China

Toutiao, One of China's Most Popular News Apps, is Discovering the Risks Involved in Giving People Exactly What They Want Online (nytimes.com) 29

The New York Times reports: One of the world's most valuable start-ups got that way by using artificial intelligence to satisfy Chinese internet users' voracious appetite for news and entertainment. Every day, its smartphone app feeds 120 million people personalized streams of buzzy news stories, videos of dogs frolicking in snow, GIFs of traffic mishaps and listicles such as "The World's Ugliest Celebrities." Now the company is discovering the risks involved, under China's censorship regime, in giving the people exactly what they want. The makers of the popular news app Jinri Toutiao unveiled moves this week to allay rising concerns from the authorities (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source).

Last week, the Beijing bureau of China's top internet regulator accused Toutiao of "spreading pornographic and vulgar information" and "causing a negative impact on public opinion online," and ordered that updates to several popular sections of the app be halted for 24 hours. In response, the app's parent company, Beijing Bytedance Technology, took down or temporarily suspended the accounts of more than 1,100 bloggers that it said had been publishing "low-quality content" on the app. It also replaced Toutiao's "Society" section with a new section called "New Era," which is heavy on state media coverage of government decisions.

China

China's WeChat Denies Storing User Chats (reuters.com) 49

WeChat, China's most popular messenger app, on Tuesday denied storing users' chat histories, after a top businessman was quoted in media reports as saying he believed Tencent was monitoring everyone's account. From a report: " WeChat does not store any users' chat history. That is only stored in users' mobiles, computers and other terminals," WeChat said in a post on the social media platform. "WeChat will not use any content from user chats for big data analysis. Because of WeChat's technical model that does not store or analyse user chats, the rumour that 'we are watching your WeChat everyday' is pure misunderstanding." More than 900 million people use WeChat.
Earth

UK 'Faces Build-up of Plastic Waste' (bbc.com) 308

The UK's recycling industry says it doesn't know how to cope with a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. From a report: Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped. At the moment the UK cannot deal with much of that waste, says the UK Recycling Association. Its chief executive, Simon Ellin, told the BBC he had no idea how the problem would be solved in the short term. "It's a huge blow for us... a game-changer for our industry," he said. "We've relied on China so long for our waste... 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. "We simply don't have the markets in the UK. It's going to mean big changes in our industry." China has introduced the ban from this month on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries.
China

Construction Workers Find 30 Perfectly Preserved Dinosaur Eggs (bgr.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes BGR: Chinese construction workers digging on Christmas day found a gift that was wrapped 130 million years ago in the form of 30 incredibly preserved dinosaur eggs. The discovery was made in the city of Ganzhou at the future site of a new middle school, but work on the new facility had to be put on hold after the ancient eggs were discovered.

According to state media, the workers reported uncovering "oval-shaped stones" while clearing rock away using explosive blasts. The workers suspected they might be important so they alerted local law enforcement who took command of the site and contacted experts from a nearby museum who confirmed the "rocks" were actually fossilized dinosaur eggs. The eggs, which are thought to date from the Cretaceous period, are estimated to be as old as 130 million years. The location where they were discovered is believed to have once been an ancient lakeshore, which would have been a pleasant place for the dinosaurs to raise their brood.

Star Wars Prequels

'Star Wars' Franchise Crosses $4 Billion, Eclipsing Disney's Lucasfilm Price (hollywoodreporter.com) 187

Combined, Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Force Awakens have surpassed $4.06 billion in ticket sales at the worldwide box office. That's more than what Disney paid to buy George Lucas' Star Wars franchise. From the Hollywood Reporter: While an interesting benchmark, it doesn't, of course, account for the hundreds of millions spent to produce and market the trio of films, or the fact that Disney splits box-office grosses with theater owners. Conversely, Disney has minted additional money from lucrative ancillary revenue streams, merchandising sales and theme park attractions. Opening in North America on Dec. 15, The Last Jedi zoomed past the $900 million mark on Thursday, finishing the day with $934.2 million globally, including $464.6 million domestically and $469.6 internationally (it doesn't land in China until Jan. 5). The sequel to The Force Awakens was directed by Rian Johnson, and has dominated the Christmas corridor. The Last Jedi will jump the $1 billion mark over New Year's weekend on its way to becoming the top-grossing 2017 release, eclipsing the $1.264 billion earned by fellow Disney title Beauty and the Beast. In December 2015, filmmaker J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens shattered numerous records on its way to grossing $2.068 billion globally, including an all-time best $936.7 million in North America, not accounting for inflation.
AI

