mobile-payment services in many of the world’s fastest-growing consumer markets.

China’s digital-payments market, by far the world’s largest, is dominated by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and social-media champ Tencent Holdings Ltd. Now these giants have started transferring money, product advice and technical know-how to mobile money startups in other Asian markets, from Indonesia to India.

As people across Asia increasingly move from cash to smartphone apps for buying goods and transferring money between individuals, U.S. firms remain “still very focused on their home market” and trying to increase usage there, said Shiv Putcha, an analyst at research firm IDC in Mumbai.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Misc.

Image of the Day: Map of China, Seen from the East

2017 05 22 china from east

Can’t say I’d ever contemplated the country from this perspective.

Via Marginal Revolution.

Christopher Jared, who apparently sent in the image, writes in the comments:

I have used this perspective of China for insight many times. Look at the proximity of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and then what is in the middle? A large green, fertile patch… a middle kingdom. Whenever I am thinking about events in Chinese history, recent or ancient, it is this perspective that is most helpful to understanding.

Note: Taiwan would be grey because it was under Japanese rule in 1941, the date of the map.