29 April 2021

Chinese Smart TV-Maker Accused of Spying on Owners' Other Devices


Chinese Smart TV-Maker Accused of Spying on Owners' Other Devices

Skyworth chief executive Tony Wang unveils premium 8K TV models at the Consumer Electronics Show during the CES Unveiled event at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jan. 5, 2020.
A China-based manufacturer of smart televisions has been accused of spying on its users by scanning their homes for other devices connected to the wifi network every few minutes, owners of the devices have reported on social media.

Smart TVs made by Skyworth were found to have an app -- Gozen Data -- installed on the Android-based operating system of the TV, according to a post on the V2EX website titled "My TV is monitoring all connected devices."

According to the post, Gozen Data scanned for and collected the names of his computer, his network interface card, IP addresses, and the usernames of those connected to his and other local wifi networks.

"I found that there was something called ‘Gozen Data,' and I had no idea what it was doing," the post said.

"The service was sending back the hostnames, mac, ip, and even the network delay time, as well as detecting the nearby wifi SSID names and mac addresses and sending them off to ... a database," it said.

The data, according to screenshots posted by the user, was sent to gz-data.com, a data analysis platform managed by Gozen Data that counts among its international customers Sanyo, Toshiba and Philips, and which holds data harvested from 103 million smart TVs according to 2018 figures.

Project Xueliang

While the company told the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong that the data wasn't used for surveillance, but for targeted advertising, former citizen journalist Xing Jian said the Android smart TV operating system has been repurposed by the Chinese government for surveillance of people's homes in rural areas, in an operation known as Project Xueliang.

"Project Xueliang uses the Android operating system to achieve full domain coverage, full network sharing, round-the-clock and remote-controlled video surveillance for policing purposes," Xing said.

"This app is a form of spyware that is inserted onto users' smartphones, TVs and other Android devices, and it will automatically scan and collect data about devices, usage information and social connections, and upload it to a government database for online monitoring," he said.

Analysts said the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears to be implementing a nationwide surveillance network that includes watching people in their own homes and monitoring their contacts and interactions.

Other social media posts have said that users are worried about using Android TVs at all, while others have reported on Xiaomi routers requesting wifi-related information every few seconds.

A Shanxi-based legal scholar surnamed Song said the surveillance is aiming for total control over what people are saying to each other.

"The government is strengthening control of people's data for the purposes of ideological control," Song said. "They are also hoping to penetrate people's minds and influence their lives with government propaganda."

"They will be the arbiters of what news and information is appropriate for people to have access to," he said.

CCP uses surveillance and propaganda

Xing Jian agreed, saying that the CCP uses surveillance and propaganda as a way to bolster its grip on power.

"[They are] using state power to stop people monitoring the government or pursuing corrupt officials, so as to stay in power," Xing said.

"The Cyberspace Administration of China uses methods such as sending letters and stopping domain name resolution to domestic websites, shutting down public opinion monitoring websites, and taking measures to block overseas websites; the propaganda department forces webmasters and moderators to delete posts under their control by sending letters, and through coercion and manipulation," Xing said.

An employee at Skyworth’s Hong Kong office surnamed Chan told the Apple Daily that the data is purely for commercial use, for the purposes of targeted advertising, and denied it was spying on users.

Users are asked if they accept the data collection policy when they activate the smart system, and could compromise their TV's functionality if they reject it, the paper quoted Chan as saying.

Chinese citizens are already monitored by more than 20 million surveillance cameras as they go about their daily business in public places, according state media reported in 2018.

Artificial intelligence can also identify and "tag" individual cars, cyclists, and pedestrians with distinguishing information that can be stored and searched for descriptions of wanted individuals.

The smart video tool correctly identifies the gender, age, and clothing descriptions of passersby, as well as distinguishing between motorized and non-motorized vehicles, recent media reports say.

The technology comes amid a growing trend towards using facial recognition as a secure form of ID, including to identify rail and airline passengers, physical and e-commerce customers, and missing persons cases.

