Tencent's WeChat Hits 1 Billion Milestone as Lunar New Year Boosts Monthly Active Users ( 25

WeChat hit the milestone of one billion monthly active users during the Lunar New Year in February, a "remarkable number" according to Tencent Holdings chief executive Pony Ma Huateng who disclosed the figure at a Two Sessions media briefing in Beijing on Monday. From a report: The user numbers are up from 980 million in the third quarter of 2017, as reported in Tencent's third quarter results. More than 688 million WeChat users sent or received digital versions of hongbao, the traditional Chinese red packet containing cash and given as a gift during the new year holiday season, pushing the monthly active users of WeChat hongbao to 800 million, Ma revealed on Saturday, as reported by Chinese tech media 36Kr.

Germany Says Government Network Was Breached ( 30

An anonymous reader shares a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): German authorities said on Wednesday they were investigating a security breach of the government's highly protected computer network. The country's intelligence agencies were examining attacks on more than one government ministry, the interior ministry said, adding that the affected departments had been informed and that the attack had been isolated and brought under control. Earlier on Wednesday, the German news agency DPA reported that German security services had discovered a breach of the government's IT network in December and traced it back to state-sponsored Russian hackers. German companies have been the target of sustained attacks by state-sponsored hackers, mainly believed to be Chinese. In 2015, the Bundestag, parliament's lower house, suffered a extensive breach, leading to the theft of several gigabytes of data by what German security officials believe were Russian cyberthieves. Hackers believed to be part of the Russia-linked APT28 group sought to infiltrate the computer systems of several German political parties in 2016, Germany's domestic intelligence agency said in 2016.

China Bans Letter N From Internet as Xi Jinping Extends Grip on Power ( 196

Speaking of things the Chinese government has been censoring in the country, The Guardian reports: It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet and, in Scrabble, the springboard for more than 600 8-letter words. But for the Communist party of China it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping's bid to set himself up as ruler for life. The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing's controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China's president. The Communist party has painted the move -- which experts say paves the way for Xi to become a dictator for life -- as an expression of overwhelming popular support for China's strongman leader. However, there has been widespread online push-back in China since it was announced on Sunday on the eve of an annual political congress in Beijing.

China Censors Social Media Responses To Proposal To Abolish Presidential Terms ( 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Negative social media reactions in China toward the government's interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China's constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023. The Party's Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would "serve no more than two consecutive terms," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March. Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee's announcement, signaling that the public's reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted. An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including "constitution amendment," "re-elected," "proclaim oneself as emperor," and "two term limit." The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.

China To Crack Down on Cryptocurrency Trading Loophole ( 41

China is opening a new front in its battle against cryptocurrencies, targeting platforms that allow the nation's investors to trade digital assets on overseas exchanges, Bloomberg reported Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter said. From a report: Regulators are planning to scrutinize the Chinese bank and online-payment accounts of businesses and individuals suspected of facilitating trades on offshore cryptocurrency venues, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The accounts' owners could have their assets frozen or be blocked from the domestic financial system, the people said. The measures are designed to cut off one of the few remaining avenues for Chinese citizens to buy digital assets. While the country was once home to the world's most active cryptocurrency exchanges, authorities banned the venues last year and have since moved to block access to platforms that offer exchange-like services.

Worldwide Smartphone Shipments Down For First Time Ever ( 77

According to Gartner, global sales of smartphones have declined year-on-year for the first time since the research company started tracking the global smartphone market in 2004. "Global sales of smartphones to end users totaled nearly 408 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017, a 5.6 percent decline over the fourth quarter of 2016," reports Gartner. The Register reports: In Gartner's Q4 sales stats, Samsung maintained a narrow lead in global volume shipments of smartphones -- but every major (top five) vendor outside of those based in China saw unit shipments slip. Several major factors caused the market shrinkage, said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. "First, upgrades from feature phones to smartphones have slowed right down due to a lack of quality 'ultra-low-cost' smartphones and users preferring to buy quality feature phones. Second, replacement smartphone users are choosing quality models and keeping them longer, lengthening the replacement cycle of smartphones. Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales," Gupta added. This is a characteristic of the emerging markets, where all the action is -- not mature markets like the UK or USA. Samsung leap-frogged Apple by virtue of its sales declining slower than the market average -- Sammy's numbers were 3.6 per cent to 74.02 million units.

