Microsoft shutting down LinkedIn app in China amid scrutiny

The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” (File/AFP)
The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 October 2021

Microsoft shutting down LinkedIn app in China amid scrutiny

The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” (File/AFP)
  • LinkedIn will replace its localized platform in China with a new app called InJobs

REDMOND, Washington: Microsoft is shutting down its main LinkedIn service in China later this year as Beijing tightens its internet rules.

The company said in a blog post Thursday it has faced a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”

Microsoft is the latest American tech giant to lessen its ties to the country after years of trying to tailor its services to the demands of government censors.

LinkedIn said it will replace its localized platform in China with a new app called InJobs that has some of LinkedIn’s career-networking features but will not include a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles.

Chinese regulators have been escalating a broad crackdown on the internet sector, seeking to exercise greater control over the algorithms used by tech firms to personalize and recommend content. They have also strengthened data privacy restrictions and expanded control over the flow of information and public opinion.

LinkedIn in March said it would pause new member sign-ups on LinkedIn China because of unspecified regulatory issues. China’s internet watchdog in May said it had found LinkedIn as well as Microsoft’s Bing search engine and about 100 other apps were engaged in improper collection and use of data and ordered them to fix the problem.

Several scholars this summer reported getting warning letters from LinkedIn that they were sharing “prohibited content” that would not be made viewable in China but could still be seen by LinkedIn users elsewhere.

Tony Lee, a scholar at Berlin’s Free University, told The Associated Press in June that LinkedIn didn’t tell him which content was prohibited but said it was tied to the section of his profile where he listed his publications. Among his listed articles was one about the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and another comparing Chinese leader Xi Jinping with former leader Mao Zedong.

Lee said Thursday it is “wishful thinking for LinkedIn to maintain its presence in a different form” without social media elements, its distinctive selling point against other online job boards. He said LinkedIn is better off pulling out of the country entirely than “practicing censorship dictated by China” that damages the company’s worldwide credibility.

It’s been more than seven years since LinkedIn launched a site in simplified Chinese, the written characters used on the mainland, to expand its reach in the country. It said at the time of the launch in early 2014 that expanding in China raised “difficult questions” because it required censoring content, but that it would be clear about how it conducts business in China and undertake “extensive measures” to protect members’ rights and data.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, bought LinkedIn in 2016. LinkedIn doesn’t disclose how much of its revenue comes from China, but it reports having more than 54 million members in mainland China, its third-largest user base after the U.S. and India.

“LinkedIn once served a crucial role, as the only social media network on which Chinese and Western colleagues could communicate away from (Chinese Communist Party) censorship and prying eyes,” said Eyck Freymann, another scholar who received a censorship notice letter this year, in a text message Thursday.

Freymann, a doctoral student in China studies at Oxford University, said it is “shameful that Microsoft spent months censoring its own users — and, worse, pressuring them to self-censor” but that the company ultimately made the right choice to pull the plug.

Google pulled its search engine out of mainland China in 2010 after the government began censoring search results and videos on YouTube. It later considered starting a censored Chinese search engine nicknamed Project Dragonfly but dropped the idea following internal protest in 2018.

Other US-based social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked within China.

Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing, was temporarily blocked in China in early 2019, leading the company’s president, Brad Smith, to reveal that executives sometimes have difficult negotiations with the Chinese government over censorship and other demands.

“We understand we don’t have the same legal freedom that we do in other countries, but at the same time, we stick to our guns,” Smith told Fox Business News in January 2019. “There are certain principles that we think it’s important to stand up for, and we’ll go at times into the negotiating room and the negotiations are sometimes pretty darn direct.”

Adding to the sensitivities this year was a massive hack of Microsoft’s Exchange email server software that U.S. officials have blamed on criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government.


Inspiring ‘Passion for Reading’ and Fostering Cultural Exchange: Introducing the Media Partnership between the Riyadh International Book Fair 2022 and SRMG

Inspiring ‘Passion for Reading’ and Fostering Cultural Exchange: Introducing the Media Partnership between the Riyadh International Book Fair 2022 and SRMG
Updated 30 September 2022

Inspiring ‘Passion for Reading’ and Fostering Cultural Exchange: Introducing the Media Partnership between the Riyadh International Book Fair 2022 and SRMG

Inspiring ‘Passion for Reading’ and Fostering Cultural Exchange: Introducing the Media Partnership between the Riyadh International Book Fair 2022 and SRMG

RIYADH: For the second year in a row, the Saudi Research and Media Group - SRMG announced its active participation in the Riyadh International Book Fair 2022, as the Official Media Partner. This renewed partnership between the two entities aims at inspiring and motivating readers to increase their passion for reading, in addition to fostering cultural exchange.

