Google suspends Chinese shopping app amid security concerns

The suspension of the Pinduoduo app, mainly used in China, comes amid heightened US-China tensions over Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok. (AFP/File)
The suspension of the Pinduoduo app, mainly used in China, comes amid heightened US-China tensions over Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 March 2023

Google suspends Chinese shopping app amid security concerns

Google suspends Chinese shopping app amid security concerns
  • Google urged users to uninstall any Pinduoduo app not downloaded from its own Play store

HONG KONG: Google has suspended the Chinese shopping app Pinduoduo on its app store after malware was discovered in versions of the app from other sources.
Google said in a statement Tuesday that it suspended the Pinduoduo app on the Google Play app store out of “security concerns” and that it was investigating the matter.
The suspension of the Pinduoduo app –- mainly used in China –- comes amid heightened US-China tensions over Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok, which some US lawmakers say could be a national security threat. They allege that such apps could be used to spy on American users.
Pinduoduo is a popular e-commerce app in China which often offers discounts if users team up to buy multiples of an item. Google warned users Tuesday to uninstall any Pinduoduo app not downloaded from its own Play store.
“Google Play Protect enforcement has been set to block installation attempts of these identified malicious apps,” Google said in its statement. “Users that have malicious versions of the app downloaded to their devices are warned and prompted to uninstall the app.”
It was unclear if there are similar security concerns around the Pinduoduo app for Apple users, and Pinduoduo was still available to download from Apple’s iOS store Tuesday.
PDD Holdings Inc, which operates Pinduoduo, did not immediately comment. Hong Kong traded shares in the company tumbled 14.2 percent on Tuesday.

Ben Roberts-Smith resigns from Seven after losing war crimes defamation case

Ben Roberts-Smith resigns from Seven after losing war crimes defamation case
Updated 02 June 2023

Ben Roberts-Smith resigns from Seven after losing war crimes defamation case

Ben Roberts-Smith resigns from Seven after losing war crimes defamation case
  • Judge found that allegations against Australian top soldier who committed war crimes in Afghanistan were ‘substantially true’
  • Roberts-Smith was appointed general manager of network in 2015

LONDON: Australian soldier Ben Roberts-Smith resigned as vice president of Seven West Media a day after losing a defamation court battle related to war crimes during his service in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported.

The ruling came about in a civil case where multiple newspapers defended a defamation lawsuit brought by Roberts-Smith, asserting that their reporting on the former soldier was accurate.

On Friday, Seven’s Managing Director and CEO James Warburton informed staff that Roberts-Smith had submitted his resignation.

In an email seen by Guardian Australia, Warburton stated: “As you’re all aware, the judgment in the defamation case was handed down yesterday.

“Ben has been on leave whilst the case was running, and today has offered his resignation, which we have accepted. We thank Ben for his commitment to Seven and wish him all the best.”

Roberts-Smith took a leave of absence from his Queensland position in 2021 to concentrate on the high-profile trial, backed financially and publicly by Kerry Stokes, the billionaire chairman of Seven who appointed Roberts-Smith general manager of Seven Queensland in 2015.

“The judgment does not accord with the man I know,” Stokes said after the verdict.

“I know this will be particularly hard for Ben, who has always maintained his innocence.”

In a groundbreaking civil trial that marked the first time a court examined allegations of war crimes by Australian forces, the judge found four out of six murder accusations were “substantially true,” despite Roberts-Smith’s denial.

The allegations consist of handcuffing and torturing civilians, ordering initiation murders for new soldiers, and shooting a Taliban fighter over 10 times in the back, taking his prosthetic leg as a trophy, and repurposing it as a drinking vessel.

The court also determined that allegations against the most decorated living Australian soldier, including the unlawful assault of captives and bullying of fellow soldiers, were true.

Roberts-Smith, who left the Australian Defence Force in 2013, has not been charged with any of the alleged war crimes in a criminal court, where the burden of proof is higher.

After the decision, a Taliban spokesman pointed to the case as evidence of the “uncountable crimes” committed by foreign forces in Afghanistan. However, they expressed skepticism about the global justice system’s ability to address these issues.

Australian troops were deployed to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021, spanning two decades of conflict. Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles declined to comment on the case, saying it was a civil matter.

MIT Sloan Management Review to launch MidEast edition

MIT Sloan Management Review to launch MidEast edition
Updated 02 June 2023

MIT Sloan Management Review to launch MidEast edition

MIT Sloan Management Review to launch MidEast edition
  • The regional edition will be published by Vibe Media Group

DUBAI: MIT Sloan Management Review has announced the regional edition of the online and print magazine in partnership with local media company Vibe Media Group, which publishes titles like Fast Company.

