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Google Says Banned Chinese Apps Have Been Blocked Temporarily For Now

Google on Thursday said it has temporarily blocked access to those apps that were still available on the Play Store in India even after the government banned on 59 apps this week. “While we continue to review the interim orders from the Government of India, we have notified the affected developers and have temporarily blocked access to the apps that remained available on the Play Store in India,” a Google spokesperson said.

However, the spokesperson did not disclose details of the apps that Google had blocked. According to sources, developers of many of the 59 banned apps had taken down their apps from Google Play Store voluntarily. India on Monday banned 59 apps with Chinese links, including TikTok, UC Browser, SHAREit and WeChat, saying they were prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.


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Tech

With TikTok Banned in India, Is It The Perfect Time to Launch Facebook Lasso & Instagram Reels?

Just a few hours ago, the Government of India issued an order banning as many as 59 Chinese owned smartphone apps in the country. The notification issued by The Ministry of Information Technology of the Government of India derived powers under the section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 citing the concerns about the security, integrity and defense of India. The apps that now stand banned in India, across all platforms now include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community. All big names, but one does truly stand out.

But does this open up the door for Facebook to take advantage of the situation and introduce the Facebook Lasso and Instagram Reels products in India. At this time, with TikTok inaccessible, all the creators and influencers on the platform are searching for a viable alternative to ply their trade. And show their creative side. This could be a good time for Facebook to simply bring their TikTok alternatives, because people need to switch. And fast. Never has there been a more ready-made demographic of users, just waiting to sign up.

Facebook Lasso and Instagram Reels, With WhatsApp as the secret ingredient

Facebook Lasso also has similar set of features as TikTok, including the ability to shoot and post 15-second videos. You can overlay these with popular music tracks, filters, effects, hashtags, the ability to directly share to Facebook and more. At this time, Lasso has pretty limited availability around the world, including the US, though it has already seen more than 5,000,000 downloads just on the Google Play Store till now. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has a similar product for that photo sharing social media platform as well. It is called Instagram Reels and that’s also all about the magic of 15-second videos, dressed up with a variety of music tracks, filters and editing tools. This app also has limited availability right now, including Brazil, Germany and France.

In India, WhatsApp could prove to be the secret ingredient for Lasso or Reels, whichever one Facebook does eventually decide to launch in India. If at all. A simple integration in the most popular instant messaging app could make all the difference in terms of popularizing the new video sharing platform and give it the sort of adoption push that would otherwise be unimaginable.

TikTok’s numbers must have worried Facebook

TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, has climbed the popularity charts rapidly. The ability to showcase creativity and talent in quick 15-second videos had caught the attention of the masses. And that is truer in India than anywhere else in the world. According to data analytics firm App Annie, India accounted for 323 million, which is 44%, of the total 740 million TikTok app downloads in 2019 across all platforms. They also suggest that Indians spent 5.5 billion hours on the TikTok app last year. In fact, at the beginning of this year, it was reported that ByteDance was targeting Rs 100 crore in revenue in India, banking on new quick advert formats for brands as well.

While TikTok’s revenue targets were still no match for Facebook, TikTok’s active user base was proving to be a headache for the world’s largest social media platform, Facebook. According to regulatory filings by Facebook, they clocked Rs 892 crore in revenue in India in 2018-19.

Does TikTok still have a future?

TikTok has confirmed that they have been invited to meet with the Government to respond to the order and submit clarifications. TikTok, a popular social media platform owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, is on the list of banned apps. At this time, TikTok is also not available for download on the Google Play Store for Android phones and the Apple App Store for the iPhone. “The Government of India has issued an interim order for the blocking of 59 apps, including TikTok and we are in the process of complying with it. We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications,” says Nikhil Gandhi, Head of TikTok, India, in a statement. The company says they continue to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government. Gandhi insists that even if they are requested to do so in the future, they would not. “We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity,” says Gandhi.


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Tech

Banned in India, TikTok to Meet Govt Panel to Present 'Clarification', Says Will Comply With Privacy Needs

Image for representation (Reuters)

Image for representation (Reuters)

The Chinese apps banned in India include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 30, 2020, 10:47 AM IST

Just a few hours after the Government of India issued an order banning as many as 59 Chinese owned smartphone apps in the country, TikTok has confirmed that they have been invited to meet with the Government to respond to the order and submit clarifications. TikTok, a popular social media platform owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, is on the list of banned apps. At this time, TikTok is also not available for download on the Google Play Store for Android phones and the Apple App Store for the iPhone.

