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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Speculation grows over Google’s return to China

As tvnewswatch tweeted back in July [See here, here & here] Google may be planning a returning to China. New reports in several publications appear to indicate that the tech giant is negotiating with authorities there to set up a China based app store.

Reports first emerged in late July that Google had supposedly registered several domain names in China prompting some Chinese media to speculate the company was making a return.

One article pointed to the fact that several sites had been registered by Google including  registered googleplaychina.com/.cn/.com.cn (Google application market China), googleplaychinaedition.com (Google application market Chinese version), googlechinaaccount .com (Google China account), googlechinaedition.com (Google Chinese version), amongst others [Sina / China News].

Some reports in the Chinese media also alluded to the possibility that Google was also actively communicating and negotiating with domestic mobile phone manufacturersin order to facilitate the pre-installation of Google Play Store into devices.

None of them are live and simply show the page as unavailable. Nonetheless, an article published this week on The Information website suggested that Google's return to China could happen as early as October

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal claimed that Google was already "in talks with Chinese government officials and handset makers about launching a new Android app store".

Despite the upbeat reports, any return will depend upon whether the Chinese authorities grant Google the appropriate licences.

Google ceased almost all its operations in mainland China in 2010 following cyberattacks against Gmail users and disagreements with the government over censorship of search results.

Should Google be allowed to set up shop in China, it could prove lucrative. Whilst Android is widely used there Google currently makes little if any money from the software it designed. Google Play is unavailable in China and other app stores currently compete with each other, none of which provide any revenue for Google.

Of course any app store Google is allowed to set up will undoubtedly be shaped for the Chinese market [The Verge]. Apps deemed unsuitable would be stripped from the store and it is likely that others would simply not be offered since they would not work anyway due to Internet censorship.

For example many of Google's own services are virtually unusable in China including GMail, Drive, YouTube, Picasa, Maps, and even its search engine. Other apps that would prove pointless to offer to a Chinese audience would be the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Dropbox and Instagram as well as many news media apps including Bloomberg, the Guardian, Al Jazeera and the New York Times, all of which are currently blocked in China.

While the inability to access such sites is a major frustration for expats, for many Chinese Internet and smartphone users such blocks are of little consequence.

Many have become accustomed to the heavy handed censorship and have resigned themselves to using homegrown alternatives. Baidu is the main search engine of choice while WeChat [known as Weixin in China] is the most popular social media tool.

Even if Google enters the market it may be some while before it is able to stake a place in what is an extremely competitive market. While iTunes delivers apps and other content for Apple devices around the globe, due to Android's open source operating system there is the potential of any number of app stores setting up.

In the West however Google only has to compete with Amazon's app store. In China it is very different. After Google departed in 2010 hundreds of third-party Android app stores sprung up. That market has dwindled, but Google will have its work cut out as it competes with at least six major stores including 360 Market, Baidu-owned 91 Wireless, UCWeb, Tencent's MyApp, Xiaomi's Mi Market, and Wandoujia [The Next Web].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, September 04, 2015

Picture of death wakes the world up to refugee crisis

The tragedy of war was graphically illustrated this week by the publication of a series of photographs depicting a 3-year-old boy drowned and washed up on a Turkish beach.

Aylan Kurdi came from the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane. He had been travelling with his father, mother and brother, 5-year-old Galip, who had attempted to make the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greece.

He was just one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach Greece that day, a day that turned to tragedy for more than one family fleeing war.

Photos of tragedy

Newspapers around the world published some of the pictures, taken by photo-journalist Nilufer Demir of the Dogan News Agency [Washington Post]. Many held back from publishing the most graphic pictures but even the less disturbing picture of a police officer carrying away the limp body of 3-year-old Aylan was enough to awaken the conscience of many European politicians and citizens.

Dilemma

In an interview with one paper the photographer said she felt she had no option other to record the tragedy [Hurriyet Daily News / Washington Post].