Facial recognition technology is already used by ride-sharing and robotic package delivery apps, airport and college dorm security, and social credit schemes, as well against jaywalkers.


source: Radio Free Asia

South Korea cancels Korea-China Culture Town project amid mounting anti-Chinese sentiment


  • Over 650,000 people signed an online petition against the project in Gangwon Province, despite officials repeatedly stating it was a cultural park, not a Chinatown
  • South Korean public sentiment against China has been growing in recent years, with an analyst warning this could damage diplomatic efforts to improve ties

Had it gone ahead, the Korea-China Culture Town would have been built on a site 10 times larger than the country’s most famous Chinatown in Incheon (pictured). Photo: APHad it gone ahead, the Korea-China Culture Town would have been built on a site 10 times larger than the country’s most famous Chinatown in Incheon (pictured). Photo: AP

A US$1 billion project to build a tourist district in South Korea has been scrapped due to mounting anti-Chinese sentiment sparked by an online petition wrongly depicting it as a Chinatown.

The decision came after what Gangwon Province head Choi Moon-soon said was a series of “fake news” allegations that taxpayers’ money would have been used to build a settlement town for Chinese immigrants – despite repeated clarifications that it was intended as a cultural park. “It is not a Chinatown,” the province had stated.

Kolon Global Corporation said on Monday it had cancelled the Korea-China Cultural Town project in the face of a fierce public ire sparked by the petition on the presidential Blue House website’s online petition page.

“The company acknowledges that the Korea-China Cultural Town cannot move forward any longer” despite “huge losses” the withdrawal would incur, it said in a notification to Gangwon Province.

Kolon Global said the project was not aimed at building a Chinatown as was claimed by the petitioner and some news reports, but a culture-themed district where tourists would be able to enjoy traditional and modern culture from both China and South Korea.

“Regardless of the truth and facts, we have no alternatives but pay heed to the voices of the 650,000 people who have signed the petition, because [South Korean] people are also clients who are no less important than foreign tourists,” it said.

Had it gone ahead, the Korea-China Culture Town would have been built by 2022 on a site 10 times larger than the country’s most famous Chinatown in Incheon city, west of Seoul.

It would have provided a range of facilities and attractions, including Korean style buildings, traditional Chinese gardens, a K-pop museum and a Korean Wave video display, “enabling mutual cultural exchanges between the two countries”, the province said.

But the clarifications failed to quell the rumours and soothe public anger, which was further stoked by further false reports that the province planned to bulldoze a prehistoric site to build hotels catering to Chinese tourists.

“Why should we create a little China on the soil of the Republic of Korea [South Korea],” read the online petition titled “Scrap the Chinatown Construction in Gangwon”.

“People don’t understand why we should provide chances for experiencing Chinese culture on our own land. Don’t yield any piece of our land to China,” said the petition which garnered a whopping 660,000 signatures since it was published on the Blue House website on March 29.

South Koreans in traditional hanbok attire visit Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul. Photo: EPA-EFE
South Koreans in traditional hanbok attire visit Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul. Photo: EPA-EFE

The hostility to what Gangwon was promoting as a cultural exchange venue reflected popular perceptions that China is engaged in “cultural imperialism against Korea”, said the Korea Joongang Daily.

The petitioner said Koreans were worrying they might lose their cultural identity to China’s attempts to “plunder” Korean traditional cultural heritage and distort history to include ancient Korean kingdoms that existed in Manchuria as part of China.

“It is time to confront China”, which keeps trying to steal our culture”, said the petitioner.

This could spark angry reactions from Chinese people, especially young online warriors, damaging diplomatic efforts to improve ties Professor Yoon Sung-suk

A different online petition posted on March 24 on the Blue House website condemned a new SBS TV history-themed fantasy series Chosun Exorcists as distorting historical facts and using props of Chinese origin such as mooncakes and specific home decorations.

It has secured some 250,000 signatures over the past month, forcing SBS to pull the plug on the series after airing only two episodes, incurring millions of dollars in losses.

“It is quite regrettable that public opinions have been trending in the wrong direction against truths and facts, forcing Kolon Global to abandon the project,” a Gangwon Province official told This Week in Asia.

‘That's my story’: Oscar-winning Minari resonates with South Korean farmers.

