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)
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Updated 21 March 2023

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.

Saudi-Iran rapprochement right move but still long way to go: Experts tell Arab Media Forum

Updated 27 September 2023

Saudi-Iran rapprochement right move but still long way to go: Experts tell Arab Media Forum

DUBAI: The recent Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran was the right move, but there is still a long way to go, experts told the Arab Media Forum on Tuesday. 

“Iran continues to support armed groups that Saudi opposes,” Afshin Molavi senior fellow at Foreign Policy Institute in John Hopkins University, pointed out. 

Molavi’s comments came during session titled “The Middle East – A Region of Opportunities or Conflicts” alongside Faisal Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News.

Wondering if whether or not the deal will succeed, Abbas pointed out that the Kingdom, due to its continuous leadership, has over 40 years of experience in dealing with Iran.

“The best case scenario will be both countries putting in the leverage and work to cooperate and try to solve conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, of course with involvement of the local players. 

The worst case scenario will be a missed opportunity to make that happen and relations remain the same.”  Abbas said.

Abbas also explained why China was a better suited broker for the rapprochement deal detailing how it has leverage over Iran by investing billions of dollars in projects and there is no risk of the negotiations restarting under a different ideology every 4 years due to elections as could be the case in America. 

In his view, Molavi said China brokering the deal “comes with a grain of salt” as Washington believes China is its enemy but he believes the rapprochement is the right move for the region.  

The Arab view on China differs from the west, however. 

A recent YouGov study done by Arab News on Palestine shows how Palestinians see China as a more honest broker to handle their issue rather than the US.

Abbas said colonial powers such as France, the UK and the wars US were involved in are viewed negatively in comparison to China where its political and economical involvement in the region has been mostly positive “the Chinese do not come with that baggage.” 

On the issue of America, Molavi notes there is a shift in power and while Washington remains a powerful country, the world is witnessing a rise in other powers such as China and India.  

“Today, countries are proving that we now live in the world of multi strategic alignment, and I think Washington is beginning to understand that; it is no longer you’re either with us or against us.” 

Molavi continues: “this can also be seen in the Abraham Accords where on one hand the UAE has this historical relationship and alliance with Israel but then joins BRICS.  

Abbas described how exciting the dynamics are and spoke of the Saudi position on the matter where he mentions how the Saudi hand has been extended for 20 years provided that there will be a solution for Palestinians.  

“Biden needs a foreign policy legacy and this will be a winning ticket for him for the upcoming election.”  



Both speakers also discussed and highlighted the positive changes that Saudi and UAE have been making.   

Abbas noted Saudi Arabia’s remarkable achievements and how these stories should be celebrated and shared such as the launching of the female Saudi astronaut among other things. 

“Actions speak louder than words, Facts are stubborn things. No amount of negative stories can take those achievements away, Saudi is the fastest growing G20 economy in the world.”

Friend or foe? AI in spotlight at Arab Media Forum

Updated 26 September 2023

Friend or foe? AI in spotlight at Arab Media Forum

  • 21st annual conference opens in Dubai
  • ‘Technology is not the enemy of journalists,’ Sky Arabia’s head of news says

DUBAI: AI experts, analysts and journalists gathered on Tuesday for the 21st annual Arab Media Forum.

In a session titled “The Future of Journalism in the Web3 and Metaverse Era,” Mohammed Al Hammadi, chair of the UAE Journalists Association, said it was vital for those working in the industry to learn how to use artificial intelligence and ChatGPT.

“Journalists should be worried if they cannot keep up with the progress,” he said.

“Twenty years ago when social media first started to take hold, some continued to romanticize the old ways of publishing and the smell of newspapers. Those in question did not make it, their careers stalled and were replaced by those who knew how to handle progress. This technology will allow media to compete further on a global stage.”

Islam Al-Shatnawy, CEO of iApply Global, said during the session, which discussed the threats AI poses to journalism and journalists, that “money can be made if and once AI is utilized properly, allowing for complications in technicalities and productions to be resolved in record time and for less cost.”

In contrast, Abdu Gadallah, head of news at Sky Arabia, said the technology could lead to the loss of jobs, especially in areas like translation and production, though he doubted it would ever replace human presenters on TV.

“While technology is not the enemy of a journalist, there will be those who will be sacrificed in its pursuit,” he said.

“Technological advancement will not kill the message but might kill those who bring it about.”

Political analyst Yasser Abdulaziz described the new technology as “scary” and said job losses were inevitable.

It was possible that AI might one day also be responsible for making final decisions on editorial matters, he said.

Despite the threats, the panel urged journalists to view technological advancement and AI as a friend rather than a foe and to acknowledge the role it has to play in improving content production and profitability.

Kuwaiti minister defends ‘retrogressive’ media bill

Updated 26 September 2023

Kuwaiti minister defends ‘retrogressive’ media bill

  • Information Minister Al-Mutairi said changes address some of public’s concerns
  • Bill reportedly set to introduce new provisions, warnings and penalties

LONDON: Kuwaiti Information Minister Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi on Monday defended a new draft of a controversial media bill aimed at regulating the industry in the country, the Kuwait Times reported. 