During the Book Fair - held in the Saudi capital Riyadh, from September 29 to October 8, 2022 - the Group will provide extensive coverage of the fair and its events, coupled with interactive programs and activities, through more than 30 SRMG participating media outlets and platforms – thus inspiring audiences and interested prospects, in several languages.

And for the first time, Arabic editions of global publications and titles from Raff Publishing will also be revealed, including a variety of books.

In this context, Jomana R. Alrashid, CEO of SRMG, said: “The Riyadh International Book Fair is a key cultural event and falls in line with the Group’s commitment to supporting knowledge economies and stimulating creativity and innovation, in KSA and beyond. Therefore, our renewed partnership highlights the on-going role SRMG media outlets and platforms play in providing unique and distinctive coverage of the fair and its visitors.”

The fair, in its current edition, will witness the reveal by SRMG’s ”Raff Publishing” of a variety of books, representing its first series of publications, including Arabic editions of global publications and book titles. These will come to further enrich Arabic content, through the works by prominent Saudi and Arab writers. In its designated space - located next to the VIP entrance of the Fair – “Raff Publishing” will also offer special events, unique and interactive digital experiences. The publishing house will also highlight its collabs with emerging and established writers.

On its part, SRMG’s “Manga Alarabia” will present several initiatives, including specialized workshops, an interactive photo booth, and a selection of its most prominent publications, in addition to offering activities for children in the Book Fair’s dedicated pavilion.

As far as SRMG’s “Thmanyah”– the market leader in podcasts and documentary film production – is concerned, it will have its own dedicated studio to conduct interviews with VIPs and distinguished guests.

It is noteworthy that the annual Riyadh International Book Fair is one of the most prominent Arab book fairs in terms of number of visitors, sales volume, and the diversity of its cultural programs; as well as the participation of the most prestigious local, regional and international publishing houses. The fair also represents a platform for companies and individuals working &/or interested in the knowledge, literature, publishing and translation sectors, to present their works, books and offerings.


Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture

Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture
Updated 30 September 2022

Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture

Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture
  • Annual Culture Next report reveals the behaviors, attitudes and mindsets of GenZs in the UAE

DUBAI: Spotify has released the UAE edition of its annual global culture and trends report, Culture Next.

In the fourth edition of the report, the second to feature the UAE, Spotify delves deeper into the behaviors, attitudes and mindsets of their largest audience segment, Generation Z (aged 15 to 25), and how they differ from Generation Y, known as millennials (26 to 40).

In 2021, Gen Zs globally streamed music more often than they used any other media (including videos, games, and TV), and shared more Spotify playlists and engaged in more group listening sessions than any other generation, according to the report.

In the first quarter of 2022 alone, 18 to 24-year-olds have played more than 578 billion minutes of music on Spotify — more than any other segment, and roughly 16 billion more minutes than millennials, or 25 to 34-year-olds, around the world.

“Audio has always been part of our lives,” Mark Abou Jaoude, Spotify’s head of music in the Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News.

“Streaming is being seen more and more as a key driver for discovery and the formation of a global community that identifies with one another through audio. It’s a way of self-expression and it's screenless,” he added.

Video, as a format, has grown in popularity in recent times, spurred by short-form video such as that on TikTok and Instagram’s Reels.

Jaoude, however, stresses the importance of audio, particularly for Gen Zs. “A video with no audio is hard to comprehend, for example, but a pure audio piece is not. Audio enriches storytelling,” he said.

The report highlights key differences between Gen Zs and millennials, with the former having gone from an “emerging” generation to the “center stage of culture.”

Firstly, while both generations are stressed, Gen Zs are more so. “Millennials were raised in a boom, Zs in a bust,” said Jaoude. They have experienced significant downturns associated with the crash of 2008 and later COVID-19, which they experienced mostly as adults, he explained.

In this environment, they are turning to audio as a safe space. Fifty-nine percent of 18 to 24-year-olds in the UAE said they turn to podcasts to get answers to hard or personal questions before talking to their families about it, and 66 percent said they listen to podcasts to inform the conversations they have with their friends.

Moreover, according to 68 percent of Gen Zs in the UAE, audio helps them understand themselves better, and 80 percent said it allows them to explore different sides of their personality.

All of this means that for Gen Zs, audio has always been a part of their lives, and they use it for everything from creativity and self-expression, to discovering aspects of their own personality.

The second factor setting Gen Zs apart is that they are “the most racially and culturally diverse generation and therefore they demand this diversity be reflected through their lifestyle, the brands they engage with, social media and the audio they consume,” according to Jaoude.