“The Government of India has issued an interim order for the blocking of 59 apps, including TikTok and we are in the process of complying with it. We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications,” says Nikhil Gandhi, Head of TikTok, India, in a statement. The company says they continue to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government. Gandhi insists that even if they are requested to do so in the future, they would not. “We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity,” says Gandhi.

Late yesterday, India banned as many as 59 popular smartphone apps for Android smartphones as well as the Apple iPhone. The notification issued by The Ministry of Information Technology of the Government of India derived powers under the section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 citing the concerns about the security, integrity and defense of India. The apps that now stand banned in India, across the Google Android ecosystem and the Apple iPhone as well as the iPad platforms now include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community.

For the millions of users who may also have these installed on their Android phones and iPhones, there will be checks at the Internet service provider (ISP) and mobile service provider stage to ensure that traffic to and from these apps is blocked on the network, thereby rendering them in-operational. It is expected that all mobile service providers will block these apps on the 3G/4G networks while all broadband companies will enable these filters on wired and wireless broadband options.


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Tech

India Bans 59 Popular Chinese Apps: Status Check On TikTok, Likee, Helo, WeChat, CamScanner & More

Late yesterday, India banned as many as 59 popular smartphone apps for Android smartphones as well as the Apple iPhone. The notification issued by The Ministry of Information Technology of the Government of India derived powers under the section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 citing the concerns about the security, integrity and defense of India. The apps that now stand banned in India, across the Google Android ecosystem and the Apple iPhone as well as the iPad platforms now include TikTok, Shareit, WeChat, Helo, Likee, UC News, Bigo Live, UC Browser, ES File Explorer and Mi Community. As we do a status check this morning on some of the popular apps in this list, we notice that some are available on the Google Play Store for Android phones and the App Store for the Apple iPhone, yet some app listings have been removed.

A quick search for the incredibly popular TikTok on the Google Play Store for Android and the Apple App Store for the iPhone doesn’t reveal favorable results for fans and users. The app, developed by Chinese tech company ByteDance, has been taken down, for the time being on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Incidentally, another social media app Helo is also presently unavailable on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

TikTok has been taken down, for the time being on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store

It is expected that while app listings for all 59 apps on the list issued by the Government of India will be taken down from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store at some point. For the millions of users who may also have these installed on their Android phones and iPhones, there will be checks at the Internet service provider (ISP) and mobile service provider stage to ensure that traffic to and from these apps is blocked on the network, thereby rendering them in-operational. It is expected that all mobile service providers will block these apps on the 3G/4G networks while all broadband companies will enable these filters on wired and wireless broadband options.

The purge on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store may take some time though. As of the time of writing this, apps including Likee, Vigo Video, WeChat, CamScanner and UC Browser are still available for download on both Android and iOS platforms.

This announcement on the ban on 59 popular smartphone apps, owned by Chinese tech companies, comes at a time when tensions between India and China are at an all-time high, after the military skirmishes earlier this month. There have been suspicions that the apps developed and or owned by Chinese companies and developers collect user data from their phones without their permissions and transmit it back to the owners.

or the millions of users who may also have these installed on their Android phones and iPhones, there will be checks at the Internet service provider (ISP) and mobile service provider stage to ensure that traffic to and from these apps is blocked on the network

“The Ministry of Information Technology has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India. The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,” says the Ministry of Electronics and IT in an official statement.

This move could also have a cascading effect, as more countries could end up banning these apps in the coming days. There has been a global conversation over the past few months about the possible backdoors in Chinese company Huawei’s 5G mobile network infrastructure allowing the company or even the Chinese government to snoop in on user data. Many countries have either banned Huawei’s 5G network hardware altogether or are reluctant to use it.

This ban on popular Chinese-owned apps, including social networks such as TikTok, could have a longer-term impact on the company valuations as well, after a large chunk of their user base has been effectively shut out. At this time, it is not clear how long the ban will be in place but there are multiple recommendations in place on how to block these potentially malicious apps from being used on internet networks within India.

This announcement on the ban on 59 popular smartphone apps, owned by Chinese tech companies, comes at a time when tensions between India and China are at an all-time high


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Tech

Chinese Apps Banned in India: Here Are Some Alternatives That You Can Use

The India-China tension has taken a new turn as the government has released an order to announce a ban on popular apps including TikTok, Clash of Kings, Helo, Shareit, Shien and many more. According to the order, a total of 59 apps will be banned as “they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”

While we await details on how exactly these apps will be banned in the country, we’ve listed down a bunch of alternatives that you can use:

UC Browser, CM Browser, APUS Browser, DU Browser

Chrome is rated as one of the best browsers and comes preinstalled on all Android devices that have support from Google. It is also way better as it offers you the ability to sync with your Google account.

