Skype joins list of apps on China blacklist

Skype is no longer available for download on the China Apple Store or Android sites. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 November 2017
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Skype joins list of apps on China blacklist

SHANGHAI: Skype has apparently joined the lengthening list of Internet communication tools on China’s blacklist, with Apple saying Wednesday it was ordered to clear its download store of apps that violate national laws.
Skype is no longer available for download on the China Apple Store or Android sites, with Chinese web-users saying it had been gone for weeks.
“We have been notified by the Ministry of Public Security that a number of VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) apps do not comply with local law, therefore these apps have been removed from the App Store in China,” Apple said in an emailed statement.
“These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.”
The company did not specify which laws such apps were found to have violated.
But China has tightened its already stringent online policing this year, including enacting new rules that require tech companies to store user data inside the country as well as imposing new restrictions on what is permissible content.
Chinese authorities appeared to severely disrupt the WhatsApp messaging app as they ratcheted up security ahead of a Communist Party congress in October that saw President Xi Jinping consolidate his hold on the country.
The moves have prompted speculation on the Chinese Internet that authorities were moving against services with effective encryption, like WhatsApp and Skype, that make them less vulnerable to government monitoring.
Skype Business, a separate app tailored more for corporate use, was still available for download.
China has for years blocked leading foreign websites or services including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a number of news organizations with a system of Internet censorship nicknamed the “Great Firewall of China.”
Skype’s removal from app stores comes as China prepares to host its fourth World Internet Conference next month.
The annual event in eastern China is used by Beijing to promote its views about web policy, but has been criticized by rights groups.
On Tuesday the ruling Communist Party’s anti-graft agency said China’s former Internet czar Lu Wei, who stepped down last year after overseeing a tightening of online censorship, was under investigation for suspected “severe disciplinary violations,” which typically means corruption.


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.