Self-expression and creativity are core to this generation and so, “they lean into music, artists, podcasts, and playlists to shape the stories they tell about themselves,” he added.

FASTFACTS

66 percent listen to podcasts to inform the conversations they have with their friends.

82 percent said they had learned something about themselves by looking back on their listening habits.

74 percent believe that their listening habits tell a story about who they are.

78 percent listen to music from movies or shows because they like to feel like they are a character in the story.

71 percent like listening to and watching media from earlier decades because it reminds them of when things were simpler.

75 percent like it when brands bring back old aesthetic styles.

72 percent love it when brands produce retro products or content.

For instance, 82 percent in the UAE said they had learned something about themselves by looking back on their listening habits, and 74 percent believe that their listening habits tell a story about who they are.

It might appear that they are self-involved, but according to the report, they are driving the “main-character energy” trend, in which people use social media or digital audio to make themselves feel like the center of attention. This is evident in the popularity of playlists like “My Life is a Movie” and ones containing “POV” in the title.

Seventy-eight percent of Gen Zs in the UAE listen to music from movies or shows because “they like to feel like they are a character in the story,” according to Jaoude, and 79 percent of all Spotify playlists globally with “POV” in the title were created by Gen Zs.

Jaoude said: “They are experts in structuring and communicating their individual stories through playlists. They create their own playlists on Spotify and even use collaborative playlist features to ask their friends and community to exchange songs.”

While millennials are known for being nostalgic, Gen Zs go even further down memory lane, he added. They are “reinventing nostalgia” by filtering pop culture “through a contemporary perspective to access and inspire something new and unique to them,” he said.

Millennials are nostalgic for the times they have lived through; Gen Zs, on the other hand, are nostalgic for eras that offer some form of reprieve from current times, which they find stressful and anxiety-inducing.

“Among Zs, the past is all fuel for the future — and that is true for more than music,” Jaoude said.

It is why 71 percent of Gen Zs in UAE said they like listening to and watching media from earlier decades — because it reminds them of when things were simpler, and 75 percent like it when brands bring back old aesthetic styles, while 72 percent love it when brands produce retro products or content.

“You will see that movement in today’s fashion and the sound of music; there’s a lot of borrowing from previous eras and artists add their personal flair or vision to that sound,” said Jaoude.

Gen Zs’ unique problems, and habits, provide an untapped opportunity for marketers. As Jaoude said: “They are seeking new opportunities to share themselves through audio — and looking to brands to help make it happen.”

Forty-nine percent in the UAE said they like being able to select the ad they listen to on a digital audio streaming service, and more than a third said they like it when they can interact with ads.

For example, Spotify worked with Adidas on the “Nite Jogger” campaign where they created a custom digital experience that gleaned the “sonic traits” of listeners’ nighttime streaming activity to create a custom playlist unique to each individual. The campaign racked up 32.4 million impressions and over 9 million unique visitors.

“While brands of the past may have prioritized keeping an iron grip over their messaging, there’s a huge opportunity to connect with the next generation by handing the reins over to them and allowing them to customize their experience — especially in the space of audio,” said Jaoude.
 


CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces

CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces
Updated 30 September 2022

CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces

CPJ calls on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces
  • The call comes after a journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan was injured during Iranian strikes on the region

DUBAI: Kurdistan 24’s media team came under attack while covering Iranian drone and missile attacks on Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties based in the Kurdistan Region on Sept. 28, according to the broadcaster.

In a statement, the Erbil-based media company said that its correspondent Soran Kamaran was seriously injured, adding: “We reiterate that Kurdistan 24 is continuing its professional coverage of the events. And we hope all sides in the conflict avoid targeting journalists and media workers.”

The cameraman with Kamaran was not hurt, Kurdistan 24’s newsroom manager and anchor, Kovan Izzat, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). But, Kamaran was taken to a hospital in Erbil, where he underwent two surgeries, Izzat said.

The media watchdog has called on Iran to investigate if journalists are being targeted by Iranian forces.

“Iran’s drone strikes inevitably cause civilian casualties, including those of journalists documenting the attacks,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s MENA program coordinator. “Iranian and Kurdish authorities must take serious measures to avoid harming civilians and to hold anyone violating international law accountable.”

The Kurdistan Regional Government also strongly condemned the “repetitive (Iranian) violations of the sovereignty of the Kurdistan Region,” reported Kurdistan 24.

At least seven people have been killed and 24 injured as a result of Iran’s attacks, according to Dr. Saman Barzinji, the minister of health for the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

On Sept. 28, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq said that “rocket diplomacy is a reckless act with devastating consequences,” adding that “these attacks need to cease immediately.”