CamScanner

This is a popular app used frequently by users to create digital copies of physical documents as well as an archive of scanned documents. It would be a good time to immediately shift your documents to your Google Drive, or use alternatives like Microsoft Office Lens or Adobe Scan.

TikTok, Likee, Viva Video, Vigo Video, Kwai, Bigo Live

If you are looking for alternatives for such short video entertainment platforms there are loads to choose from. There is Dubsmash, Triller and some Indian alternatives like Roposo, Chingari and Bolo Indya.

Also Read

TikTok, Shareit, UC Browser and 56 Chinese Apps Banned by Indian Govt: Full List Here

Xender, ShareIt

These are primarily file transfer apps and also allow you to transfer your apps. There are many file transfer apps including Google’s own Files as well as Jio Switch and ShareAll.

Shein, ClubFactory

If you are into fashion, you would know these apps very well. The two ecommerce apps offer customers a wide range of clothing and accessories that are mostly shipped from China. There are a variety of apps that you can use instead of these including Myntra, Koovs, Jabong, Ajio and many more.

UC News, Newsdog, QQ Newsfeed

Almost every big news agency today offers its own individual app. Also, we recommend using Google News as it offers an excellent recommendation of news articles based on your interests.


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Tech

Increase in Gaming During Lockdown Helps Tencent Post Impressive Results in Q1 2020

Increase in Gaming During Lockdown Helps Tencent Post Impressive Results in Q1 2020

Growth in Tencent’s video games business, which accounts for 34.5% of its revenue, jumped 31% to 37.30 billion yuan as people sought entertainment at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: May 13, 2020, 5:23 PM IST

High demand for video games during the coronavirus pandemic lifted first-quarter revenue at Chinese gaming and social media giant Tencent Holdings by 26%, beating forecasts. The world’s largest gaming firm by revenue said on Wednesday that its profit for booked the three months through March was 28.90 billion yuan ($4 billion), ahead of an analyst average estimate of 23.84 billion yuan, Refinitiv data showed.

Tencent’s two flagship games, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile and Honor of Kings topped mobile games revenue worldwide in March, analytics firm Sensor Tower said. “We expect in-game consumption activities to largely normalise as people return to work, and we see some headwinds for the online advertising industry,” Tencent said, after reporting a revenue rise of 26% to 108.07 billion yuan, versus market expectations of 101.42 billion yuan.

Growth in Tencent’s video games business, which accounts for 34.5% of its revenue, jumped 31% to 37.30 billion yuan as people sought entertainment at home during the coronavirus lockdown. In-game spending on things like power-ups, object skins and accessories on PUBG Mobile alone surged to $232 million, more than three times what the title generated in March 2019. Tencent said its online advertising revenue surged 32%, despite tightened budgets in a pandemic-hit economy, while revenue from media ads fell 10% due to lower revenues from its video and news platforms.

Supported by gaming and education-related ads on Tencent’s WeChat and other apps, social advertising revenue grew 47%, highlighting a shift in behaviour during the pandemic. Tencent’s stock has jumped nearly 15% this year, against a 15% decline in the broader Hang Seng index. Meanwhile shares in its rival Alibaba, which is listed in the United States, have dipped by almost 6% over the same period.




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Tech

Google Video Call Apps Are a Massive Clutter: Have You Chosen From Google Meet, Hangouts & Duo?

The instant messaging apps are more relevant than ever before. You probably are spending more time on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Signal, Skype, WeChat, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and more. Be it for work or for staying in touch with friends and family, messaging apps for text messages and video calls are the default mode of communication for millions around the world. Perhaps even more so, because of the social distancing requirements due to the COVID pandemic. Numbers seem to be suggesting that. Every messaging platform is gaining. Except one, which could have done much better to be default choice for video calls and instant messaging for millions of users around the world. But isn’t.

After some amount of confusion, Zoom clarified and said they clocked 300 million users in April. Microsoft has said that there are more than 200 million meeting participants in a single day in April, and there were more than 4.1 billion meeting minutes generated. Teams now has more than 75 million daily active users. Houseparty, an app owned by Fortnite developer Epic Games, clocked more than two million downloads in early March, as the first stages of the lockdown around the world kicked in. Facebook says video-calling on Messenger had straight doubled since last year and that 700 million users around the world are using Messenger and WhatsApp for calls—and that’s before the group calling update and Messenger Rooms rolled out.