Apple Moves To Store iCloud Keys in China, Raising Human Rights Fears ( 33

Apple will begin hosting Chinese users' iCloud accounts in a new Chinese data center at the end of this month to comply with new laws there. The move would give Chinese authorities far easier access to text messages, email and other data stored in the cloud. From a report: That's because of a change to how the company handles the cryptographic keys needed to unlock an iCloud account. Until now, such keys have always been stored in the United States, meaning that any government or law enforcement authority seeking access to a Chinese iCloud account needed to go through the U.S. legal system. Now, according to Apple , for the first time the company will store the keys for Chinese iCloud accounts in China itself. That means Chinese authorities will no longer have to use the U.S. courts to seek information on iCloud users and can instead use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users, legal experts said.

'Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won't Destroy Jobs' ( 344

Kai-Fu Lee, the founder and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and president of the Sinovation Ventures Artificial Intelligence Institute, believes that we're not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way. He writes for MIT Technology Review: The rise of China as an AI superpower isn't a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind's AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016. It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-collar work.

It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we're not ready for it. Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won't stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it's dangerous to assume this will be the case again.


US's Greatest Vulnerability is Ignoring the Cyber Threats From Our Adversaries, Foreign Policy Expert Says ( 102

America's greatest vulnerability is its continued inability to acknowledge the extent of its adversaries' capabilities when it comes to cyber threats, says Ian Bremmer, founder and president of leading political risk firm Eurasia Group. From a report: Speaking to CNBC from the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the prominent American political scientist emphasized that there should be much more government-level concern and urgency over cyber risk. The adversarial states in question are what U.S. intelligence agencies call the "big four": Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. "We're vulnerable because we continue to underestimate the capabilities in those countries. WannaCry, from North Korea -- no one in the U.S. cybersecurity services believed the North Koreans could actually do that," Bremmer described, naming the ransomware virus that crippled more than 200,000 computer systems across 150 countries in May of 2017.

Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, weighed in, stressing the economic cost of cyber crimes. "It is very hard to attribute cyberattacks to different actors or countries, but the cost is just unbelievable. Annually more than a thousand billion U.S. dollars are lost for companies or countries due to these attacks and our economy is more and more based on internet and data."


How Does Chinese Tech Stack Up Against American Tech? 173

The Economist: China's tech leaders love visiting California, and invest there, but are no longer awed by it [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. By market value the Middle Kingdom's giants, Alibaba and Tencent, are in the same league as Alphabet and Facebook. New stars may float their shares in 2018-19, including Didi Chuxing (taxi rides), Ant Financial (payments) and Lufax (wealth management). China's e-commerce sales are double America's and the Chinese send 11 times more money by mobile phones than Americans, who still scribble cheques.

The venture-capital (VC) industry is booming. American visitors return from Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen blown away by the entrepreneurial work ethic. Last year the government decreed that China would lead globally in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. The plan covers a startlingly vast range of activities, including developing smart cities and autonomous cars and setting global tech standards. Like Japanese industry in the 1960s, private Chinese firms take this "administrative guidance" seriously.

AI is Being Used To Raise Better Pigs in China ( 48

Alibaba's Cloud Unit has signed an agreement on with the Tequ Group, a Chinese food-and-agriculture conglomerate that raises about 10 million pigs each year, to deploy facial and voice recognition on Tequ's pig farms. From a report: According to an Alibaba representative, the company will offer software to Tequ that it will deploy on its farms with its own hardware. Using image recognition, the software will identify each pig based on a mark placed on its body. This corresponds with a file for each pig kept in a database, which records and tracks characteristics such as the pig's breed type, age, and weight. The software can monitor changes in the level of a pig's physical activity to assess its level of fitness. In addition, it can monitor the sounds on the farm -- picking up a pig's cough, for example, to assess whether or not the pig is sick and at risk of spreading a disease. The software will also draw from its data to assess which pigs are most capable of giving birth to healthy offspring. Tequ's CIO stressed that taking care of pigs is no easy task for large pig farms. "If you have 10 million pigs, relying on manpower is already not enough," he said, according to a report by local publication Tianxia Wangshang, adding that it's impossible to manually count each pig given how many are born every day.