“Some Chinese people may see this incident as an epitome of anti-China sentiments in this country,” said Yoon Sung-suk, a political-science professor at Chonnam National University.

“This could spark angry reactions from Chinese people, especially young online warriors, damaging diplomatic efforts to improve ties.”

Public sentiment against an increasingly assertive China has been growing in the country in recent years, especially after China’s economic retaliation against South Korea over its 2016 deployment of the highly sophisticated US missile defence system known as Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

Controversies over Korean food and clothing, and China’s purported attempts to distort history and “hijack” cultural heritage further stoked public anger, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic, compelling many young South Koreans and Chinese to denounce the other country online.

“Korea is becoming like a colony by the Chinese Communist Party … Politics, economy and culture are all commandeered by China,” tweeted one user.

But others voiced different opinions. “Chinatown in Gangwon Province turned out to be a fake news! Someone attempted to frame it up (as a community settlement for Chinese immigrants),” tweeted Kim Mi-kyoung.

Hong Kong Passes Law That Can Stop People Leaving

Bar association and activists decry Beijing-type immigration act with ‘exit ban’ powers

people waving goodbye at Hong Kong airport
There are fears that Hong Kong’s new law, which sailed through the legislature, gives the government unfettered powers on who comes in and out the territory. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Hong Kong has passed a new immigration law that includes powers to stop people entering or leaving the city, raising fears of Chinese mainland-style “exit bans” in the international business hub.

The legislation sailed through a legislature now devoid of opposition, as Beijing has quashed dissent and sought to make the semi-autonomous city more like the authoritarian mainland after huge and often violent democracy protests.

Activists, lawyers and some business figures have sounded the alarm over provisions in the bill, including one allowing the city’s immigration chief to bar people from boarding planes to and from the city. No court order is required and there is no recourse to appeal. The city’s bar association (HKBA) said the bill’s wording gave “apparently unfettered power” to the immigration director.

Labour activists and legal critics said the legislature had ignored concerns about the law’s broad wording, and they feared exit bans could now be used in Hong Kong. “When they have this power, absolute power, you don’t know who they will use it on,” said one barrister, Chow Hang-tung, from the pro-democracy Hong Kong Alliance.

Hong Kong’s government said the immigration bill was needed to address a backlog of non-refoulement claims and to screen migrants travelling illegally before they left for the city. The security bureau said the bill would only apply to flights into Hong Kong.

However, the wording of the bill does not limit the government’s powers to those arriving in the territory or to immigrants, and legal experts say it could also be used against people trying to leave Hong Kong.

“Exit bans” are often used in mainland China against activists who challenge the authorities, and have also affected business figures. One example is Richard O’Halloran, an Irish national who has been prevented from leaving Shanghai for two years because of a legal dispute involving the Chinese owner of the Dublin-based company he works for.

Under Beijing’s direction, Hong Kong’s government has become more authoritarian since the 2019 protests. Faith in official assurances that the city is not becoming like the mainland has been rattled by the recent crackdown.

Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last year, arguing it was needed for a return to stability and would not affect freedoms. But its broad wording and subsequent application has criminalised much dissent and radically transformed a once politically pluralistic city. Many of Hong Kong’s prominent pro-democracy figures have been arrested, detained or have fled overseas.

The city’s formerly raucous legislature has been cleared of pro-democracy opponents, who resigned en masse late last year after three of their colleagues were disqualified for their political views. Since then, the government has fast-tracked a number of laws with limited scrutiny and dissent in the legislature.

Wednesday’s immigration bill received 39 votes in favour and two against. It was passed shortly after lawmakers approved a budget in record time, with just one dissenting vote.

Beijing has also announced a new plan – nicknamed “patriots rule Hong Kong” – to vet anyone standing for office and reduce the number of directly elected seats in the legislature to a small minority.

Critics of the immigration bill say it will make it easier to detain and deport refugees. Hong Kong approves only about 1% of refugee claims, one of the lowest rates in the world, and there is a huge backlog. Refugees are not able to work while their applications are being processed and live in often miserable conditions.