Would you really shift from whatever messaging apps you are using right now, at work and for personal use?

Have You Also Read?

What is WhatsApp Aiming For? Rule The Video Meetings Space? Be a Super App? World Domination?

In early April, Google said that 2 million new users are connecting on Google Meet every day, and they’re spending over 2 billion minutes together. That might be a lot of G Suite users as well, but the positioning is working among enterprises as well. That being said, a simpler and refined communication apps ecosystem might have helped Google at this time. It is all a bit confusing. From what I can count, they have six apps that do roughly the same tasks as each other. In many cases, it is pretty evident overlap. We have Google Chat, Hangouts, Google Meet, Google Duo, Google Voice and Messages. What do they do?

Google Chat, as described by Google is, “a powerful way to communicate with people in your organization.” It must be accessed via a G Suite account.

Google Meet is a more powerful tool for businesses and enterprises for video meetings, letting you share desktops, presentations and more. All premium features of Google Meet are available to everyone at this time. Which begs the question—what is Google Chat doing? I’m sure it has a purpose, but it is all very confusing. It was earlier called Hangouts Meet. In fact, Google Meet is now being integrated within Gmail, a prime location that was once occupied by Hangouts.

Then there is the consumer version called Hangouts which still retains the branding as we have known it for a long time. This is a messaging app that you can use to connect with friends, family and colleagues. You can do text messages, video calls and voice calls. Much like WhatsApp. The thing is, Hangouts is preloaded in a lot of Android phones, or you are often prompted to download it in other Android phones—which should have been its ticket for success. But that hasn’t happened.

There is also Duo, also an app preloaded in pretty much most Android phones now. It can do video calls, group video chats and well, that’s also available across a variety of platforms including desktop, Android and the iPhone—just like Hangouts.

Have You Also Read?

Good News! Google Meet’s Premium Features Are Free For Everyone as it Battles With Zoom

I am sure you would have noticed the Messages app in your Android phone. This is the default app for texting and RCS-enabled chat. It also has a desktop version, much like its siblings, and WhatsApp Web for a more recognizable reference.

One has to perhaps trace Google’s attempts all the way back to 2009. That is when Google Talk graced Gmail. It was a real-time text messaging service and Voice (in some countries) for voice chats. Then came Google Wave which tried to mash together a bit of instant messaging, forums and collaboration between colleagues—it did not work, because no one really knew what it really was for.

Google attempted something with Buzz in 2010 for something which was more social networking focused, and that eventually have way to Google+ some years later. This is also when we welcomed Hangouts, the instant messenger app that exists till today. In 2013, Hangouts got SMS handling capabilities for Android phones, and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) was added soon after. Finally, it seemed like the complete communications package was coming together. Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, Android’s SMS app, and Google Voice rolled together into one single app. That should have been a pivotal moment.

Have You Also Read?

Battle Royale: Which of These Indian Video Conferencing Apps Would Win Govt Challenge?

It wasn’t. in 2016, Google added three more apps to its unplanned arsenal—Allo, Duo and Spaces. Partly inspired by all the hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the need to feed people suggestions for what their replies should be. In dynamic conversations which hardly follow a set pattern of formalities and language, it predictably didn’t have people thronging to use it. Duo survives till date, but Allo and Spaces walked into the sunset a while ago.

For a while, one could say Google was experimenting. But now it is becoming apparent that the company, which has got pretty much everything nailed down perfectly, still trips over when it comes to instant messaging. Is it already too late though? Would you really shift from whatever messaging apps you are using right now, at work and for personal use?

Things might change. But we say that with a lot of apprehension. It is being reported that Javier Soltero, VP and GM of G Suite at Google, is now taking charge of the message apps ecosystem. Straight away, it has been consolidated into one unified team. Perhaps now we will have one messaging solution for enterprise users and one for personal and informal usage. Much like how Microsoft does with Teams and Skype. Much like how Facebook is smartly playing the Messenger and WhatsApp cards. We have seen many a false dawn, so we’ll reserve our judgement till it actually happens.

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WeChat Allegedly Surveilled Foreign Users To Refine Censorship At Home: Report

Documents and images shared by users outside China on WeChat, the country’s most popular social media platform, are being monitored and catalogued for use in political censorship in China, a new report says. Citizen Lab, the University of Toronto online watchdog, says in Thursday’s report that WeChat users outside of China are thus unwittingly contributing to censorship. That would bar the content they share that censors deem inappropriate from being seen by users inside China.

