Google

Google Brings Map Service Back To China (nikkei.com) 18

Google has relaunched its map service in China after an eight-year absence, signaling a new era of cooperation between the American internet giant and local partners in fields such as artificial intelligence, reports Nikkei. From the report: Chinese netizens hailed the revival of Google Maps on Monday as the American company's great return to China, where its trademark search and other services have been unavailable since 2010. While Google began offering a translation app for Chinese smartphones in March 2017, the map service reaches far more users as one of Google's best-known offerings. The company has set up a China-specific version of the Google Maps website and introduced a map app for Chinese iPhones. But when users of the app attempt to use its navigation features, they are automatically transferred to an app from AutoNavi, a mapping company owned by Chinese internet leader Alibaba Group Holding.
Government

Will Facial Recognition in China Lead To Total Surveillance? (washingtonpost.com) 122

schwit1 shares a new Washington Post article about China's police and security state -- including the facial recognition cameras allow access to apartment buildings. "If I am carrying shopping bags in both hands, I just have to look ahead and the door swings open," one 40-year-old woman tells the Post. "And my 5-year-old daughter can just look up at the camera and get in. It's good for kids because they often lose their keys." But for the police, the cameras that replaced the residents' old entry cards serve quite a different purpose. Now they can see who's coming and going, and by combining artificial intelligence with a huge national bank of photos, the system in this pilot project should enable police to identify what one police report, shared with The Washington Post, called the "bad guys" who once might have slipped by... Banks, airports, hotels and even public toilets are all trying to verify people's identities by analyzing their faces. But the police and security state have been the most enthusiastic about embracing this new technology.

The pilot in Chongqing forms one tiny part of an ambitious plan, known as "Xue Liang," which can be translated as "Sharp Eyes." The intent is to connect the security cameras that already scan roads, shopping malls and transport hubs with private cameras on compounds and buildings, and integrate them into one nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform... At the back end, these efforts merge with a vast database of information on every citizen, a "Police Cloud" that aims to scoop up such data as criminal and medical records, travel bookings, online purchase and even social media comments -- and link it to everyone's identity card and face.

Earth

Why the World Only Has Two Words For Tea (qz.com) 216

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say "tea" in the world. One is like the English term -- te in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi. Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before "globalization" was a term anybody used. The words that sound like "cha" spread across land, along the Silk Road. The "tea"-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.

The term cha is "Sinitic," meaning it is common to many varieties of Chinese. It began in China and made its way through central Asia, eventually becoming "chay" in Persian. That is no doubt due to the trade routes of the Silk Road, along which, according to a recent discovery, tea was traded over 2,000 years ago. This form spread beyond Persia, becoming chay in Urdu, shay in Arabic, and chay in Russian, among others. It even it made its way to sub-Saharan Africa, where it became chai in Swahili. The Japanese and Korean terms for tea are also based on the Chinese cha, though those languages likely adopted the word even before its westward spread into Persian. But that doesn't account for "tea." The te form used in coastal-Chinese languages spread to Europe via the Dutch, who became the primary traders of tea between Europe and Asia in the 17th century, as explained in the World Atlas of Language Structures. The main Dutch ports in east Asia were in Fujian and Taiwan, both places where people used the te pronunciation. The Dutch East India Company's expansive tea importation into Europe gave us the French the, the German Tee, and the English tea.

China

Apple's China iCloud Data Migration Sweeps Up International User Accounts (techcrunch.com) 45

Yesterday, it was reported that Apple's iCloud services in mainland China will be operated by a Chinese company from next month. What wasn't reported was the fact that Apple has included iCloud accounts that were opened in the U.S., are paid for using U.S. dollars and/or are connected to U.S.-based App Store accounts in the data that will be handled by local partner Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) from February 28. TechCrunch reports: Apple has given China-based users the option to delete their data, but there is no opt out that allows them to have it stored elsewhere. That has concerned some users who are uneasy that the data migration is a sign of closer ties with the Chinese government, particularly since GCBD is owned by the Guizhou provincial government. When asked for comment, Apple pointed TechCrunch to its terms and conditions site which explains that it is migrating iCloud accounts based on their location: "The operation of iCloud services associated with Apple IDs that have China in their country or region setting will be subject to this transition. You will be notified of this transition via email and notifications on your devices. You don't need to take any further action and can keep using iCloud in China. After February 28, 2018, you will need to agree to the terms and conditions of iCloud operated by GCBD to keep using iCloud in China."