China Reassigns 60,000 Soldiers To Plant Trees In Bid To Fight Pollution 126

According to The Independent, citing the Asia Times, China has reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plan trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country's forest coverage. The soldiers are from the People's Liberation Army, along with some of the nation's armed police force. From the report: The majority will be dispatched to Hebei province, which encircles Beijing. The area is known to be a major culprit for producing the notorious smog which blankets the capital city. The idea is believed to be popular among members of online military forums as long as they can keep their ranks and entitlements. It comes as part of China's plan to plant at least 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 square miles) of trees by the end of the year, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Ireland. The aim is to increase the country's forest coverage from 21 per cent of its total landmass to 23 per cent by 2020, the China Daily newspaper reported.

119,000 Passports, Photo IDs of FedEx Customers Found On Unsecured Amazon Server ( 34

FedEx left scanned passports, drivers licenses, and other documentation belonging to thousands of its customers exposed on a publicly accessible Amazon S3 server, reports Gizmodo. "The scanned IDs originated from countries all over the world, including the United States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and several European countries. The IDs were attached to forms that included several pieces of personal information, including names, home addresses, phone numbers, and zip codes." From the report: The server, discovered by researchers at the Kromtech Security Center, was secured as of Tuesday. According to Kromtech, the server belonged to Bongo International LLC, a company that aided customers in performing shipping calculations and currency conversations, among other services. Bongo was purchased by FedEx in 2014 and renamed FedEx Cross-Border International a little over a year later. The service was discontinued in April 2017. According to Kromtech, more than 119,000 scanned documents were discovered on the server. As the documents were dated within the 2009-2012 range, its unclear if FedEx was aware of the server's existence when it purchased Bongo in 2014, the company said.

US Senators Voice Concern Over Chinese Access To Intellectual Property ( 115

Leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said on Tuesday they were concerned about what they described as China's efforts to gain access to sensitive U.S. technologies and intellectual property through Chinese companies with government ties. From a report: Senator Richard Burr, the committee's Republican chairman, cited concerns about the spread of foreign technologies in the United States, which he called "counterintelligence and information security risks that come prepackaged with the goods and services of certain overseas vendors. The focus of my concern today is China, and specifically Chinese telecoms (companies) like Huawei and ZTE that are widely understood to have extraordinary ties to the Chinese government," Burr said. Senator Mark Warner, the committee's Democratic vice chairman, said he had similar concerns. "I'm worried about the close relationship between the Chinese government and Chinese technology firms, particularly in the area of commercialization of our surveillance technology and efforts to shape telecommunications equipment markets," Warner said.

Amazon Is Designing Custom AI Chips For Alexa ( 70

According to a report (paywalled) from The Information, Amazon is designing a custom artificial intelligence chip that would power future Echo devices and improve the quality and response time of its Alexa voice assistant. "The move closely followers rivals Apple and Google, both of which have already developed and deployed custom AI hardware at various scales," reports The Verge. From the report: While Amazon is unlikely to physically produce the chips, given its lack of both fabrication experience and a manufacturing presence in China, the news does pose a risk to the businesses of companies like Nvidia and Intel. Both companies have shifted large portions of their chipmaking expertise to AI and the future of the burgeoning field, and both make money by designing and manufacturing chips for companies like Apple, Amazon, and others. Amazon, which seeks to stay competitive in the smart home hardware market and in the realm of consumer-facing AI products, has nearly 450 people with chip expertise on staff, reports The Information, thanks to key hires and acquisitions the e-commerce giant has made in the last few years. The plan is for Amazon to develop its own AI chips so Alexa-powered products in its ever-expanding Echo line can do more on-device processing, instead of having to communicate with the cloud, a process that increases response rate times.