WeChat’s parent, Tencent, issued a statement Friday saying that said, “with regard to the suggestion that we engage in content surveillance of international users, we can confirm that all content shared among international users of WeChat is private.” WeChat was not known to be subjecting accounts registered outside of China to the same pervasive surveillance as domestic accounts. An estimated 100 million people use WeChat outside China, according to the Munich firm MessengerPeople.

Citizen Lab says its findings are based on technical experiments. It says it did not detect censorship in communications among accounts registered outside China. But it says it did identify surveillance of content — files and images — being sent exclusively between such accounts.

Tencent does not clearly state in its terms of service that it is surveilling accounts registered outside of China, Citizen Lab says. In its statement Friday, Tencent said “our policies and procedures comply with all laws and regulations in each country in which we operate” and said “privacy and data security are core values” for the company.

The researchers say they first contacted WeChat in January asking about their findings. They said they have not received a response despite WeChat’s acknowledgement in February that it had received their questions. With more than a billion users, WeChat is the world’s No. 3 messaging app behind Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger. Within China, WeChat is censored and expected to adhere to content restrictions set by authorities.



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WeChat Monitors Messages Sent by Foreign Users Like You to Strengthen Censorship in China

Chinese instant messaging app, WeChat, is using its international users to train their algorithms and implement even more robust censorship in China. WeChat is owned by Chinese tech company Tencent. This shocking revelation comes as part of the research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. The instant messaging app that has more than 1.15 billion users around the world.

The Citizen Lab researchers found that messages sent and received by foreign accounts are analyzed by WeChat’s algorithms to see whether they may be politically sensitive. However, these messages are not censored. However, if one such message is sent by or to a Chinese account holder, WeChat will censor that message. This includes images and documents.

The way this works is that any account registered for WeChat with a Chinese phone number, has to adhere to WeChat’s terms of service—and they have to follow the national regulations in terms of what can be shared on web platforms, and what cannot be. That is true, say the researchers, even if an account originally registered with a Chinese phone number, switches to an international number.

Have you also read?

Noodles & Pandas: Chinese Social Media Users Are Talking About Coronavirus in Secret Lingo

“Our results show that on each day of testing, if a sensitive document is first sent from a non-China-registered account to non-China-registered accounts, before sending it to a China-registered account, they are censored in real time when sent to a China-registered account. This finding shows that documents sent even entirely among non-China-registered accounts undergo content surveillance and that these documents are used to build-up the censorship system to which China-registered accounts are subjected,” say the researchers.

China’s cyber laws are rather broadly defined. In the new set of guidelines that went live in March, in the midst of the measures to contain the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 outbreak. Among the long list of do’s and don’ts released by the Cyberspace Administration of China in the Regulations on the Ecological Governance of Network Information Content, one guideline that truly stands out is the one that reads “spreading rumors and disturbing the economic and social order” under Article 6 which headlines Producers of online information content may not produce, copy or publish illegal information containing the following contents”.

In China, WeChat is considered a super-app, and offers multiple layers of functionality including instant messaging, social network on the lines of Facebook, mobile payments, news and access to other apps and platforms. In a way, it really cannot be ignored by Chinese citizens.

The researchers do say that any surveillance on non-China accounts on WhatsApp is undetectable to users. At no point is any message censored or altered, except that Tencent is potentially using the messages, images and documents shared by these users to understand what can be censored and training the algorithms that are then applied for users in China or registered with a Chinese phone number.

Incidentally, Tencent’s privacy policy documents for China and the rest of the world, does not indicate that non-China accounts will be under surveillance. “Overall, we found, first, that neither the China nor international public policy documents made clear to users that non-China accounts could have their content surveilled and the resulting hashes used to censor content for China-registered accounts. Second, we found it was plausible that the international policy documents could permit content surveillance of international users’ communications, but the company did not respond to these questions. Third, we found that it was unclear on what basis the hashes of international users’ communications could be shared with WeChat China, and the company did not respond to these questions,” says the research.

Citizen Lab’s results come after a series of tests done between November 2019 to January 2020, to understand how WeChat may be censoring content.

Have you also read?

WeChat is Censoring Coronavirus Keywords, Because China Doesn’t Like Bad Press?