However, TechCrunch found instances of iCloud accounts registered overseas that were part of the migration. One user did find an apparent opt-out. That requires the user switching their iCloud account back to China, then signing out of all devices. They then switch their phone and iCloud settings to the U.S. and then, upon signing back into iCloud, their account will (seemingly) not be part of the migration. Opting out might be a wise-move, as onlookers voice concern that a government-owned company is directly involved in storing user data.

China

Chinese Workers Abandon Silicon Valley for Riches Back Home (bloomberg.com) 250

From a report on Bloomberg: U.S.-trained Chinese-born talent is becoming a key force in driving Chinese companies' global expansion and the country's efforts to dominate next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where college graduates once coveted a prestigious overseas job and foreign citizenship, many today gravitate toward career opportunities at home, where venture capital is now plentiful and the government dangles financial incentives for cutting-edge research. "More and more talent is moving over because China is really getting momentum in the innovation area," said Ken Qi, a headhunter for Spencer Stuart and leader of its technology practice. "This is only the beginning."

Chinese have worked or studied abroad and then returned home long enough that there's a term for them -- "sea turtles." But while a job at a U.S. tech giant once conferred near-unparalleled status, homegrown companies -- from giants like Tencent to up-and-comers like news giant Toutiao -- are now often just as prestigious. Baidu Inc. -- a search giant little-known outside of China -- convinced ex-Microsoft standout Qi Lu to helm its efforts in AI, making him one of the highest-profile returnees of recent years.

China

Apple To Transfer Chinese iCloud Operations To Chinese Firm (bbc.com) 72

Apple's iCloud services in mainland China will be operated by a Chinese company from next month, the tech giant has confirmed, though Apple will still have access to all data stored on iCloud. The company said it had made the move to comply with the country's cloud computing regulations. iCloud accounts registered outside of China are not affected. BBC reports: The Chinese cyber security rules, introduced in July last year, include a requirement for companies to store all data within China. The firm, Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD), is owned by the Guizhou provincial government in southern China. Guizhou is where Apple opened a $1 billion data center last year to meet the regulations. iCloud data will be transferred from February 28, Apple said. Customers living in mainland China who did not want to use iCloud operated by GCBD were given the option to terminate their account. Apple said the "partnership" with GCBD would allow it to "improve the speed and reliability of our iCloud services products while also complying with newly passed regulations that cloud services be operated by Chinese companies." It added that Apple had "strong data privacy and security protections in place and no backdoors will be created into any of our systems." However, some on social media have said the step gives Beijing more opportunity to monitor its citizens and others living in the country.
Windows

Microsoft Announces First Mobile Carriers To Support Always Connected PCs (zdnet.com) 108

An anonymous reader shares a report: The push behind the Always Connected PC vision has been ramping up in recent weeks, with manufacturers like HP, ASUS, and Lenovo all joining the fray with their own LTE PCs based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform. Now, Microsoft and Qualcomm have announced the first batch of mobile operators that will actively support Always Connected PCs around the world. These initial carriers will help to bring "easy and affordable connectivity plans to consumers on advanced LTE wireless networks," Microsoft and Qualcomm said in a press release. Throughout the first half of 2018 and beyond, the companies say, mobile operators in China, Italy, the UK, and the U.S. will officially support Always Connected PCs. Here's a look at the carriers you can expect to roll out support in each region: China -- China Telecom, Italy -- TIM (Telecom Italia), U.K. -- EE, U.S. -- Sprint, Verizon. In addition to supporting connected PCs on their LTE networks, you can expect each operator to stock Always Connected PCs in their retail store, Qualcomm and Microsoft say.
Cellphones

'I Tried the First Phone With An In-Display Fingerprint Sensor' (theverge.com) 70