The debate concerning whether to publish graphic photographs or even taking them in the first place has continued for many years [News Activist]. Western media in particular shy away from showing dead bodies, particularly when the victim is a westerner. And even if they do publish they are often heavily pixelated.

But the tragedy that unfurled on a Turkish beach this week was one many media outlets could not ignore. Some newspapers even went as far as showing a close-up of the limp body of the child.  

Wake-up call

The image was sickening, yes. Perhaps also an invasion of privacy. However it could be argued that many people needed to be shocked into realising the growing human tragedy that is unfolding as a result of the spread of radical Islam and the brutality of war from which many of these people are fleeing.

One amongst thousands

This is but one child. One small victim amongst the thousands that have died in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

By early August 2015, the opposition activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR] reported the number of children killed in the conflict had risen to 11,964, while at the same time 7,719 women were also killed. And in the last few months alone more than 2,000 migrants or refugees have perished in their vain attempts to reach European shores.

Blame game

There are many arguments concerning who is to blame. There are some who will say that the Blair/Bush coalition ignited the powder keg having invaded Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq which destabilised the region and allowed groups like ISIS to develop and flourish.  The overthrow of Gaddafi has also led to an exodus of refugees fleeing a now unstable Libya.

None of these countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya etc were particularly pleasant prior to Western interference. But they were stable and the number of people fleeing in years past was minimal. However, after years of war and chaos it is unsurprising that so many are desperate to leave these places.

Carrying the can

Unfortunately it is Europe that is picking up the pieces and burdening the cost as thousands of refugees arrive daily. Meanwhile the US which played a major part in creating the situation which triggered these events stands idly by and makes little comment and offers no help or solution.

However some have begun to raise the issue and asked whether other countries should also do more. "When people talk about a refugee crisis and the moral obligations that implies, that is not just an obligation for Britain or for Europe. People go back to the Second World War and the huge refugee crisis that involved and of course very large number went to the United States, to Canada, to South America, to Australia and other countries," Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, told Radio 4 [Telegraph].

Opening doors

Even before this week's events refugees were being helped by people, some of them former politicians who felt it necessary to open their home. Former Hungary PM Ferenc Gyurcsány speaking to CNN's Christiane Amanpour said he has been welcoming dozens of refugees and opened his home up to the desperate influx of people escaping war torn Syria and Iraq [MSN video / CNN video].

Meanwhile the current Hungarian government has been far less welcoming and taken a hard line on the refugees, something the country's former PM Gyurcsány Ferenc said he failed to understand

The situation in Europe has been described as the biggest refugee crisis since WWII [Hindustan Times].

And one man who escaped that particular exodus over 70 years ago spoke of his experiences to CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Kindertransport survivor John Fieldsend expressed his thanks to the British for saving him but said that the UK Prime Minister David Cameron should act on Europe's refugee crisis immediately [CNN video].

Taking stock

The pitiful sight of a drowned boy was enough to push the British PM to make a U-turn. Only the day before the pictures were published PM David Cameron rejected the idea that Britain should take more refugees.

PM Cameron said he was saddened by the scenes he saw on television and said Britain would act with its "head and heart" and accept a further 4,000 refugees [BBC / BBC / CNN].

For the father of Aylan, it is a personal tragedy. He has lost his family and says he has plans to return to Syria [Guardian / CNN / Telegraph].

The photograph is tragic and shocking but it needed to be seen in order to open people's eyes to the unfurling disaster.  Many words are spoken but this picture says more than words can say. And it is one that has done more to wake up politicians to the growing refugee crisis.

No easy solutions

Europe and other countries must also recognise that there are two crises. One is a migrant crisis, and the other is a refugee crisis. Determining who are legitimate asylum seekers is difficult. Integration and affording the costs are going to prove difficult in the short and long term, but Europe and arguably the US and other countries have a responsibility if not just for humanitarian grounds.