27 April 2021

48 hours on, forest fires rage across Mizoram

According to a satellite data assessment by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), there were as many as 2,671 forest fire points in the state between April 20 and 26, with over 400 points on Monday alone.

By Jayashree Nandi

New Delhi
: Massive forest fires that broke out on Saturday and continued to rage till Monday have affected several parts of Mizoram and damaged vast tracts of land, satellite images have revealed. No human casualty has been reported so far.

According to a satellite data assessment by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), there were as many as 2,671 forest fire points in the state between April 20 and 26, with over 400 points on Monday alone. NASA’s Earthdata website also showed a very large concentration of fires in and around the state both on Sunday and Monday.

Speaking to chief minister Zoramthanga, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday assured all possible assistance to deal with the situation. “Spoke to Mizoram CM, Mr Zoramthanga and took stock of the situation arising due to forest fires in parts of the state. Assured all possible support from the Centre in overcoming the crisis,” Modi tweeted.

The chief minister later thanked Modi and even tweeted a video of an Indian Air Force (IAF) chopper with bambi buckets (used for aerial firefighting), trying to douse the flames. “Thank you so much Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi ji. I thank the Central Government for its prompt assurance and swift action. The people of #Mizoram says ‘Kan lawm e,” Zoramthanga posted on Twitter.

Manipur woman fined for travelling with fake Covid-19 negative report

A 21-year-old woman in Manipur’s Thoubal district has been fined for travelling with a fake Covid-19 negative test report, official sources said.

According to an official order by Thoubal district magistrate N Bandana Devi on Monday, Wangkhem Rabina Devi travelled from Hyderabad to Imphal on April 22 by IndiGo flight via Kolkata using a fake Covid-I9 negative report.

“Upon investigation and verification by the surveillance team at Imphal airport, it was found that Rabina Devi was Covid-19 positive on April 21,” the order said. “Such an irresponsible act will likely transmit/spread in future to other co-passenger and contacts travelling in the above flight.”

A fine of 2,000 has been imposed on Rabina Devi and “she must execute a bond with sureties for her good behaviour for a period of six months under Section 110 of Cr PC, 1973 as and when she is declared medically fit to appear before the executive magistrate,” the order said.

TSLA Slides After Beating EPS, But All "Net Income" Comes From Sale Of Reg Credits And Bitcoin

TSLA made $100MM in 1 month of trading crypto, more than it ever made selling cars in 14 years (ex reg credits). It should shut all money losing ventures and become a full time trading desk.

 Wall Street expectations from TSLA's earnings today are rather stratospheric, but as Bloomberg notes, even if the company misses big, the S&P 500 likely won’t be in the doldrums tomorrow because of it. Why? Simply put, the electric-vehicle maker matters less than other high-profile stocks in the broad market gauge.

Alphabet, Amazon.com, Apple, Microsoft and Tesla are among the most influential companies in the stock market. But by one simple measure, Tesla looks different than the others. The S&P 500’s 30-day positive correlation with the stock has fallen to ~0.44 from an early March peak of almost 0.8. That pales in comparison with Microsoft at ~0.77, Apple at ~0.72, Amazon at ~0.68 and Alphabet at ~0.65. In fact, the S&P 500’s correlation with old-school cyclical Caterpillar -- which also reports this week -- is higher than Tesla at ~0.51. This falling correlation is inevitable as Tesla has gained less than 5% this year compared with over 11% for the S&P 500, with value sectors such as energy and financials outperforming. This has happened as meme stocks like GameStop have pushed Tesla out of the limelight, while Bitcoin has attracted almost all the buzz.

With that in mind, here is what TSLA reported shortly after the close for Q1:

  • Adjusted EPS of 93C, beating est. 80c
  • Revenue $10.389BN, missing est. $10.42 billion (range $8.20 billion to $12.34 billion)
  • Free Cash Flow $293MM, beating est. of cash burn of $82.8 million
  • Automotive gross margin +26.5%, beating est +24.3%
  • Cash and cash equivalents $17.14 billion, missing estimates of $17.90 billion

The results visually:

But here is the problem: TSLA reported $594MM in income from operations, but regulatory credits accounted for a whopping $518MM of it, the highest on record and up from $401MM in Q4 2020.

