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2019-07-18 08:18:06

Google has removed around 60 apps developed by the Shanghai-based, U.S.-listed software firm CooTek from its Google Play store and banned the company from its Google AdMob advertising platform for allegedly engaging in malicious ad practices.

CooTek, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and known for products like the popular TouchPal Keyboard, denies the allegations but confirmed in a press release Wednesday that some of its apps have been “temporarily disabled” on Google’s platforms.

The move will not affect current users of CooTek’s apps, versions of which will remain available on Chinese app markets, the company added. “CooTek remains committed to upholding the highest standards in the industry and complying with Google Play developer policies,” the company’s press release said. A spokesperson told financial news outlet Caixin that CooTek has been negotiating with Google but has not yet received any feedback.

This isn’t the first time Google has taken action against developers with ties to China. DO Global — which is partly owned by tech giant Baidu Inc. — and Cheetah Mobile were hit with similar bans in April and November, respectively. (Image: IC)

Republished with permission from Caixin Global.

12 hours

China’s Ministry of Public Security has ordered 100 mobile apps offline until they resolve user privacy concerns, business news outlet Caixin reported Wednesday, citing a recent report from a domestic cybersecurity NGO.

The apps of several banks and e-commerce platforms, as well as the New York-listed real estate platform Fang.com, were among the lengthy list. Possible violations included vague user agreements and unnecessary collecting of user data, according to the report by the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team/Coordination Center of China, the NGO.

Since 2017, Chinese apps have repeatedly come under fire from both the authorities and the public for over-collecting or mishandling user data, including photos, chat messages, location data, and personal information.

In May, the Cyberspace Administration of China introduced a draft regulation aimed at curbing the dubious practices of data-grubbing apps. That proposal was part of a wider internet cleanup campaign that resulted in dozens of websites being blocked and thousands of social media accounts being shut down. (Image: VCG)

16 hours

At least seven people were killed and 13 others have received treatment for injuries after an explosion at a fireworks factory in central China’s Hunan province, local authorities said in a statement.

The explosion occurred at around 7:50 a.m. Wednesday at Bixi Fireworks Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Liuyang, a city widely regarded as the birthplace of firecrackers in China. An unspecified number of the company’s representatives and investors are being held in police custody for the “illegal production” of fireworks, the statement added.

Local authorities have formed a team to investigate the incident and vowed to monitor all fireworks-producing companies in the province.

In recent years, China has strengthened supervision over explosives nationwide, citing safety concerns. Hundreds of Chinese cities have also restricted the sale and use of fireworks during Lunar New Year celebrations in a bid to curb air pollution. In February, five people in the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were killed in an explosion at a shop suspected of illegally storing and selling fireworks and firecrackers. (Image: @新浪新闻 from Weibo)

1 day

A couple diagnosed with pneumonic plague in November are believed to have become infected after the husband was exposed to the bacterium in the air while tilling the soil of his farm, according to a report Friday from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The two patients — a herdsman and his wife from the northern region of Inner Mongolia — were diagnosed with plague at a Beijing hospital on Nov. 12. According to the report, the husband experienced fever, vomiting, and chest pains, among other symptoms, after working on his farm. His wife became infected after being in close contact with him. The couple were treated with antibiotics at a local hospital before being transferred by ambulance to Beijing.

Two days after the confirmed cases in Beijing, a third individual in Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic form of plague at a local hospital. This patient — whose case was not epidemiologically related to the other two — had become infected from skinning and eating a wild hare.

The Mongolian Plateau has seen several cases of rodent-borne diseases this year, the report said. As of Nov. 21, some 447 people in Beijing and 46 in Inner Mongolia had been quarantined over possibly coming into contact with the infected individuals, according to the report. All of them have since been discharged, though the couple who were first diagnosed remain in critical condition.

A fourth case of plague was diagnosed in Inner Mongolia on Nov. 27, though it’s not yet clear how the patient became infected. (Image: VCG)

2 days

From Dec. 1, mobile users hoping to purchase SIM cards in China will have to undergo a mandatory “facial registration” procedure, according to a recent policy from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The new requirement, announced in September, aims to “utilize innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence” to improve the existing real-name registration system, as well as prevent identity theft and the resale of SIM cards, the ministry said. Previously, mobile users had to present their national ID cards or passports when buying a SIM card.

Face-scanning kiosks have actually been in use in Beijing since October, according to local media. Customers purchasing SIM cards now have their faces scanned along with their identity cards — a streamlined process that takes around 5 minutes, the report said. Users can also complete the registration steps on a telecom provider’s mobile app by taking a photo of their ID and uploading a six-second video of their face.

The expansion of facial recognition to virtually every industry in China has sparked broad discussions about security and ethics. In November, a professor in the eastern Zhejiang province filed the country’s first lawsuit against the compulsory collection of facial data by a local zoo. And on Wednesday, artificial intelligence firm SenseTime announced that it is heading a coalition of 27 Chinese companies to draft the country’s first national standard for applications of facial recognition. (Image: IC)

3 days

In response to online rumors of its supposed impending bankruptcy, online education platform VIPKid has offered a 100,000 yuan ($14,200) bounty for information about the identity of the internet user responsible for starting them.

In a post Friday on social app WeChat, VIPKid shared a screenshot of a user with the handle zHuanHuan telling a chat group of nearly 100 members that she had heard VIPKid is on the verge of bankruptcy. “As long as the user zHuanHuan is not acting in bad faith, we promise not to hold her legally responsible,” the post said.

Founded in Beijing in 2013, VIPKid describes itself as one China’s top online English-learning platforms, hosting more than 700,000 students and 90,000 teachers as of August. The platform connects students, most of whom live in China, with largely North American tutors for one-on-one conversation sessions.

