Hong Kong newspaper increases print fivefold after arrests

The paper’s average daily circulation increase from approximately 86,000 copies to 500,000 overnight. (AFP)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Hong Kong newspaper increases print fivefold after arrests

  • Hong Kong's Apple Daily prints increased fivefold after the police arrested five top editors and executives.
  • On Thursday, police raided the offices of the pro-democracy newspaper, arrested five people and froze $2.3 million worth of assets.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily increased its print run more than fivefold to 500,000 copies as residents lined up Friday to buy the paper in a show of support for beleaguered press freedoms, a day after police arrested five top editors and executives.
The raid on the paper’s offices by hundreds of police and security agents — along with the freezing of $2.3 million worth of its assets — marked the first time a sweeping national security law has been used against the media. It was the latest sign of a widening crackdown on civil liberties in the semi-autonomous city, which has long cherished freedoms that don’t exist elsewhere in China.
Police said the editors were arrested on suspicion of foreign collusion to endanger national security, based on over 30 articles that authorities said had called for international sanctions against China and Hong Kong.
On Friday, the National Security Department charged two men with collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security, according to a government statement. The two will appear in court on Saturday.
It did not name them, but the South China Morning Post newspaper cited an unnamed source saying they are Apply Daily’s chief editor Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-hung, the CEO of Apple Daily’s publisher Next Digital. The other three were being detained for investigation.
With anti-government protests silenced, most of the city’s prominent pro-democracy activists in jail and many others fleeing abroad, people snapped up copies at newsstands and in convenience stores.
“There are lots of injustices in Hong Kong already. I think there are a lot of things we cannot do anymore,” said resident Lisa Cheung. “Buying a copy is all what we can do. When the law cannot protect Hong Kong people anymore, we are only left to do what we can.”
The front page of Friday’s edition splashed images of the five editors and executives led away in handcuffs. Police also confiscated 44 hard drives worth of news material. A quote from Cheung, the arrested CEO of Next Digital, said “Hang in there, everyone.”
Another resident, William Chan, said he bought a copy of the paper as a show of support.
“It was such a groundless arrest and suppressed freedom of the press,” he said.
The national security law was imposed after massive protests in 2019 challenged Beijing’s rule by calling for broader democratic freedoms. It outlaws subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries. The maximum penalty for serious offenders is life imprisonment.
Security Minister John Lee had on Thursday warned other journalists to distance themselves from those under investigation at Apple Daily. He said those arrested had used journalistic work to endanger national security and that anyone who was “in cahoots” with them would pay a hefty price.
The United States, which has imposed sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials over the crackdown, strongly condemned the arrests and called for the immediate release of the five arrested.
“We are deeply concerned by Hong Kong authorities’ selective use of the national security law to arbitrarily target independent media organizations,” State Department spokesman Price said, adding that the suspected foreign collusion charges appear to be politically motivated.
“As we all know, exchanging views with foreigners in journalism should never be a crime,” he said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a tweet that freedom of the press is one of the rights China had promised to protect for 50 years when Britain handed over Hong Kong in 1997.
“Today’s raids & arrests at Apple Daily in Hong Kong demonstrate Beijing is using the National Security Law to target dissenting voices, not tackle public security,” Raab said.
European Union spokesperson Nabila Massrali said that the arrests “further demonstrate how the National Security Law is being used to stifle media freedom and freedom of expression in Hong Kong.” Media freedom and pluralism are fundamental to Hong Kong’s success under the “one country, two systems” framework, she said.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian rejected the foreign criticism and defended the government’s action, repeating China’s insistence that the national security targets only a “small group of anti-China elements who disrupted Hong Kong and endangered the national security of the country.”
“No right or freedom, including freedom of the press, can break through the bottom line of national security,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.
“Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong, Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs, and no country, organization or individual has the right to intervene,” he said.
Apple Daily has pledged to readers that it will continue its reporting, and on Thursday night invited members of the media to its printing presses to watch its Friday edition roll off the press in a show of commitment.
Its founder Jimmy Lai is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence on charges of playing a part in unauthorized protests in 2019, and faces further charges under the national security law that could potentially put him away for life.
The paper’s average daily circulation has been around 86,000 copies.


Facebook and tech giants to target attacker manifestos, far-right militias in database

The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Facebook and tech giants to target attacker manifestos, far-right militias in database

  • Facebook, Microsoft and other tech giants are stepping up efforts to crack down on white supremacist and far right content
  • Over the next few months, the database will add attacker manifestos that are often shared by sympathizers after white supremacist violence