In March, Citizen Lab had also revealed that WeChat was actively blocking any messages which had specific keywords or a combination of keywords around the Coronavirus, or COVID. These included “discussions of central leaders’ responses to the outbreak, critical and neutral references to government policies on handling the epidemic, responses to the outbreak in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, speculative and factual information on the disease, references to Dr. Li Wenliang, and collective action.” They also discovered that references to President Xi Jinping as well as other central government and Party leaders including Premier Li Keqiang, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, and the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China as a collective agency are high on censorship priority.

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Noodles & Pandas: Chinese Social Media Users Are Talking About Coronavirus in Secret Lingo

The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, US. (Image: Reuters)

The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, US. (Image: Reuters)

The abbreviation “zf” to refer to the government, “jc” for the police, “guobao” (which means “national treasure”) or panda images to represent the domestic security bureau and mentions of the Communist Party’s Publicity Department are referenced as “Ministry of Truth”. Chinese citizens are using “wh” and “hb” to refer to Wuhan and Hubei.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: March 11, 2020, 2:02 PM IST

Are the Chinese citizens angry with their government’s initial denials and the subsequent handling of the Coronavirus outbreak? Yes, they are. Or maybe they aren’t. There really is no way to tell. Or is there? It turns out that China’s social media users have created a new language to somehow beat government’s censorship on Coronavirus, or COVID-19, chatter. No one really knows that the government is censoring and when or for what reason. Or what conversations the cyber cops may be busy scrubbing off social media and the internet. A research by Amnesty International has pointed out how the social media users in China are self-censoring and modifying the words they use, to beat the surveillance on their chats. Now it will be Pandas and Noodles and the Truth, across social networks and messengers in China—if you don’t want to be in trouble.

The research suggests that people are using the abbreviation “zf” to refer to the government, “jc” to refer to the police, “guobao” (which means “national treasure”) or panda images to represent the domestic security bureau and mentions of the Communist Party’s Publicity Department (also known as the Propaganda Department) are referenced as “Ministry of Truth” from the George Orwell novel “1984”. Chinese citizens are using “wh” and “hb” to refer to Wuhan and Hubei.

Have you read?

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“Since China’s National Red Cross and its ability to distribute supplies has been questioned, netizens anticipated ‘Red Cross’ would be censored and replaced it with “red ten” (the Chinese character for ten “十 Shí” resembles a cross). When people express suspicions that supplies had been mishandled by the national Red Cross society, hashtags such as “supplies are reded” began trending,” says Amnesty.

Any critical references to the politicans in China aren’t taken very kindly to. The research suggests that social media users in the country are reviving the abbreviation “F4”. It started out as a Taiwanese boy band which became incredibly popular in the early 2000s, but is now used to refer to four regional politicians—the governor of Hubei province, the secretary of Hubei’s Communist Party Committee, the mayor of Wuhan and the party secretary of Wuhan. Most of the responsibility for the botched response to the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan rests on the shoulders of these four political figures.

In case you were wondering, “Vietnamese pho noodles” is used to refer to VPNs, methods that are essential to access websites otherwise blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall.

And it does get absurd at some stage, as one would expect. “Similarly, a parent’s complaint on Weibo about his child being “bad at learning” was instantly removed. Why? Because in Chinese, the President’s surname means “learning”. In this context, to say “learning is bad” must be censored,” say the researchers.

Earlier this month, a Citizen Lab report had revealed that popular instant messaging app WeChat is censoring certain keywords, particularly any references of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, Wuhan, President Xi Jinping or Dr. Li Wenliang who had blown the lid off the outbreak much before the Chinese government had to accept what happened. “Between January 1 and February 15, 2020, we found 516 keyword combinations directly related to COVID-19 that were censored in our scripted WeChat group chat. The scope of keyword censorship on WeChat expanded in February 2020. Between January 1 and 31, 2020, 132 keyword combinations were found censored in WeChat. Three hundred and eight-four new keywords were identified in a two-week testing window between February 1 and 15,” the researchers say.

The alternate language and a new social media dictionary might be enabling messaging across the country, where freedom of speech isn’t exactly a priority. But it is also time consuming, and the energies would be better channelized elsewhere if the struggle for freedom of speech wasn’t there.

This month, the new cyberspace regulations went Live in China in the midst of the measures to contain the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 outbreak. Among the long list of do’s and don’ts released by the Cyberspace Administration of China in the Regulations on the Ecological Governance of Network Information Content, one guideline that truly stands out is the one that reads “spreading rumors and disturbing the economic and social order” under Article 6 which headlines Producers of online information content may not produce, copy or publish illegal information containing the following contents”.

One would suspect it is only a matter of time perhaps before this language will need updating.