“ICT investments in the Middle East are projected to grow almost 4 percent annually to surpass $230 billion in 2023,” Ravi Raman, publisher of Vibe Media Group, told Arab News.

“We see MIT Sloan Management with its authoritative content on managing technology to aid leaders understand and harness the potential,” he added.

Published in English only, the regional edition will cover business and tech strategy topics, organizational culture, innovation, and digital transformation, continued Raman.

Many publications around the world have cut down their print issues as the medium struggles to survive in a digital-led world. MIT Sloan Management Review will, therefore, be digital-first with quarterly print editions, which Raman believes will have “relevance” since the magazine is a “tech journal with excellent reference value.”

Major economies in the region, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are heavily investing in technology and related fields, which is having “a strong trickle-down effect,” he said.

“Investments in technology are no longer departmental decisions; they are now strategic, impacting the business’ very existence and survival,” he added.

As technology pervades all areas of life and business, leaders need to be well adept at “understanding how technology fits in with their overall goals, and one of the unique features of MIT Sloan Management Review is its focus on bridging the gap between theory and practice,” Raman said.

In addition to digital and print content, the new magazine will hold its NextTech summit this September focused on new technologies such as generative artificial intelligence, digital currencies and the virtual world.

The editorial team is led by Raman and Pamella Ann De Leon, based in Dubai, UAE, who will serve as the editor, and will include correspondents who are based in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt.

The launch will be celebrated at a thought leadership event on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 6.

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh
Updated 01 June 2023

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh

Inaugural Saudi Festival of Creativity to be held in Riyadh
  • Event to be hosted by Motivate Media Group, TRACCS

DUBAI: UAE-based Motivate Media Group, and communications consultancy TRACCS — which started in and is headquartered in Saudi Arabia — have announced the launch of the inaugural Athar — Saudi Festival of Creativity, in Riyadh in November.

The festival aims to bring together the creative and marketing industries in Saudi Arabia to recognize and celebrate them.

Mohamed Al-Ayed, vice chairman of Athar Festival and CEO of TRACCS, said that the event would “enable and empower a new generation of creative-first Saudi marketers and inspire the sustainable development of the country.” 

The festival — which is being held over four days — will include a variety of training courses, roundtables, C-suite sessions, young talent competitions, and an awards ceremony.

It will also boast exclusive programs for women and executive marketers.

The awards will be presented to agencies, networks, and brands, and will be verified by Cannes Lions and Dubai Lynx.

Ian Fairservice, chairman of Athar Festival and managing partner and group editor-in-chief of Motivate Media Group, said: “The festival will be a dynamic and vibrant meeting place in Saudi Arabia where culture, creativity, talent, and technology will collide.

“It is a celebration of the power of creativity in an environment that inspires cultural exchange, collaborative innovation, tangible learning, and training and development.”

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies
Updated 01 June 2023

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies

Report: AI technology integration can contribute $150bn to GCC economies
  • Even though uptake in MENA remains low, it is still higher than in other regions, research suggests
  • Companies should focus on building capabilities in 4 crucial areas to tap into full potential,

LONDON: Embracing artificial intelligence technology could boost Gulf economies by $150 billion, equivalent to about 9 percent of their combined GDP, according to a recent report by Global consultancy McKinsey.

The research indicates that this estimate might be quickly surpassed, given the rapid advancements in technologies like generative AI.

Vinay Chandran, partner at McKinsey, underlined the transformative power of AI, saying: “With the rapid pace of technological innovation, AI has emerged as a transformative force, reshaping industries and societies.

“We believe it has the potential to deliver huge value in the Middle East’s GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries.”

The consultancy firm conducted an online survey in collaboration with the GCC Board Directors Institute, involving 119 senior executives and board directors from six Gulf countries across various industries.

These industries included retail, professional services, energy, capital projects, and financial services.

While results show that AI uptake remains relatively low in the Gulf, it is still higher than in other regions.

In fact, 62 percent of respondents reported their organizations utilized AI in at least one business function, outpacing North America (59 percent), Europe (48 percent), and the Asia-Pacific region (55 percent).

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, governments and businesses in the Middle East are becoming increasingly aware of the global shift toward AI and advanced technology.

However, the survey suggests that companies that are currently using AI have only just begun to explore the full potential of the technology.

Global consultancy PwC estimates that by 2030, AI could contribute $320 billion to economies in the Middle East, or 2 percent of the total global benefits of AI.

Annual AI contribution growth in the region is expected to range between 20 percent and 34 percent, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading the way.

Chandran noted that over the past five years, McKinsey’s research had revealed a striking difference between high-performing companies and their competitors, with the former deriving 20 percent or more of their earnings from AI.

He argued that for GCC companies to follow suit, they should focus on building AI capabilities in four crucial areas: strategy, organization and talent, data and technology, and adoption and scaling.

