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  1. New reports from The New York Times detail some of the mind-boggling statistics and gravity that the sensationally popular WeChat messaging app yields across China. In a separate report, the paper details a government led initiative to silence Chinese Twitter users via family related threats to even go so far as physically detaining violators. Although Twitter is blocked on China’s heavily censored internet, that isn’t halting President Xi Jinping’s efforts to eliminate what his government calls “suspicious internet activity”. The report recalls a specific interaction between a young Twitter violator who was caught by police. A Chinese Twitter user cried: As per the popularity of WeChat — the numbers are truly astounding. With approximately 800 million active internet users in China, there are over 1 billion active WeChat accounts. Basically, pretty much every single resident in China has at least one WeChat account, with many having multiple. If you’re unfamiliar with what exactly WeChat is, 9to5Mac’s Cam MacMurchy recently took a closer look at the expansive app, which you can read here. Source
  2. BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police said on Saturday that it has closed 1,100 social media accounts, along with 31 websites, this year for unlawful activities such as trolling or blackmailing, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The police found that some social media accounts on Tencent’s Wechat and Sina-owned Weibo fabricated accusations against companies and individuals, Xinhua said, citing the Ministry of Public Security. These accounts then posted negative information online and demanded a ransom in exchange for deleting the posts, Xinhua said. China’s strict online censorship rules have tightened in recent years with new legislation to restrict media outlets, surveillance measures for media sites and rolling campaigns to remove content deemed unacceptable. The authorities this year have shuttered social media accounts for reasons that range from posting lewd content or sensationalist celebrity gossip to articles deemed politically incorrect by censors. In November, the country’s top cyber authority scrubbed 9,800 social media accounts of independent news providers deemed to have posted sensational, vulgar or politically harmful content on the Internet. The police also investigated 28 cases involving paid online trolls or ghostwriters hired to post online content and arrested 67 suspects, Xinhua said. Source
  3. After a meteoric rise in popularity in China, the SeekingArrangement dating app was removed from the country’s most popular social network, WeChat. SeekingArrangements is marketed as an app that helps “sugar daddies or mommas” and “sugar babies” connect for “mutually beneficial relationships.” The site says that for the former, “Money isn’t an issue, thus they are generous when it comes to supporting a Sugar Baby.” As for the latter: “Sugar Babies get to experience a luxurious lifestyle, and meet wealthy people on a regular basis.” The site was created in the U.S. in 2006, and launched in China in 2015. Earlier this week, SeekingArrangements was the most downloaded free social networking app on iOS devices in China, according to app store analytics firm App Annie. State media outlet Global Times published an article on Monday criticizing the company, comparing its service to prostitution, and insisting government authorities shut down the platform. On Thursday, the outlet stated that SeekingArrangements is being investigated by authorities in Shanghai. On the same day, the app’s public account was reportedly banned from WeChat. The messaging service has about 1 billion active users and was a major venue for the app. SeekingArrangements did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for comment. State media outlet China Daily quoted an anonymous SeekingArrangement worker, who said the Chinese version of SeekingArrangements “is exclusively developed for the local market and would definitely abide by the law here.” Dating sites, like Tinder, and social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are banned in China. According to Reuters, the SeekingArrangements app remained accessible via app stores in China as of Friday. Update 11:45 am: A spokesperson for Seeking Arrangements shared the following statement with Gizmodo: More at [China Daily/Reuters] Source
  4. Chinese Citizens Can Be Tracked In Real Time A group of researchers have revealed that the Chinese government is collecting data on its citizens to an extent where their movements can even be tracked in real-time using their mobile devices. This discovery was made by The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs who specialize in studying the ways in which information technology affects both personal and human rights worldwide. It has been known for some time that the Chinese government employs a number of invasive tactics to be fully aware of the lives of its citizens. Though Citizen Lab was able to discover that the government has begun to monitor its populace using apps and services designed and run by the private sector. The discovery was made when the researchers began exploring Tencent's popular chat app WeChat that is installed on the devices of almost every Chinese citizen with 800 million active users each month. Citizen Lab found that not only does the app help the government censor chats between users but that it is also being used as a state surveillance tool. WeChat's restrictions even remain active for Chinese students studying abroad. Ronald Deibert, a researcher at Citizen Lab, offered further insight on the team's discovery, saying: "What the government has managed to do, I think quite successfully, is download the controls to the private sector, to make it incumbent upon them to police their own networks". To make matters worse, the data collected by WeChat and other Chinese apps and services is currently being sold online. The Guangzhou Southern Metropolis Daily led an investigation that found that large amounts of personal data on nearly anyone could be purchased online for a little over a hundred US dollars. The newspaper also found another service that offered the ability to track users in real-time via their mobile devices. Users traveling to China anytime soon should be extra cautious as to their activities online and should think twice before installing WeChat during their stay. Published under license from ITProPortal.com, a Future plc Publication. All rights reserved. Source
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