There also needs to be a reasoned debate on how the international community deals with the continuing turmoil in Libya, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

No-one wants yet more military action, yet some intervention may well be necessary to curtail the growth of ISIS and the continuing descending spiral of chaos that is enveloping these countries.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, August 24, 2015

China stocks tank, hits global markets

Continuing slumps in Chinese stocks have hit global markets with nearly all indices around the world showing signs of instability [BBC / CNN].

Government support measures have failed to allay investor concerns and China's stocks plunged the most since 2007 [Bloomberg / Telegraph].

Shanghai Composite was down 8.5% at close, the biggest drop since 2007 and erasing gains for 2015. Meanwhile the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index lost 5.8% and Futures on the CSI 300 Index declined around 9.5%.

Fallout

Other Asian markets have been particularly hard hit. Equity markets also fell sharply. "It's not pretty," Bloomberg's anchor announced, "it's red, it's deep red."

Global equity markets were also hard hit and commodity markets slumped to a 16 year low [Bloomberg / WSJ].

Raw materials are in retreat as supplies outstrip demand amid forecasts for the slowest Chinese growth since 1990. The largest user of energy, grains and metals was much weaker than anyone expected in the first half of the year, according to Ivan Glasenberg, head of commodity trader Glencore Plc. Chinese shares plunged after U.S. stocks sank last week.

"It's being fuelled by the large drop in the Chinese stock market today, which is making people nervous about the management of the Chinese economy, which has direct implications for commodities," Ric Spooner, a chief market strategist at CMC Markets Asia Pty, told Bloomberg.

Warning signs such as softer imports and exports have fanned fears of falling demand for raw materials in the world's second largest economy and had already rocked commodity markets last month [Guardian]. Industrial metals like copper and aluminium have been particularly hard hit, falling to multi-year lows.

European markets hit

European markets have been hit heavily following the falls in the Asian markets. Stock markets in London, Paris and Frankfurt all opened sharply lower as fears of a Chinese economic slowdown continued to haunt investors.

London's FTSE 100 index was down by 2.5% in early trade, while major markets in France and Germany also opened down by more than 3%.

In addition, oil prices are slumping to six year lows, as traders worry about slowing growth in the worth's second largest economy [BBC].

Continuing falls

Worsening economic data and signs of capital outflows are undermining unprecedented government attempts to shore up the China's $6 trillion stock market.

"This is a real disaster and it seems nothing can stop it," Chen Gang, Shanghai-based chief investment officer at Heqitongyi Asset Management Company told Bloomberg.

The downward trends begun in late June and despite continued government intervention there has been no sign of stability in the Chinese stock market. July saw the biggest losses in six years with the Shanghai composite index down 14% for the month [Guardian].

Indeed, the uncertainty has only fueled the retreat, and there are signs that many Western companies are starting to bail on China.

The Chinese slowdown is forcing many Western companies to take a long hard look at their businesses in the Middle Kingdom. Many have already reduced investments, costs and product lines, as well as implementing initiatives to tackle increasing bad debts [Business Insider].

For those who believe China's economic slowdown is worsening and risks from spiralling debt and wasteful investment are propelling the country toward a financial crisis, the spectre of capital flight lurks behind each new data point [FT].

Optimistic long term view

Many analysts have said that in the long-term there is little to worry about and that China will eventually recover.

"I'm optimistic long-term and medium-term that China will come back. Short-term, we need to manage through the drought that we see," said Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of Swiss-based industrial conglomerate ABB.

"We are in correction territory at the moment" Ian Harnett of Absolute Strategy Research told Bloomberg TV, whilst speculating that Chinese authorities would eventually "bring things around".

Overall economists expect mild capital outflows from China to continue, but most analysts do not see a major cause for alarm. They note that China's foreign exchange reserves are still by far the world's largest and that a significant chunk of capital outflow is due to intentional policy choices by the Chinese government, rather than panicked investors seeking an exit.

Seeing red

But while Western commentators and economists remain generally optimistic, many of those in China are seeing red.

China's stock markets are dominated by individual investors, and it is they who have been hardest hit. For more than a year the market only went up and everyone felt richer. But as the markets crash the credibility of the government is at stake [BBC].