CPJ could not find a contact for Kamaran’s family immediately. The organization reached out to the Iranian UN mission for comment but has not received a response.

 


TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt
Updated 29 September 2022

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt

TikTok launches Creator Hub program in UAE and Egypt
  • The new initiative aims to identify talented creators and connect them with the right mentors and skill-building experts
  • The annual competition requires creators to produce a creative content idea around a specific theme

DUBAI: TikTok has announced the launch of the inaugural TikTok Creator Hub program in the UAE and Egypt.

The new initiative aims to identify talented creators and connect them with the right mentors and skill-building experts to support and nurture their skills.

The annual competition requires creators to produce a creative content idea around a specific theme.

A group of judges, including top TikTok content creators from across the MENA region, will assess the skills of the creators and provide them with the required learning to help elevate their content, as well as advise them on their career as a creator.

Inspired by the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference of Parties — COP27 — held in Egypt in November, this year’s theme is climate change.

“With the launch of the inaugural edition of TikTok Creator Hub, we aim to generate awareness and advocacy around causes and pressing issues that touch the community, securing a dedicated destination for content creation and conversations focused on the most important societal issues of our time, such as climate change,” said Tarek Abdalla, regional general manager at TikTok Middle East, Africa, Turkiye, Pakistan and South Asia.

The theme also aligns with TikTok’s launch of the #ClimateAction program in support of COP27 in the MENA region, which is a campaign encouraging TikTok users to join the climate conversation.

The TikTok Creator Hub program is divided into three phases, which include online learning modules, a live training session and the judging process to name the winner of the competition.

Once the creators have been shortlisted, TikTok will host a welcome workshop in collaboration with celebrity creators to introduce them to the TikTok Creator Hub concept.

TikTok will also host a live training day, enabling creators to spend one live session with a creator mentor, ahead of their creation of a TikTok focused on climate change, which will be submitted for the judging process.

Lastly, the judges will choose the winning entries, which will be announced in November.

Creators living in the UAE and Egypt who would like to participate can visit the TikTok MENA Creator Hub website MENATikTokCreatorHub.com to register and share a 30-60 second video on why they want to be part of the program for a chance to be selected.

Registration closes on Oct. 10.


Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts
REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo
Updated 29 September 2022

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts

Brands blast Twitter for ads next to child pornography accounts
  • Mazda, Forbes and Dyson are among the brands to suspend their marketing campaigns on the platform

 

Some major advertisers including Dyson, Mazda, Forbes and PBS Kids have suspended their marketing campaigns or removed their ads from parts of Twitter because their promotions appeared alongside tweets soliciting child pornography, the companies told Reuters.

DIRECTV and Thoughtworks also told Reuters late on Wednesday they have paused their advertising on Twitter.

Brands ranging from Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), NBCUniversal (CMCSA.O) and Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) to a children's hospital were among more than 30 advertisers that appeared on the profile pages of Twitter accounts peddling links to the exploitative material, according to a Reuters review of accounts identified in new research about child sex abuse online from cybersecurity group Ghost Data.

Some of tweets include key words related to “rape” and “teens,” and appeared alongside promoted tweets from corporate advertisers, the Reuters review found. In one example, a promoted tweet for shoe and accessories brand Cole Haan appeared next to a tweet in which a user said they were “trading teen/child” content.

“We’re horrified,” David Maddocks, brand president at Cole Haan, told Reuters after being notified that the company’s ads appeared alongside such tweets. “Either Twitter is going to fix this, or we’ll fix it by any means we can, which includes not buying Twitter ads.”

In another example, a user tweeted searching for content of “Yung girls ONLY, NO Boys,” which was immediately followed by a promoted tweet for Texas-based Scottish Rite Children's Hospital. Scottish Rite did not return multiple requests for comment.

In a statement, Twitter spokesperson Celeste Carswell said the company “has zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation” and is investing more resources dedicated to child safety, including hiring for new positions to write policy and implement solutions.

She added that Twitter is working closely with its advertising clients and partners to investigate and take steps to prevent the situation from happening again.

Twitter’s challenges in identifying child abuse content were first reported in an investigation by tech news site The Verge in late August. The emerging pushback from advertisers that are critical to Twitter’s revenue stream is reported here by Reuters for the first time.

Like all social media platforms, Twitter bans depictions of child sexual exploitation, which are illegal in most countries. But it permits adult content generally and is home to a thriving exchange of pornographic imagery, which comprises about 13 percent of all content on Twitter, according to an internal company document seen by Reuters.