However, several respondents emphasized the significant challenges they face in developing AI capabilities due to various concerns.

To overcome the hurdles, the report advises companies to align their AI strategy with enterprise goals, cultivate AI talent, treat data as a product, and implement effective change management programs.

The UAE, for instance, has been making significant investments in AI and has even launched the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence to support the development of its AI ecosystem and promote research.

But while AI adoption in the GCC is “relatively encouraging,” McKinsey’s research suggests there is still a “significant” untapped value that companies can access.

Different sectors in the GCC are adopting AI at varying speeds, with retail leading the pack, as 75 percent of respondents in this sector reported implementing AI in at least one business function.

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia
Updated 01 June 2023

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat’s latest updates, features now available in Saudi Arabia
  • 22m active users in the Kingdom to benefit from range of improvements, including AR, AI offerings

RIYADH: Snapchat has unveiled innovative story features, including Communities, After Dark and Friendship Flashbacks, that enable users to more creatively document special moments.

To highlight improvements shown off at the annual Snap Partner Summit, the platform held a press conference in Riyadh on May 31.

The event showcased a variety of new functions and developments in enterprise solutions, retail innovation, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence technologies.

“In Saudi Arabia, Snapchat is a part of people’s lives, with over 22 million active users, including a remarkable 71 percent of parents. It’s heartwarming to witness the deep engagement of Snapchatters in Saudi, who open the app nearly 50 times per day, embracing its role as a daily companion,” said Abdulla Alhammadi, Snapchat regional business lead for the KSA market.

“Our augmented reality features, particularly the Lenses, have struck a chord with over 85 percent of KSA users, demonstrating their popularity and impact. Equally inspiring is the fact that almost 60 percent of Saudi Arabia’s Monthly Active users are 25 or older, showcasing the diverse appeal of Snapchat across different generations.”

Users of Snapchat have several options for staying in touch with loved ones using the features: Communities, After Dark, and Friendship Flashbacks that let users capture memorable occasions in more interesting ways.

Friendship Flashbacks bring throwback memories from Snapchat Memories directly into conversations with friends, After Dark offers a dedicated story format for evening memories, and Communities allows students to share their perspectives with classmates.

A customized 3D Snap Map will make it simpler to find landmarks and popular destinations, and also provide new location-sharing capabilities.

Additionally, the Bitmoji design has been improved to offer avatars that not only look like Snapchatters, but also dress like them, with a greater selection of shoppable clothing and accessories.

Snapchat recognizes the power of its AR innovations and the camera in enabling storytelling and empowering content creators. And to further support creators, a Stories revenue sharing program has been introduced. Eligible creators with at least 50,000 followers, 25 million monthly Snap views, and a minimum of 10 Stories per month and at least 50,000 followers can now monetize their Stories through ads.

This program incentivizes creators and provides the community with more engaging content from their favorite creators.

Snapchat also aims to provide creators with more growth opportunities through new features such as Snap Map.

By tagging locations in Spotlight Snaps or saving Stories they love, creators can expand their reach and offer the community the chance to discover new talent. Moreover, dozens of new tools have been developed for creators, including the integration of Linktree, a leading link-in-bio platform, into their new Public Profiles.

Additionally, new Story updates will allow a broader audience to discover and appreciate creators’ creativity while maintaining Snapchat as the best platform for genuine friendships.

Snapchatters aged 18 and older can now post their own Public Story with a simple tap, and creators gain access to content performance insights and Story Replies.

Additionally, a new tool recommending Sounds to pair with Lenses will make Snaps even more expressive.

Snapchat also unveiled the AR Shopping Suite by ARES as part of its mission to revolutionize the shopping experience, AR Enterprise Services.

Innovative AR and AI technologies like Try-On and Fit Finder are integrated into customers’ own apps and websites by this package.

To bridge the gap between the virtual and real worlds in retail settings, Snapchat has unveiled AR Mirrors. This technology has already been adopted by companies like Nike and Coca-Cola.

Zainab Hawsawi, head of communications for Snap in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News: “AR is revolutionizing the way we live, and its impact is undeniable. In MENA, 85 percent of users engage with Lenses on a daily basis, emphasizing its integration into our daily lives. Looking ahead to 2025, we foresee an exciting shift where the majority of Gen Z and millennial social media users in Saudi Arabia and the UAE will actively embrace AR.

“Ipsos research reveals that shopping is the top motivator for consumers to utilize AR, and at Snapchat, we’re proud to introduce innovative AR solutions to the Saudi market. From Live Garment Transfer to AR Enterprise Services Shopping Suite and AR mirrors, we aim to enhance the shopping experience, making it more enjoyable and seamless for all.”