"In the beginning I thought the government was trying to do its best," one young investor told the [BBC]. "But now I'm really angry. They just cheated."

"People trusted the government but the government let them down. It encouraged people to buy stocks but it's turned out to be a joke. The lesson is never trust the government."

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bangkok terrorist bomb kills 17, injures dozens

A bomb placed on a motorcycle exploded on Monday [17th August] just outside a Hindu shrine in the centre of the Thai capital. Local media reported that four foreigners were amongst up to 27 people killed and 80 others injured by the blast just outside the Erawan shrine. Early reports suggested that only 12 had died with Reuters reporting that as many as 27 had perished.

A government spokesperson told Reuters that the bombing was aimed at destroying the economy and the tourism industry. "The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district," Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told Reuters.

There have also been suggestions the attack may have deliberately charged Chinese tourists. Thailand's Chinese-language newspaper Sing Sian Daily has hypothesized that global Islamist terrorist organizations could be trying to send Bangkok a message over its recent forcible repatriation of 109 Uyghurs to China.

Other groups that are likely to be responsible for the attacks, according to the paper, are Muslim separatists based in Thailand's restive south, and anti-junta Red Shirts. The attack has been denounced by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra as well as her brother Thaksin, who remains in exile.

The attack came during the rush hour at a very busy intersection situated near to five star hotels and shopping centres. Witnesses described a scene of canage with body parts everywhere and at least 6 people under sheets.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. However, Thai forces are fighting a low-level Muslim insurgency in the predominantly Buddhist country's south, but those rebels have rarely launched attacks outside their ethnic Malay heartland. [CNN / BBC / Sky News / Reuters / Shanghaiist]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Radical cleric Anjem Choudary charged with terror offences

The radical preacher Anjem Choudary has been arrested and charged with inviting support for Islamic State militants, Scotland Yard has confirmed.

He is accused of "inviting support" for so-called Islamic State , also known as ISIL, between 29th June 2014 and 6th March this year.

He and another man, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, have each been charged with one offence under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Both men were due to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Wednesday.

Choudary, 48, of Ilford in east London, and Mohammed Rahman, 32, of Whitechapel in east London, were arrested on 25th September last year on suspicion of being members of IS, which is a proscribed organisation.

Proscription means membership of the militant group is a criminal offence, and that the organisation cannot lawfully operate in the UK.

Sue Hemming, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said, "It is alleged that Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Rahman invited support for ISIS [also known as IS or ISIL] in individual lectures which were subsequently published online."

Choudary smirked as he arrived at Southwark police station on Wednesday to answer bail. He was charged shortly afterwards and later taken to Westminster Magistrates Court.

Following the announcement that criminal proceedings had begun, the CPS spokesperson said that both men were entitled to a fair trial. "It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings," she said

[BBC / Sky News / Daily Mail / Telegraph / Guardian / Fox News]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Incredulity & shock as police probe Ted Heath for child sex

British police are investigating the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath in connection with historical instances of sex abuse of children. But friends and former colleagues have described the allegations as 'incredulous'. [BBCTelegraph / Daily Mail / Channel Four News].

There has been many comments on forums and social media suggesting the accusations were unfounded and that the supposed victims were just seeking compensation.

But why should police not investigate this ex-PM just because he's dead? Should investigations have been dropped following Savile's death?

Heath's possible paedophile behaviour could not have occurred without involving others, thus an investigation could potentially lead to actual prosecutions.

Seeking redress or compensation

Many people have suggested that victims are only seeking compensation and questioned why they have not come forward before. However, child abuse victims rarely seek compensation in terms of money and merely seek peace of mind, justice and the knowledge that they are believed. Indeed, just as with Savile and others, many people came forward to make allegations about Heath before his death but weren't believed.

Rumours & conspiracy theories

In fact several recent articles also allude to rumours about Heath's activities having circulated for a number of years but those discussing such matters had themselves been discredited for being eccentric nutters, or been arrested and deported.