Twitter declined to comment on the volume of adult content on the platform.

Ghost Data identified the more than 500 accounts that openly shared or requested child sexual abuse material over a 20-day period this month. Twitter failed to remove more than 70 percent of the accounts during the study period, according to the group, which shared the findings exclusively with Reuters.

Reuters could not independently confirm the accuracy of Ghost Data’s finding in full, but reviewed dozens of accounts that remained online and were soliciting materials for "13+" and “young looking nudes.”

After Reuters shared a sample of 20 accounts with Twitter last Thursday, the company removed about 300 additional accounts from the network, but more than 100 others still remained on the site the following day, according to Ghost Data and a Reuters review.

Reuters then on Monday shared the full list of more than 500 accounts after it was furnished by Ghost Data, which Twitter reviewed and permanently suspended for violating its rules, said Twitter’s Carswell on Tuesday.

In an email to advertisers on Wednesday morning, ahead of the publication of this story, Twitter said it “discovered that ads were running within Profiles that were involved with publicly selling or soliciting child sexual abuse material.”

Andrea Stroppa, the founder of Ghost Data, said the study was an attempt to assess Twitter’s ability to remove the material. He said he personally funded the research after receiving a tip about the topic.

Twitter’s transparency reports on its website show it suspended more than 1 million accounts last year for child sexual exploitation.

It made about 87,000 reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a government-funded non-profit that facilitates information sharing with law enforcement, according to that organization's annual report.

“Twitter needs to fix this problem ASAP, and until they do, we are going to cease any further paid activity on Twitter,” said a spokesperson for Forbes.

“There is no place for this type of content online,” a spokesperson for carmaker Mazda USA said in a statement to Reuters, adding that in response, the company is now prohibiting its ads from appearing on Twitter profile pages.

A Disney spokesperson called the content “reprehensible” and said they are “doubling-down on our efforts to ensure that the digital platforms on which we advertise, and the media buyers we use, strengthen their efforts to prevent such errors from recurring.”

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola, which had a promoted tweet appear on an account tracked by the researchers, said it did not condone the material being associated with its brand and said “any breach of these standards is unacceptable and taken very seriously.”

NBCUniversal said it has asked Twitter to remove the ads associated with the inappropriate content.

CODE WORDS

Twitter is hardly alone in grappling with moderation failures related to child safety online. Child welfare advocates say the number of known child sexual abuse images has soared from thousands to tens of millions in recent years, as predators have used social networks including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram to groom victims and exchange explicit images.

For the accounts identified by Ghost Data, nearly all the traders of child sexual abuse material marketed the materials on Twitter, then instructed buyers to reach them on messaging services such as Discord and Telegram in order to complete payment and receive the files, which were stored on cloud storage services like New Zealand-based Mega and US-based Dropbox, according to the group’s report.

A Discord spokesperson said the company had banned one server and one user for violating its rules against sharing links or content that sexualize children.

Mega said a link referenced in the Ghost Data report was created in early August and soon after deleted by the user, which it declined to identify. Mega said it permanently closed the user's account two days later.

Dropbox and Telegram said they use a variety of tools to moderate content but did not provide additional detail on how they would respond to the report.

Still the reaction from advertisers poses a risk to Twitter’s business, which earns more than 90 percent of its revenue by selling digital advertising placements to brands seeking to market products to the service's 237 million daily active users.

Twitter is also battling in court Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk, who is attempting to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company over complaints about the prevalence of spam accounts and its impact on the business.

A team of Twitter employees concluded in a report dated February 2021 that the company needed more investment to identify and remove child exploitation material at scale, noting the company had a backlog of cases to review for possible reporting to law enforcement.

“While the amount of (child sexual exploitation content) has grown exponentially, Twitter’s investment in technologies to detect and manage the growth has not,” according to the report, which was prepared by an internal team to provide an overview about the state of child exploitation material on Twitter and receive legal advice on the proposed strategies.

“Recent reports about Twitter provide an outdated, moment in time glance at just one aspect of our work in this space, and is not an accurate reflection of where we are today,” Carswell said.

The traffickers often use code words such as “cp” for child pornography and are “intentionally as vague as possible,” to avoid detection, according to the internal documents.

The more that Twitter cracks down on certain keywords, the more that users are nudged to use obfuscated text, which “tend to be harder for (Twitter) to automate against,” the documents said.

Ghost Data’s Stroppa said that such tricks would complicate efforts to hunt down the materials, but noted that his small team of five researchers and no access to Twitter’s internal resources was able to find hundreds of accounts within 20 days.

Twitter did not respond to a request for further comment.