Human Go Champion Backtracks On Vow To Never Face An AI Opponent Again (engadget.com) 31

Back in May, Google's AlphaGo AI defeated the human world champion Ke Jie in a three-part match. After it was over, Jie vowed never to play a computer again. But apparently something has changed his mind because Chinese news sources report that Jie will once again play an artificial intelligence at an AI tournament to be held in China in April 2018. Engadget reports: Ke Jie is one of the tournament's ambassadors, and he will play against the AI Tianrang. Normally, a human representative places pieces on behalf of the AI, but in this case, a robotic arm developed by Fuzhou University will fulfill that role. Tianrang previously ascended to the semi-finals of Japan's AI Go tournament, called AI Ryusei, earlier this month. Tencent's AI was the ultimate winner of that tournament. The complement of AI competitors for the Chinese tournament are Tianrang (Shanghai), DeepZenGo (Japan), CGI (Taipai) and more. Google DeepMind's AlphaGo has since retired from competition, so it will not be playing in the tournament.
China

WeChat To Become China's Official Electronic ID System (scmp.com) 54

The popular mobile application WeChat is poised to become China's official electronic personal identification system. "The government of Guangzhou, capital of the southern coastal province of Guangdong, started on Monday a pilot program that creates a virtual ID card, which serves the same purpose as the traditional state-issued ID cards, through the WeChat accounts of registered users in the city's Nansha district," reports South China Morning Post. From the report: It said that trial will soon cover the entire province and further expand across the country from January next year. The program's success would mark one of the most significant milestones for WeChat after it was initially rolled out by Tencent as a mobile messaging service in 2011, and then evolved into the country's largest social network, as well as a popular online platform for payments and money transfers. Shenzhen-based Tencent has estimated that WeChat, marketed as Weixin on the mainland, recorded 980 million monthly active users in the quarter ended September 30. The WeChat ID program was co-developed by the research institute of the Ministry of Public Security and Tencent's WeChat team, and supported by various banks and several other government departments. The project is expected to help deter online identity theft, as facial recognition technology is used to verify applicants before their virtual ID cards get authorized. Those verified will be able to use their WeChat ID to register in hotels and apply for government services without the need of bringing their physical ID cards.
Iphone

Analysts Cut iPhone X Shipment Forecasts, Citing Lukewarm Demand (bloomberg.com) 168

According to Bloomberg, analysts have lowered iPhone X shipment projections for the first quarter of next year, citing signs of lackluster demand at the end of the holiday shopping season. From the report: Sinolink Securities Co. analyst Zhang Bin said in a report Monday that handset shipments in the period may be as low as 35 million, or 10 million less than he previously estimated. "After the first wave of demand has been fulfilled, the market now worries that the high price of the iPhone X may weaken demand in the first quarter," Zhang wrote. JL Warren Capital LLC said shipments will drop to 25 million units in the first quarter of 2018 from 30 million units in the fourth quarter, citing reduced orders at some Apple suppliers. The drop reflects "weak demand because of the iPhone X's high price point and a lack of interesting innovations," the New York-based research firm said in note to clients Friday. "Bad news here is that highly publicized and promoted X did not boost the global demand for iPhone X," according to the note. Apple is said to have trimmed its first-quarter sales forecast to 30 million units from 50 million, Taiwanese newspaper Economic Daily News reported, citing unidentified supply chain officials. It also said Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.'s main iPhone X manufacturing hub in Zhengzhou, China, stopped recruiting workers. The company also known as Foxconn is the sole iPhone X assembler, and also makes the handsets in Shenzhen and Chengdu.
China

China's Shanghai Sets Population at 25 Million To Avoid 'Big City Disease' (theguardian.com) 83

An anonymous reader shares a report: China's financial hub of Shanghai will limit its population to 25 million people by 2035 as part of a quest to manage "big city disease," authorities have said. The State Council said on its website late on Monday the goal to control the size of the city was part of Shanghai's masterplan for 2017-2035, which the government body had approved. "By 2035, the resident population in Shanghai will be controlled at around 25 million and the total amount of land made available for construction will not exceed 3,200 square kilometres," it said. State media has defined "big city disease" as arising when a megacity becomes plagued with environmental pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of public services, including education and medical care. But some experts doubt the feasibility of the plans, with one researcher at a Chinese government thinktank describing the scheme as "unpractical and against the social development trend."
China