Barrister Michael Shrimpton is well known for his bizarre conspiracy theories, some of which stretch the imagination. There is an interview on YouTube in which Shrimpton makes many of the allegations now being investigated, including possible complicity to abduction & murder.

Discrediting accusers

However, because of the association with David Icke as well as Shrimpton's other bizarre theories, the allegations were seen as ridiculous. Indeed Shrimpton was further discredited after his arrest & being jailed for calling a close colleague of former Defence Secretary Philip Hammond in April 2012 to say that a nuclear warhead had been stashed in an east London hospital and was going to be used to attack either the Queen, the Olympic Stadium, or the opening ceremony [Daily Mail / Mirror / journal-neo.org].

Others who have previously investigated the Heath allegations have found themselves expelled from the country. Newsweek's Leah McGrath Goodman expulsion from the UK after investigating claims of sexual abuse by senior politicians is seen by some as rather suspicious and convenient [LBC].

Others were raided and threatened by police such as the UK journalist Don Hale who was given a dossier naming VIP paedophiles by Barbara Castle MP. Soon after receiving the documents he was raided by Special Branch and threatened should he publish any details [Daily Mail / ABC / google-law blogspot].

Accusations 'incredulous'

Of course, the ex-PM may indeed be entirely innocent, and the rumours may be simply that - just rumours. Robert Vaudry, private secretary to Heath from 1988 to 1992, has expressed his astonishment at the accusations. "I spent four years working for Ted and we ran his life like a military campaign. We knew what he was doing every minute of every day through that four year period so to think there were things going on that we weren't aware of, very surprised and shocked, incredulous really,"  Vaudry told the BBC.

Others also stood up for the former PM. Former Tory MP for Northampton South, Brian Binley, who worked in Sir Edward's office, said, "I find it very difficult to believe from the Ted Heath that I knew. It's easy to smear people not around." [Daily Mail]

Investigation warranted

But while many might think the allegations against a former British PM are fanciful they should nonetheless be thoroughly investigated.

It is not the first time that allegations against high profile individuals have been made or uncovered. In the 1980s Belgium was at the centre of similar allegations. A man named Marc Dutroux was arrested in connection with the abduction of children who were abused by men involved in a paedophile ring which, it is alleged, extended to persons in authority and even the government.

There was widespread anger and frustration among Belgians due to police errors, the general slowness of the investigation and Dutroux's claims that he was part of a sex ring that included high-ranking members of the police force and government [Independent].

But it took more than a decade before Dutroux was finally convicted, and any suggestion that he was part of a wider sex ring dismissed. Indeed there has been no in depth investigation into whether members of the police force and government were involved [Guardian / YouTube].

Dutroux may have been convicted and jailed, but allegations continue, and there are indications that paedophile rings still exist. Regina Louf, who claimed to be a survivor of child abuse within the Dutroux sex ring, was dismissed as a fantasist and liar. Meanwhile some 20 Dutroux accusers have died in mysterious circumstances.

As late as 2008 there appeared to be evidence that Belgian sex rings were still operating with leaked police documents appearing to indicate that Madeleine McCann was snatched to order. According to an email sent by the Metropolitan Police a child abduction ring based in Belgium placed an order for a "young girl" [Telegraph].

Wake-up calls

The Savile allegations may have finally shaken the current establishment enough to investigate not only past abuse but also any existing sex rings. The Sidney Cooke investigations and subsequent prosecution of the so-called Dirty Dozen may be only the tip of the iceberg [BBC / YouTube ]

In the past many might people have been ignorant or oblivious of the risks of child abuse. For too long the abused have been ignored [YouTube]. For too long those appointed to serve and protect the public have instead served and protected their own debauched activities.

Such rings are not confined to one country. They exist in the US, Britain and across Europe and Asia. And individuals involved range from common workers to people in law enforcement, the judiciary and government.

There are those who will make false allegations against individuals for all sorts of reasons. But accusations should still be investigated properly, even if the person concerned is ordinary or high-ranking, alive or dead.