So while GAAP net income was just $438MM, this means that for yet another quarter the company did not generate actual net income without regulatory credits. Add that another $101MM in profits came from "sale of bitcoin"...

... with TSLA owning $1.3BN in digital assets at the end of the quarter, which means it sold around $272MM of the bitcoin it previously owned.

So in addition to over half a billion in reg credit sales, made $101MM in profits from sale of $272MM in bitcoin (reducing its total from $1.5BN to $1.331BN at the end of the quarter).

And while everyone assumes that this is all bitcoin, it is unclear how much of TSLA's "digital assets, net" was Dogecoin.

Of course, some will claim that non of this matters, and that TSLA has in fact generated 7 consecutive quarters of profits, although if one strips reg credits from the GAAP Net Income, this is what one gets.

Discussing its profitability, TSLA said that its operating income improved in Q1 compared to the same period last year to $594M, resulting in a 5.7% operating margin. "This profit level was reached while incurring SBC expense attributable to the 2018 CEO award of $299M in Q1, driven by an increase in market capitalization and a new operational milestone becoming probable."

On a year over year basis, Tesla said that positive impacts from volume growth, regulatory credit revenue growth, gross margin improvement driven by further produt cost reducstions and sale of bitcoin were mainly offset by a lower ASP, increased SBC, additional supply chain costs, R&D investments and other items. Model S and Model X changeover costs negatively impacted both gross profit as well as R&D expenses.

In  terms of Tesla’s financial performance, it’s a case of better-than-expected Automotive Margins and free-cash-flow. The company said of its profit outlook: "We expect our operating margin will continue to grow over time, continuing to reach industry-leading levels with capacity expansion and localization plans underway."

The company also disclosed that it is on track to start production from Berlin factory in 2021, adding that first deliveries of the new model S should start shortly.

On the cash flow side, TSLA revealed that it had a $1.2BN net cash outflow related to bitcoin in Q1, as well as net debt repayments of $1.2BN offset by free cash flow of $293MM, which was above the estimate of $83MM in cash burn:

Quarter-end cash and cash equivalents decreased to $17.1B in Q1, driven mainly by a net cash outflow of $1.2B in cryptocurrency (Bitcoin) purchases, net debt and finance lease repayments of $1.2B, partially offset by free cash flow of $293M

Looking ahead, Tesla said it expects to achieve 50% average annual growth in vehicle deliveries over a multi-year horizon. But the company notes that rate of growth will depend on equipment capacity, operational efficiency and capacity and stability of supply chain.

Tesla’s timeline also remains largely intact. From the shareholder letter:

“We are currently building Model Y capacity at Gigafactory Berlin and Gigafactory Texas and remain on track to start production and deliveries from each location in 2021. Gigafactory Shanghai will continue to expand further over time. Tesla Semi deliveries will also begin in 2021.”

Something else the market may not like is that the average selling point for a Tesla fell 13% in the first quarter. According to the company, this is "because Model S and Model X deliveries reduced in Q1 due to the product updates and as lower ASP China-made vehicles became a larger percentage of our mix."

Elsewhere, there was no substantive mention of Cybertruck anywhere in the shareholder presentation, just that it’s a product ‘in development’ listed under the Texas plant. As Bloomberg reminds us, "Musk has said on prior calls that small volumes of Cybertruck deliveries could be possible by the end of this year. Will he give an update on that during the earnings call?"

Not surprisingly, not even TSLA's usual cheerleaders were ecstatic about the results: “Everything happened that people thought would happen,” Munster told Bloomberg. “There’s not a lot of news and it wasn’t a blowout.”

* * *

In kneejerk response to the earnings, Tesla shares were first up, but then slide more than 1% in postmarket, which nonetheless was a much tamer reaction than what options trading was pricing in ahead of the results.

"How is so much money being spent on IPL when people aren't getting hospitals:" Tye


RR pacer Andrew Tye, who recently returned to Australia amid second coronavirus wave in India, said, "From a player safety point of view, we're safe...but is it going to stay safe?"

He added, "From an Indian point of view...how are these companies and franchises spending so much money, and the government, on IPL when...people are not being able to get...hospitals?"