China Closes More Than 13,000 Websites in Past Three Years (reuters.com) 73

China has closed more than 13,000 websites since the beginning of 2015 for breaking the law or other rules and the vast majority of people support government efforts to clean up cyberspace, state news agency Xinhua reports. From the report: The government has stepped up already tight controls over the internet since President Xi Jinping took power five years ago, in what critics say is an effort to restrict freedom of speech and prevent criticism of the ruling Communist Party. The government says all countries regulate the internet, and its rules are aimed at ensuring national security and social stability and preventing the spread of pornography and violent content. A report to the on-going session of the standing committee of China's largely rubber stamp parliament said the authorities had targeted pornography and violence in their sweeps of websites, blogs and social media accounts, Xinhua said.
China

12 Days In Xinjiang - China's Surveillance State (business-standard.com) 132

Long-time Slashdot reader b0s0z0ku writes: China has turned Xinjiang, the Northwestern part of the country surrounding Urumqi, into one of the most advanced surveillance states in the world. Officially, the purpose is to prevent terrorism and control resistance to the government in one of the few parts of China where ethnic Chinese are a minority.

From routine use of facial recognition cameras, to police checkpoints where people's cell phones randomly are checked for unauthorized software, to needing to swipe an ID card and be photographed to buy gasoline and other necessities, the level of technology — and control — is frightening and awe-inspiring.

China

China Is Building a Solar Power Highway (electrek.co) 131

China is building roadways with solar panels underneath that may soon have the ability to charge cars wirelessly and digitally assist automated vehicles. "This second solar roadway project -- part of the Jinan City Expressway -- is a 1.2 mile stretch," reports Electrek. "The building technique involves transparent concrete over a layer of solar panels." From the report: Construction is complete and grid connection is pending, but is expected to be complete before the end of the year. The Jinan City solar highway is formed with three layers. The top layer is a transparent concrete that has similar structural properties with standard asphalt. The central layer is the solar panels -- which are pointed out as being "weight bearing." The bottom layer is to separate the solar panels from the damp earth underneath. The road will be durable enough to handle vehicles as large as a medium sized truck. It was noted by engineers that wireless vehicle charging could soon be integrated and automated car functions could take advantage of the inherent data in this this already wired roadway. No details were given on which solar panels being used. Two separate sizes could be seen from the images. It looks like the solar panels are covered with a film to protect them from workers moving over them. Notice in one picture there is an individual sitting down with wires showing between the solar panels connecting them.
China

Man in China Sentenced To Five Years' Jail For Running VPN (theguardian.com) 42

A Chinese entrepreneur has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison for selling VPN service, a government newspaper said, as Beijing tries to stamp out use of technology that evades its internet filters. From a report: Wu Xiangyang was also fined 500,000 yuan ($75,900), an amount equal to his profits since starting the service in 2013, according to a report in the newspaper of China's national prosecutor's office. The Great Firewall, as the censorship apparatus is commonly known, means people in China are banned from visiting thousands of websites, including Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Wu ran his VPN service from 2013 until June this year and claimed to serve 8,000 foreign clients and 5,000 businesses.
China

Chinese Backdoor Still Active on Many Android Devices (bleepingcomputer.com) 30

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Many Android users may still have a backdoor on their device, according to new revelations made today by the Malwarebytes' mobile security research team. Their discovery is related to the Adups case from last year. Back in mid-November 2016, US cyber-security firm Kryptowire revealed it discovered that firmware code created by a Chinese company called Adups was collecting vasts amount of user information and sending it to servers located in China. According to Kryptowire, the backdoor code was collecting SMS messages, call history, address books, app lists, phone hardware identifiers, but it was also capable of installing new apps or updating existing ones. The backdoor was hidden inside a built-in and unremovable app named com.adups.fota, the component responsible for the phone's firmware-over-the-air update (FOTA) system.
China

China Blocks Foreign Companies From Mapping Its Roads for Self-Driving Cars (thedrive.com) 110

The Chinese government is blocking foreign companies from mapping its roads in great detail, according to a Financial Times (paywalled) report. The restrictions, which reportedly do not apply to Chinese firms, are being instituted in the name of national security. China is concerned about spying. From a report: China has restricted the recording of geographic information for more than a decade because it believes giving other countries access to that information constitutes a security risk. Geographic surveys can't be performed without permission from the government, and many digital cameras don't record GPS coordinates for geotagging, as they do in other countries, according to Fortune.
Opera