Chinese Phone Maker Xiaomi Deletes a Public MIUI vs Android One Twitter Poll After Voting Didn't Go Its Way ( 61

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which sells handsets at razor thin margins, is increasingly dominating in its home market and emerging places such as India and Indonesia. To make money, the company relies on a range of homegrown software features in its Android-based MIUI operating system. In a surprising move earlier this week, the company asked its Twitter followers to choose between MIUI and Android One (which runs pure Android OS). Things didn't go as it had planned. From a report: Presumably the company was rather hoping that Twitter users would vote for its own MIUI which it could then rub in Google's face -- but the poll actually went against Xiaomi. Rather than leave the results of the vote up for anyone to see, the company decided to simply delete it and pretend it never happened. Take a look at the Xiaomi account on Twitter, and you'll see no hint that any such poll has ever taken place. But over on Reddit, there's a thread which was started by someone posting a link to the poll. In the comments, one Redditor noticed after a period of voting that: "So far it's 53-47 for android one."

Researchers Are Developing An Algorithm That Makes Smartphones Child-Proof ( 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Researchers at the University of South Carolina and China's Zhejiang University have created an algorithm that can spot whether your kid is accidentally trying to, say, order from Amazon without your knowing. There are already plenty of activity-monitoring apps that aim to control what kids do on phones, but parents need to add them and turn them on, and they could be disabled by tech-savvy children. The researchers figured that automated age-range detection would make it easier for parents to hand their phones over to curious children without worrying that the kids will stumble upon an inappropriate website or get into a work e-mail account.

The researchers built a simple app and asked a group of kids between the ages of three and 11 -- and a group of adults between 22 and 60 -- to use it. The app had participants unlock an Android phone and then play a numbers-based game on it, so that the researchers could record a variety of taps and swipes. They also tracked things like the amount of pressure applied by a user's finger and the area it encompassed. The researchers used the resulting data to train an age-detecting algorithm that they say is 84 percent accurate with just one swipe on the screen -- a figure that goes up to 97 percent after eight swipes.


AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear ( 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.


Anti-China Bill Being Softened After US Companies Complain ( 71

Proposed legislation in Congress aimed at preventing China from acquiring sensitive technology is being softened after protests by big U.S. companies who fear a loss in sales, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing people with knowledge of the matter. From the report: Two bills in the House of Representatives and Senate would broaden the powers of the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in hopes of stopping Chinese efforts to acquire sophisticated U.S. technology. The bipartisan legislation has the support of President Donald Trump's administration. "We are concerned that it vastly expands the scope and jurisdiction (of CFIUS)," said Nancy McLernon, chief executive of the Organization for International Investment, a group that represents global companies with U.S. operations. Given the alarm that the legislation has caused, Senator John Cornyn's staff is drafting changes to address industry concerns, according to three sources. Cornyn's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Police In China Are Scanning Travelers With Facial Recognition Glasses ( 87

Baron_Yam shares a report from Engadget: Police in China are now sporting glasses equipped with facial recognition devices and they're using them to scan train riders and plane passengers for individuals who may be trying to avoid law enforcement or are using fake IDs. So far, police have caught seven people connected to major criminal cases and 26 who were using false IDs while traveling, according to People's Daily. The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing-based LLVision Technology Co. developed the devices. The company produces wearable video cameras as well and while it sells those to anyone, it's vetting buyers for its facial recognition devices. And, for now, it isn't selling them to consumers. LLVision says that in tests, the system was able to pick out individuals from a database of 10,000 people and it could do so in 100 milliseconds. However, CEO Wu Fei told the Wall Street Journal that in the real world, accuracy would probably drop due to "environmental noise." Additionally, aside from being portable, another difference between these devices and typical facial recognition systems is that the database used for comparing images is contained in a hand-held device rather than the cloud."

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