26 April 2021

Twitter Admits To Censoring Criticism Of The Indian Government

On Saturday, Twitter admitted that it is actively working with the Indian government to censor criticism of its handling of the pandemic as the number of cases and deaths continues to skyrocket.

There are widespread reports that the Indian government has misrepresented the number of deaths and the true rate of cases could be as much as 30 times higher than reported.  The country has a shortage of beds, oxygen, and other essentials due to a failure to adequately prepare for a new surge. Not surprisingly, the Indian government has moved to crackdown on criticism. This included a call to Twitter to censor such information and Twitter has, of course, complied.

With the support of many Democratic leaders in the United States, Twitter now regularly censors viewpoints in the United States and India had no trouble in enlisting it to crackdown on those raising the alarm over false government reporting.

Buried in an Associated Press story on the raging pandemic and failures of the Indian government are these two lines:

“On Saturday, Twitter complied with the government’s request and prevented people in India from viewing more than 50 tweets that appeared to criticize the administration’s handling of the pandemic. The targeted posts include tweets from opposition ministers critical of Modi, journalists and ordinary Indians.”

The article quotes Twitter as saying that it had powers to “withhold access to the content in India only” if the company determined the content to be “illegal in a particular jurisdiction.” Thus, criticism of the government in this context is illegal so Twitter has agreed to become an arm of the government in censoring information.

Keep in mind that this information could protect lives. It is not “fake news” but efforts by journalists and others to disclose failures by the government that could cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

This is the face of the new censors.  The future in speech control is not in the classic state media model but the alliance of states with corporate giants like Twitter. Twitter now actively engages in what Democratic leaders approvingly call “robust content modification” to control viewpoints and political dissent.

When Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey came before the Senate to apologize for blocking the Hunter Biden story before the election as a mistake, senators pressed him and other Big Tech executive for more censorship.

In that hearing, members like Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., HI) pressed witnesses like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey for assurance that Trump would remain barred from speaking on their platforms: “What are both of you prepared to do regarding Donald Trump’s use of your platforms after he stops being president, will be still be deemed newsworthy and will he still be able to use your platforms to spread misinformation?”

Rather than addressing the dangers of such censoring of news accounts, Senator Chris Coons pressed Dorsey to expand the categories of censored material to prevent people from sharing any views that he considers “climate denialism.” Likewise, Senator Richard Blumenthal seemed to take the opposite meaning from Twitter, admitting that it was wrong to censor the Biden story. Blumenthal said that he was “concerned that both of your companies are, in fact, backsliding or retrenching, that you are failing to take action against dangerous disinformation.” Accordingly, he demanded an answer to this question:

“Will you commit to the same kind of robust content modification playbook in this coming election, including fact checking, labeling, reducing the spread of misinformation, and other steps, even for politicians in the runoff elections ahead?”

“Robust content modification” has a certain appeal, like a type of software upgrade. It is not content modification. It is censorship. If our representatives are going to crackdown on free speech, they should admit to being advocates for censorship.

What is fascinating is how social media companies have privatized censorship. These companies now carry out directives to censor material deemed unlawful or fake or misleading by those in power.  The company also shows no compulsion to protect free speech. When India calls for censorship, it just shrugs and say that the dissenting views are now illegal.

In the meantime, liberals now support crackdowns on free speech and corporate power over viewpoint expression.

We have have been discussing how writerseditorscommentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. Even journalists are leading attacks on free speech and the free press.  This includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation.

Liberals now embrace censorship and even declared that “China was right” on Internet controls. Many Democrats have fallen back on the false narrative that the First Amendment does not regulate private companies so this is not an attack on free speech. Free speech is a human right that is not solely based or exclusively defined by the First Amendment.  Censorship by Internet companies is a “Little Brother” threat long discussed by free speech advocates.  Some may willingly embrace corporate speech controls but it is still a denial of free speech.

This is why I recently described myself as an Internet Originalist. Twitter is now unabashedly and unapologetically a corporate censor. The question is whether the public will remain silent or, as some, actually embrace the new Orwellian order of “robust content modification.”