Opera Software Changes Name To Otello Corporation (reuters.com) 55

Opera Software has changed its name to Otello Corporation, it said in a statement on Monday. From a report: Otello owns companies that develop software for advertising, telecoms, games and other online business. The name changes does not affect Opera Software AS or the Opera and Opera Mini internet browsers, all of which Otello sold in 2016, Opera Software AS said in a separate statement.
China

Facial Recognition Algorithms -- Plus 1.8 Billion Photos -- Leads to 567 Arrests in China (scmp.com) 168

"Our machines can very easily recognise you among at least 2 billion people in a matter of seconds," says the chief executive and co-founder of Yitu. The South China Morning Post reports: Yitu's Dragonfly Eye generic portrait platform already has 1.8 billion photographs to work with: those logged in the national database and you, if you have visited China recently... 320 million of the photos have come from China's borders, including ports and airports, where pictures are taken of everyone who enters and leaves the country. According to Yitu, its platform is also in service with more than 20 provincial public security departments, and is used as part of more than 150 municipal public security systems across the country, and Dragonfly Eye has already proved its worth. On its very first day of operation on the Shanghai Metro, in January, the system identified a wanted man when he entered a station. After matching his face against the database, Dragonfly Eye sent his photo to a policeman, who made an arrest. In the following three months, 567 suspected lawbreakers were caught on the city's underground network. The system has also been hooked up to security cameras at various events; at the Qingdao International Beer Festival, for example, 22 wanted people were apprehended.

Whole cities in which the algorithms are working say they have seen a decrease in crime. According to Yitu, which says it gets its figures directly from the local authorities, since the system has been implemented, pickpocketing on Xiamen's city buses has fallen by 30 per cent; 500 criminal cases have been resolved by AI in Suzhou since June 2015; and police arrested nine suspects identified by algorithms during the 2016 G20 summit in Hangzhou. Dragonfly Eye has even identified the skull of a victim five years after his murder, in Zhejiang province.

The company's CEO says it's impossible for police to patrol large cities like Shanghai (population: 24,000,000) without using technology.

And one Chinese bank is already testing facial-recognition algorithms hoping to develop ATMs that let customers withdraw money just by showing their faces.
China

China Will Spend $3.3 Billion to Research Molten Salt Nuclear-Powered Drones (scmp.com) 194

Long-time Slashdot reader WindBourne tipped us off to some news from The South China Morning Post: China is to spend 22 billion yuan (US$3.3 billion) trying to perfect a form of technology largely discarded in the cold war which could produce a safer but more powerful form of nuclear energy. The cash is to develop two "molten salt" reactors in the Gobi Desert in northern China. Researchers hope that if they can solve a number of technical problems the reactors will lead to a range of applications, including nuclear-powered warships and drones. The technology, in theory, can create more heat and power than existing forms of nuclear reactors that use uranium, while producing only one thousandth of the radioactive waste. It also has the advantage for China of using thorium as its main fuel. China has some of the world's largest reserves of the metal...

The reactors use molten salt rather than water as a coolant, allowing them to create temperatures of over 800 degrees Celsius, nearly three times the heat produced by a commercial nuclear plant fuelled with uranium. The superhot air has the potential to drive turbines and jet engines and in theory keep a bomber flying at supersonic speed for days.

One Beijing researcher says these drones "would serve as a platform for surveillance, communication or weapon delivery to deter nuclear and other threats from hostile countries." He asked not to be named, but provided one more advantage for a nuclear-powered drone flying at high-altitudes over the ocean.

"It will also have more public acceptance. If an accident happens, it crashes into the sea."
Businesses

China's Top Phone Makers Huawei and Xiaomi In Talks With Carriers To Expand To US Market (bloomberg.com) 44

From a report: Huawei and Xiaomi are in talks with U.S. wireless operators about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The handset makers are negotiating with carriers including AT&T and Verizon, said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Talks are still fluid and it's possible no agreements will materialize, they said.
AI

Google To Open AI Center In China Despite Search Ban (bbc.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research center in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country. Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent. In a blog post on the company's website, Google said the new research center was an important part of its mission as an "AI first company." "Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone's life better for the entire world," said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. The research center, which joins similar facilities in London, New York, Toronto and Zurich, will be run by a small team from its existing office in Beijing. The tech giant operates two offices in China, with roughly half of its 600 employees working on global products, company spokesperson Taj Meadows told the AFP news agency. But Google's search engine and a number of other services are banned in China. The country has imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies over the past year, including new censorship restrictions.

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