Should Sir Edward Heath be found to be guilty of having abused children the damage to the establishment may well be profound. But is is only proper to investigate and seek to uncover the truth and determine if others, who may well be alive, were also involved.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, July 31, 2015

Windows 10 - some bugs but 14 million users seem happy

Windows 10 has finally arrived and ended the misery for millions that detested Windows 8 and 8.1. And within 24 hours some 14 million PC users had taken up the offer from Microsoft of the free upgrade [Telegraph].

While the update has won praise from most people who installed it, there has been some criticism.

Default search to Bing

One of the biggest gripes is the fact that the search box incorporated in the taskbar which allows users to find things on their PC or the web defaults to Bing when searching the Internet. Installing Windows 10 also changed the default browser to Microsoft's new Edge browser which angered many [Fortune].

There is an option to maintain previous defaults, but users have to click the button that says "customize settings," and jump through a series of hoops. While the default browser is easily changed back to Chrome, IE or Firefox, the default Bing search in the taskbar cannot be so easily changed though Chrome user can install an extension to divert searches [Telegraph].

Of course, users can disable web search altogether and use the search box for local searches only. However doing so disables Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Google Now and Apple's Siri.

For those happy enough with the Bing default search, some are encountering other issues such as an error message suggesting their country and language settings are incompatible.

Cortana issues

Many users have complained they are confronted with a message stating "Cortana isn't supported in the region/language you've selected ".

"My region, language, speech etc are all set to English UK and Cortana just won't work and there's no information explaining how to fix it," one Reddit user complained.

Others observed there appeared to be more issues for those upgrading from Windows 7 than Windows 8.

While certainly a problem, it is more Microsoft's loss since many people will simply do without Cortana. And since many are more familiar with Apple's and Google's services few will miss any advantages that Cortana might offer.

Little Google integration

One main feature of both Windows 8 and 10 is the use of and integration of 'apps'. However there is almost no facility to integrate services many people may already use such as Google Calendar or Google Maps.

While it is understandable that Microsoft want to promote their own alternatives, it is unlikely that users will migrate to Microsoft's offerings.

Those who use a local music player might also notice changes as Microsoft has done away Windows Media Player and the later Windows Media Center.

Microsoft has replaced them with modified versions of Xbox Music and Xbox Video, which have been renamed as 'Groove' and 'Movies & TV' respectively. Groove users can upload all their MP3s - including those purchased from iTunes - to Microsoft's cloud service, OneDrive, and access them using the Groove app on any Windows device, Xbox, or via a web browser. Microsoft said that the Groove app will also be available on Android phones and iPhones soon.

Again such it may only be new PC users that might take up such options since many people will have already committed themselves to Google Music or iTunes.

Missing programs

A major issue that some have encountered has been the apparent removal of programs. Google Pinyin IME has disappeared as an input option from many users' computers despite not actually being uninstalled. A simple reinstall seems to resolve that bug however.

Others have seen their Norton Anti-Virus software eradicated forcing them to reinstall it [Norton Forum].

Hidden fees and errors

Some early adopters have also griped at the fact that Microsoft are charging for the game card game Solitaire which has been a staple of the operating system almost since Windows began [Fortune].

Microsoft has also been ridiculed for its less than helpful 'Something happened' error messages [Fortune]. One publication referred to it as the "silliest error message yet" [BGR].

Spying and privacy

But the biggest bugbear amongst a large number of Windows 10 users is Microsoft's privacy policy which for some is far too intrusive. Indeed some have described Cortana as rather 'creepy' [Telegraph].

Microsoft stresses that Cortana will only access the information users allow it to access. Users can block access to that information, but for novices it can be a minefield trying to find the appropriate settings.

In order to deny access one needs to open Settings and click on Privacy before scrolling through 13 different screens to check or uncheck options, some of which are rather vague in their description [Yahoo].

Favourable reviews

Despite the bugs, privacy issues and bizarre error messages most people seem to be happy with Windows 10 thus far.