VIPKid responded to the rumors of financial pressure by pointing to the 1 billion yuan in investment it received in October from tech giant Tencent. Weeks later, however, TechNode reported that the company was planning to lay off 30% of its staff in sales, operations, and research and development, citing a source familiar with the matter. VIPKid told the news outlet it was “actively growing” and would hire “thousands of new employees in the months and years ahead.” (Image: IC)

3 days

The Chinese crowdfunding platform Shuidichou has banned its offline promoters from advertising its services, according to an official notice Saturday.

The company’s statement came hours after domestic media outlet Pear Video released an undercover report exposing the company’s allegedly lax vetting standards. The video report showed the offline promoters visiting hospitals in several Chinese provinces and urging patients to start their own fundraising campaigns on Shuidichou. Some encouraged patients to set fundraising targets above what they would need to cover their medical expenses. In the video, one promoter is heard telling a patient’s family that Shuidichou doesn’t check how the funds are be used, even though the company’s policy requires such disclosures.

The offline promoters typically pocket an extra 100 yuan ($14) for each new campaign they register, as well as an additional 500 yuan for every 25 new sign-ups, according to an official job description. In Saturday’s statement, Shuidichou vowed to “strictly punish” promoters who violated company policy and promised to strengthen its vetting practices to prevent the misuse of publicly donated funds.

Since its launch in 2016, Shuidichou has landed in hot water multiple times after people were caught exploiting the platform without the company’s knowledge. Last month, a Beijing court ordered a man to return all of the donations he received through Shuidichou after he was discovered to be using them for purposes he had not declared. In May, Shuidichou had promised to improve its vetting practices after a successful Chinese comedian launched a crowdfunding campaign that garnered largely unsympathetic responses on social media and raised questions about whether well-off individuals should be allowed to fundraise on the site. (Image: IC)

3 days

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Friday issued a new set of policies that for the first time imposed regulations on audio and visual content that is created by technologies such as artificial intelligence or virtual reality and shared online, with a stated aim of preventing the dissemination of “fake news.”

The new rules — which will take effect on the first day of 2020, according to the CAC’s announcement — mandate that online content made with the aforementioned technologies must be clearly marked as such. Failure to comply, or deliberately spreading fake news generated with technological assistance, may henceforth be considered a criminal offense, the statement said.

Domestic content-sharing platforms will also be required to implement systems for identifying technologically altered content — including audio files, livestreams, short videos, films, and online series — and preventing fake or misleading content from being shared.

When “deepfakes” — or AI-manipulated videos in which a subject appears to say or do things they have not said or done — first surfaced online in 2017, their potential for dubious applications, including misinformation and pornography, sparked concerns among both governments and the public. In September, a Chinese face-swapping app called Zao came under fire after users discovered that it had reserved the right to share or sell their photos and videos to third parties, potentially violating users’ privacy. (Image: @每日人物 on Weibo)

6 days

A team of researchers at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have discovered a black hole in the Milky Way that’s 70 times more massive than the sun, according to a paper published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

The black hole, dubbed LB-1, exposes a flaw in the scientific community’s long-held belief that a black hole could only grow to around 20 times the mass of the sun.

The finding is an important revelation not only for the Chinese-lead research team but also for scientists worldwide, who must now consider how the existence of LB-1 calls fundamental theories of physics, such as Einstein’s theory of relativity, into question.

The discovery was made possible by China’s Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope, located in the northern Hebei province. The device is the world’s largest galaxy-scanner, and was used to spot a star 15,000 light-years from the Earth that was orbiting LB-1, leading to the celestial body’s discovery. (Image: VCG)

6 days

China’s National Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA) has added dozens of new drugs to the country’s national insurance scheme, which the government agency claims offers the “lowest price in the world” to patients for many medications.

While 70 new medicines were added to the country’s reimbursement list, 27 others already on the list were given two-year extensions, reducing prices by an average of 60.7%, the NHSA said in a notice Thursday. The 97 medications, produced by both domestic and international pharmaceutical companies, include 22 cancer drugs, seven rare disease medications, 14 therapies for chronic diseases, and four pediatric drugs, among others.

The NHSA described the talks leading to the expanded coverage as its “largest-ever negotiations” with global drugmakers. The new total of medicines covered by the country’s state-run medical insurance is 2,709.

China’s medical insurance schemes subsidize a significant portion of the cost of designated drugs. Since 2016, China has accelerated drug approvals to meet domestic demand, including them on the list of medications covered in order to relieve some of the financial burden felt by patients. (Image: VCG)

6 days

Doctoral students in China are more likely to regret their academic paths than Ph.D. students in other parts of the world, according to a global survey by the scientific journal Nature.

Polling 6,320 doctoral students globally, including 690 in China, the survey, published Tuesday, concluded that 55% of such students in China — compared with 72% outside of China — are satisfied with their degree programs. Professional regrets are also pervasive, with 45% of Chinese respondents saying their Ph.D. programs failed to meet their expectations. Meanwhile, 36% of students in other countries reported being satisfied with their programs.

The emotional toll of academic research, a lopsided work-life balance, and uncertain career prospects all contribute to the high degree of dissatisfaction felt by China’s Ph.D. students, according to the survey. Compared with their international peers, China’s doctoral students are less likely to seek help if they’re experiencing anxiety — and those who do say they’re less inclined to seek that help from their institutions. Asked what they would do differently, 22% of Chinese respondents said they would like to have a different faculty supervisor, 36% said they’d like to change their area of study, and 7% that they wish they hadn’t pursued a Ph.D. at all.

The survey also notes, however, that just 12% of China’s doctoral students said they’d experienced discrimination or harassment at their academic institution, compared with 22% in other countries. (Image: VCG)

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