Vlad Savov from The Verge reports of his experience using the first smartphone with a fingerprint scanner built into the display: After an entire year of speculation about whether Apple or Samsung might integrate the fingerprint sensor under the display of their flagship phones, it is actually China's Vivo that has gotten there first. At CES 2018, I got to grips with the first smartphone to have this futuristic tech built in, and I was left a little bewildered by the experience. The mechanics of setting up your fingerprint on the phone and then using it to unlock the device and do things like authenticate payments are the same as with a traditional fingerprint sensor. The only difference I experienced was that the Vivo handset was slower -- both to learn the contours of my fingerprint and to unlock once I put my thumb on the on-screen fingerprint prompt -- but not so much as to be problematic. Basically, every other fingerprint sensor these days is ridiculously fast and accurate, so with this being newer tech, its slight lag feels more palpable. Vivo is using a Synaptics optical sensor called Clear ID that works by peering through the gaps between the pixels in an OLED display (LCDs wouldn't work because of their need for a backlight) and scanning your uniquely patterned epidermis. The sensor is already in mass production and should be incorporated in several flagship devices later this year.
AT&T

AT&T Pulls Out of Deal To Sell China's Huawei Phones In the US (phonedog.com) 63

According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T has walked away from a deal to sell China's Huawei smartphones in the U.S. Neither AT&T nor Huawei have commented on the matter, but the news is certainly going to disappoint those of you who were looking forward to picking up Huawei's flagship Mate 10. Prior to this report, Huawei was expected to announce that its flagship Mate 10 will launch on AT&T in 2018. PhoneDog reports: Huawei has a major presence internationally, with recent reports saying that it's the No. 3 smartphone brand in the world behind Apple and Samsung. The company hasn't made much of a dent in the U.S., though, despite the fact that it's been selling its phones unlocked in the U.S. for awhile now. This AT&T deal would've been big for Huawei, helping it to get its phones inside carrier stores and in front of U.S. consumers, the majority of which still buy their phones from their carriers. Now we'll have to wait and see if Huawei can strike a deal with another carrier or if it'll have to continue on in the unlocked market. A Huawei spokesperson only said "Huawei has proven itself by delivering premium devices with integrity globally and in the U.S. market."
Bitcoin

China Plans To Kill Most of the World's Bitcoin Mining Operations (bloomberg.com) 261

The Chinese government will end bitcoin mining operations in the country in the coming months in a move that could have a massive impact on the price of the world's biggest digital currency. From a report: China has been a central player in the development of bitcoin in recent years, but Beijing has spent the last six months cracking down on the cryptocurrency industry -- shutting down local exchanges and banning initial coin offerings. Leaked documents suggest the Chinese government plans an "orderly exit" for bitcoin mining operations in the coming weeks and months. In the documents, issued to the local offices of the internet-finance regulator, authorities were instructed to force mining operations out of business using measures linked to electricity pricing, land use, tax and environmental protection.
Privacy

2 Years Later, Security Holes Linger In GPS Services Used By Millions of Devices (securityledger.com) 12

chicksdaddy quotes a report from The Security Ledger: Security researchers say that serious security vulnerabilities linger in GPS software by the China-based firm ThinkRace more than two years after the hole was discovered and reported to the firm, The Security Ledger reports. Data including a GPS enabled device's location, serial number, assigned phone number and model and type of device can be accessed by any user with access to the GPS service. In some cases, other information is available including the device's location history going back 1 week. In some cases, malicious actors could also send commands to the device via SMS including those used to activate or deactivate GEO fencing alarms features, such as those used on child-tracking devices.

The vulnerabilities affect hundreds of thousands of connected devices that use the GPS services, from smart watches, to vehicle GPS trackers, fitness trackers, pet trackers and more. At issue are security holes in back-end GPS tracking services that go by names like amber360.com, kiddo-track.com, carzongps.com and tourrun.net, according to Michael Gruhn, an independent security researcher who noted the insecure behavior in a location tracker he acquired and has helped raise awareness of the widespread flaws. Working with researcher Vangelis Stykas, Gruhn discovered scores of seemingly identical GPS services, many of which have little security, allowing low-skill hackers to directly access data on GPS tracking devices.

Alas, news about the security holes is not new. In fact, the security holes in ThinkRace's GPS services are identical to those discovered by New Zealand researcher Lachlan Temple in 2015 and publicly disclosed at the time. Temple's research focused on one type of device: a portable GPS tracker that plugged into a vehicle's On Board Diagnostic (or OBD) port. However, Stykas and Gruhn say that they have discovered the same holes spread across a much wider range of APIs (application program interfaces) and services linked to ThinkRace.

China

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

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

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

China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars Prequels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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