It's certainly an improvement on Windows 8.0 and 8.1. As for those moving from Windows 7 the biggest change is the rather boxy graphics and a change of icons.

As an operating system Windows 10 is certainly a step forward, and there won't be many that are disappointed with having made the move, even if they don't make full use of all the additional features [Fortune]. There is one feature lost on Windows 10 that few have mentioned. Unlike all versions since Windows 3.1, there is no start-up sound [YouTube].

For those nostalgic about the past here's a couple of links looking back at the evolution of Windows. The first is a simple but slick graphic from On The Hub. This link from YouTube shows the evolution from Windows 1 through to 8.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

China censors information in wake of Yangtze cruise disaster

Chinese media is being heavily censored in the wake of the Yangtze river cruise ship disaster which has left at least 26 dead and more than 400 others possibly drowned.

Media control

The cruise ship, the Eastern Star, carrying 456 mostly elderly people on board, overturned in bad weather on Monday night.

The censorship and media control began almost as soon as the boat went down at 21:28 local time [13:28 GMT] in the Jianli section of the river. Official media were banned from reporting the incident for nearly 10 hours [Sky News / BBC].

Some 48 hours after the incident questions are being raised over why the ship sailed into a storm [BBC]. But reports are being carefully controlled and kept within guidelines set by China's propaganda department.

Officials have ordered outlets not to dispatch their own reporters to the scene and local journalists already there have been recalled [CDT].

Positive spin

Chinese journalists have also been told to focus on the "positive part" of the story, such as the successful rescue accounts, and ordered to use only information released by state-run outlets - CCTV and Xinhua [CDT / WSJ].

Only 14 passengers had been rescued by Wednesday evening, including the ship's captain and chief engineer who are in police custody for questioning. And now the relatives of the some 400 missing are beginning to ask questions as to how such a tragedy could occur.

Anger

Anger boiled over on Wednesday as the lack of information led to frustration amongst some relatives of those found dead or still missing. Information on the disaster has been tightly controlled and officials gave little away during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, providing no figures on deaths or survivors and taking no questions.

A video shared on social media showed pushing and shoving between police and angry relatives outside a local government building in China's commercial hub of Shanghai, where many of the passengers hailed from.

"The police first formed a human wall and didn't let us in. Then the relatives got excited and started to shout. Some policemen hit people," said one young woman whose mother was on the boat.

The mother of seven-year-old Yang Chenlin who was on the boat with her grandparents, said relatives were desperate for more information. "We need to go to the site. That's our common appeal," she said [Daily Mail].

Past history

Media blackouts or strict controls concerning national disasters in China are nothing new. Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the Wenzhou train crash media reports were highly censored [BBC / NYT]. More recently information and discussion surrounding the News Year stampede in Shanghai was also heavily suppressed [SCMP].  

But despite criticism of such controls little has changed over the years. Indeed censorship and information control has arguably increased.

Road blocks

Blocks haven't been confined to the Internet. Following the capsizing of the Eastern Star roadblocks were sited about two kilometres from the scene, with cars being turned back even before that point. Authorities also limited access for foreign journalists to a brief river trip. Journalists are even being barred from speaking to relatives of the missing passengers.

The censorship is heaviest on social media where questions over the fate of the passengers have been deleted. "Eastern Star" is currently the most censored term on the microblog Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter [Dalje / QZ]

Threats

And for companies like Sina there is a constant risk of being shut down should they not employ strong enough censorship controls. Indeed as recently as April this year the Cyberspace Administration of China [CAC] was quoted as saying they would "seriously" punish Sina, with possible measures including "a complete shut down of its Internet news services" if it did not improve its censorship, according to Xinhua [Telegraph].

Controls have tightened under China's current president Xi Jinping, and according to Reporters Sans Frontieres China ranks 175 out of 180 countries in its 2014 worldwide index of press freedom.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Number of websites blocked in the UK grows

The number of websites being blocked by  Internet Service Providers [ISPs] in the UK is growing with government agencies and High Court orders forcing the big Internet providers to prevent access to certain material online.