LONDON: A counterterrorism organization formed by some of the biggest US tech companies including Facebook and Microsoft is significantly expanding the types of extremist content shared between firms in a key database, aiming to crack down on material from white supremacists and far-right militias, the group told Reuters.
Until now, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’s (GIFCT) database has focused on videos and images from terrorist groups on a United Nations list and so has largely consisted of content from Islamist extremist organizations such as Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Over the next few months, the group will add attacker manifestos — often shared by sympathizers after white supremacist violence — and other publications and links flagged by UN initiative Tech Against Terrorism. It will use lists from intelligence-sharing group Five Eyes, adding URLs and PDFs from more groups, including the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and neo-Nazis.
The firms, which include Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, share “hashes,” unique numerical representations of original pieces of content that have been removed from their services. Other platforms use these to identify the same content on their own sites in order to review or remove it.
While the project reduces the amount of extremist content on mainstream platforms, groups can still post violent images and rhetoric on many other sites and parts of the Internet.
The tech group wants to combat a wider range of threats, said GIFCT’s Executive Director Nicholas Rasmussen in an interview with Reuters.
“Anyone looking at the terrorism or extremism landscape has to appreciate that there are other parts... that are demanding attention right now,” Rasmussen said, citing the threats of far-right or racially motivated violent extremism.
The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. The issue of domestic extremism, including white supremacy and militia groups, took on renewed urgency https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-administration-unveils-plan-tackle-domestic-terrorism-2021-06-15 following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
Fourteen companies can access the GIFCT database, including Reddit, Snapchat-owner Snap, Facebook-owned Instagram, Verizon Media, Microsoft’s LinkedIn and file-sharing service Dropbox.
GIFCT, which is now an independent organization, was created in 2017 under pressure from US and European governments after a series of deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels. Its database mostly contains digital fingerprints of videos and images related to groups on the UN Security Council’s consolidated sanctions list and a few specific live-streamed attacks, such as the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
GIFCT has faced criticism and concerns from some human and digital rights groups over centralized or over-broad censorship.
“Over-achievement in this takes you in the direction of violating someone’s rights on the Internet to engage in free expression,” said Rasmussen.
Emma Llanso, director of Free Expression at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in a statement: “This expansion of the GIFCT hash database only intensifies the need for GIFCT to improve the transparency and accountability of these content-blocking resources.”
“As the database expands, the risks of mistaken takedown only increase,” she added.
The group wants to continue to broaden its database to include hashes of audio files or certain symbols and grow its membership. It recently added home-rental giant Airbnb and email marketing company Mailchimp as members.


Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

  • Facebook establishes new team to work on metaverse, a digital world where people can move between different devices and virtual environments

LONDON: Facebook is creating a product team to work on the “metaverse,” a digital world where people can move between different devices and communicate in a virtual environment, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Monday.
The team will be part of the company’s virtual reality organization, the group’s executive Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post.
“You can think about the metaverse as an embodied Internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge in an interview last week.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.
It has also bought a bevy of VR gaming studios, including BigBox VR. It has about 10,000 employees working on virtual reality, The Information reported in March.
Zuckerberg has said he thinks it makes sense to invest deeply to shape what he bets will be the next big computing platform.
“I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile Internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it,” he said on his Monday Facebook post.
He told The Verge: “If we do this well, I think over the next five years or so ... we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”


McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
Updated 27 July 2021

McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

  • McDonald's creates new unit that brings together digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments
  • Loyalty programs bring in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals

NEW YORK: McDonald’s Corp. is bringing its digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments into one unit as it focuses on driving growth through its global app and new MyMcDonald’s Rewards program, the company said on Monday.
The company rolled out MyMcDonald’s Rewards on July 8 as fast-food chains have raced to launch loyalty programs to spur sales, reach younger consumers and give customers more ways to order.
To lead the new unit, McDonald’s promoted Manu Steijaert to a new global chief customer officer position, effective Aug. 1 and reporting to Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski. Steijaert previously ran international operated markets including European countries, Russia and Australia.
Nearly half of all restaurant customers use at least one loyalty program, particularly when ordering fast-food, according to a consumer survey from loyalty program provider Paytronix Systems Inc. and PYMNTS.com.
The programs rake in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals in the hope of getting people to eat there more often and spend more money on extra items.
McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants, Kempczinski said in an internal message seen by Reuters. The company created the team “to remove some internal barriers and silos that ultimately lead to a fragmented customer experience,” Kempczinski said in the memo.
The company reports second-quarter earnings results on Wednesday.


EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

The final prices for Google Hotel and Google Flight should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

  • EU provides Google with two months to improve the way the platform shows internet search results in relation to hotels and flights
  • Google has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices

BRUSSELS: Alphabet unit Google has two months to improve the way it presents Internet search results for flights and hotels and explain how it ranks these or face possible sanctions, the European Commission and EU consumer authorities said on Monday.
The world’s most popular Internet search engine has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices, which in some cases have landed it with hefty fines.
The latest grievance centers on the prices on its services Google Flights and Google Hotels.
The final prices for these should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance, while reference prices used to calculate promoted discounts should be clearly identifiable, the EU executive and national consumer watchdogs, led by the Dutch agency and the Belgian Directorate General for Economic Inspection, said in a joint statement.
“EU consumers cannot be misled when using search engines to plan their holidays. We need to empower consumers to make their choices based on transparent and unbiased information,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.
The agencies also told Google to revise the standard terms of its Google Store because some cases showed that traders have more rights than consumers.
If Google’s proposals are not sufficient, the agencies will discuss the issue further with the company and may impose sanctions.
Google said in a statement: “We welcome this dialogue and are working closely with consumer protection agencies and the European Commission to see how we can make improvements that will be good for our users and provide even more transparency.”


Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 July 2021

Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

  • “Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji said
  • The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament

TUNIS: Tunisian police on Monday closed the office of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera television in the capital Tunis, its bureau chief said, amid political turmoil in the North African country.
“Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji told AFP.
He said the law enforcement officers gave no reason for the actions, but confiscated the keys to the premises and forced all staff to leave.
The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament, following a day of street protests against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
Hajji said the police told Al Jazeera staff “we are following orders.”
“What is happening is very dangerous, it is proof that freedom of the press is threatened. Today it is Al Jazeera, another day another media,” Hajji said.
AFP contacted the interior minister for further details but no immediate explanations were given for the closure of the outlet’s office.