Few users will notice

Most Internet users would be unlikely to notice since, at present, the blocks are mostly being imposed on sites deemed to be distributing 'illegal' content.

In May 2012  ISPs in Britain were forced by a court order to block the file sharing website Pirate Bay. The move was applauded by the recording industry, but some criticised the ban saying it marked a "slippery slope towards Internet censorship".

The blocking of Pirate Bay was the first high profile blocking of a web service, although the Internet Watch Foundation and Cleanfeed had been employed for around a decade to identify and block access to child pornography.

But while there was no uproar over the actions of the IWF and Cleanfeed, the blocking of Pirate Bay created a storm of protests. Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, at the time called the move "pointless and dangerous". Talking to the BBC, Killock said the calls for greater censorship would grow. "It will fuel calls for further, wider and even more drastic calls for Internet censorship of many kinds, from pornography to extremism," he said. "Internet censorship is growing in scope and becoming easier. Yet it never has the effect desired. It simply turns criminals into heroes."

Copyright infringement

Nonetheless, the efforts to block websites that infringed copyright by distributing content such as films and music has grown almost exponentially.

In 2013 around 30 websites were blocked, most of them offering illegal music downloads. In 2014 the focus changed to sites sharing or streaming movies such as Viooz and Zmovie. However, a number of sites targeted dealt with the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods such as fake Cartier watches [World Trade Mark Review].

By the end of 2014 an additional 100 websites related to file sharing were blocked. The list has continued to grow with a further 20 sites added to the list [Wikipedia: List of websites blocked in the UK].

There has been a shift too of the types of content being shared as well as the types of sites being blocked. In May this year a new High Court ruling ordered UK's major ISPs to block websites serving up eBooks [BBC].

Digital books

Electronic books or eBooks are becoming increasingly popular with the advent of Kindle and Google Books. However many authors and publishers are losing potential sales and royalties because of the growing trend to illegally download pirated content.

"A third of publisher revenues now come from digital sales but unfortunately this rise in the digital market has brought with it a growth in online infringement," the Publishers Association's chief executive Richard Mollet said in a statement.

Effects of cloud storage

For publishers, artists, authors and movie producers it is a growing problem since many platforms allow the storage of such material in the cloud with little or no oversight as to whether the content has been legitimately purchased.

For example users may add mobi eBook or PDF files to one's Kindle library or epub or PDF files to Google Books. In fact Google Books is also having problems where users are illegally selling eBooks [IBT]. 

Users of Google Music can upload up to 50,000 songs to the service and whilst many may simply upload songs ripped from their own CD collection there may be a great number of individuals uploading illegally downloaded content.

While the likes of YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion attempt to weed out copyrighted content they face an uphill task of removing such material.

Copyrighted material has also been shared and continues to be distributed through cloud services such as Google Drive, Microsoft's SkyDrive and even DropBox as well as the less reputable services such as Mega.

For those attempting to stop the pirates it's becoming a game of whack-a-mole since as soon as one piracy website gets blocked another pops up in its place or simply changes its name and IP address.

Tracking users

In the Queen's speech it was announced that the British government is to introduce new laws forcing ISPs to hold on to far more data about their users' online behaviour, a move design to counter extremism. However, the law could just as easily be applied to monitor other online activity and track individuals using file sharing sites or downloading illegal content [BBC].

It may not feel quite like using the Chinese Internet yet where a high degree of censorship, blocking and ISP monitoring is employed. But there appears to be definite shift in government policy in terms of policing the Internet. It's not just the UK either. Other countries such as Australia is also debating whether to introduce site-blocking legislation [SMH].

See also: tvnewswatch: Panic sets in after Megaupload shutdown / tvnewswatch: Internet censorship a step closer after Pirate Bay is blocked / tvnewswatch: Blocked website list grows in war on piracy

tvnewswatch, London, UK