Al-Mutairi, who was speaking at a meeting of members of the media to explain the draft law, said he welcomed feedback from journalists, editors and others industry professionals, adding that authorities are “ready to hear all remarks … all with the intent of enhancing Kuwaiti media and promoting conscientious freedoms.”

The draft law, first unveiled in August, introduces a raft of new restrictions including outlawing criticism of the crown prince, Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. It would also prohibit the publication or display of content considered blasphemous, and the infringement on the private life of a public employee or National Assembly representative.

The bill also stipulates punishment for those who publish reports on official secret communications or agreements and treaties concluded by the Kuwaiti government before they are announced officially, without permission from the concerned ministry.

Journalists found to have breached the new regulations would be punished with hefty fines — between no less than 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (over $3,200) and 100,000 dinars — and in some cases prison.

Al-Mutairi said the changes seek to address public concerns, noting that the new draft eliminates the harshest punishments and introduces clear articles.

He noted that penalties, in most cases, are personal and will not affect editors-in-chief of publications or automatically lead to closing those publications or suspending their licenses.

Experts have labeled the proposed law as a “suppression of freedoms and liberties,” warning that this might mark a “retrogressive step and a blow to the progression of democracy,” a concern voiced by parliamentarians who have vowed to reject it.

The new draft, which is currently being studied by six government agencies and is expected to be voted on in October, also regulates social media advertising, media licensing, and the removal of the requirement for media organizations to have physical offices.

Kuwait is currently chairing the Arab Media Excellence Award and is one of the sitting countries on the Council of Arab Information Ministers.

Spotify will allow AI-generated music on platform unless it impersonates real artists, says CEO

Updated 26 September 2023

Spotify will allow AI-generated music on platform unless it impersonates real artists, says CEO

  • There are valid uses of AI in the industry, such as tools that improved music, said Ek

LONDON: Streaming service Spotify has said it will not impose a blanket ban on its platform of all music created by artificial intelligence.

Daniel Ek, the company’s CEO, explained in a BBC interview on Monday that there were legitimate uses of AI in the music industry, including tools that improved music, such as auto-tune.

However, he stressed it was unacceptable to use AI to impersonate real artists without their consent.

Several music-streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music, in April removed songs that used AI to clone the vocals of artists Drake and The Weeknd.

Ek also cited a middle ground in which AI-created music is influenced by existing artists but does not directly impersonate them.

He said the use of generative AI to create music was likely to be the subject of debate for “many, many years.”

Asked about the challenges the music industry was facing, he added: “It is going to be tricky.”

Artists across several disciplines, including music, have been speaking out against the use of AI in the creative industries, while voicing concerns about the unpaid use of their work to train such technology.

Irish musician Hozier said last month he would consider going on strike to protest at the threat of AI, stressing in a BBC interview he was not sure the technology met the definition of art.

Gulf on path to political, economic progress and cooperation, says GCC secretary-general

Updated 26 September 2023

Gulf on path to political, economic progress and cooperation, says GCC secretary-general

  • Presence of Saudi Arabia at BRICS and UAE at G20 proves how 'vital and important their participation is not only economically but in terms of coexistence, humanitarian aid and trade,' said Al-Balawi

DUBAI: The Gulf Cooperation Council is on the right path towards positive political and economic progress and cooperation, Jassim Muhammad Al-Budaiwi, the secretary-general of the GCC, said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the annual Arab Media Forum held in Dubai, Al-Budaiwi touched on points of progress and the challenges that member countries face. 

He said the presence of Saudi Arabia at BRICS and the UAE at the G20 Summit proved how “vital and important their participation is not only economically but in terms of coexistence, humanitarian aid and trade.”

Al-Budaiwi also touched on the subject of Iran and its relationship with the member countries, reiterating the main agenda is to get Iran to stop meddling in the region and to respect international laws.  

“Re-opening ties with Iran or attempting to is not necessarily new, there have been multiple attempts throughout the years; the late Saudi King Abdullah even tried,” he said.

“We are asking for a ‘normal’ relationship, after all, we are neighbors on the western frontiers,” he added.  

While Iran has some good relations with certain member countries, such as Kuwait and Oman, “the proof is in the pudding,” Al-Budaiwi noted. “The bigger and most important point is: do not meddle.” 

Ties were seeing progress until the recent Houthi-backed drone attack which claimed the lives of two Bahraini soldiers by the Saudi-Yemeni border on Tuesday morning. 

In terms of economical cooperation and numbers, the GCC’s budget amounts to $2.4 trillion, with $170 billion allocated for trade with each other.  

“These are not small numbers nor are they easy to achieve. But our cooperation with each other and the steps we are taking in transparency help,” Al-Budaiwi said.

He added that the GCC members have outstanding cooperation between each other in terms of political and security issues, but that economic plans require more effort and sacrifices and there is where the main challenge is.  

“You can’t win them all, you can’t lose them all” he noted during the session.  

The GCC is undergoing modernization of laws and regulations which is cementing its place in the global stage.   

On media and journalism, the GCC handles topics rather than dictation, preferring to discuss how to better promote their plans, like backing Saudi Arabia’s bid to hold Expo 2030 and the UAE hosting COP28, as well as how to tackle sensitive topics like the burning of the Qur’an in Europe.  

GCC member countries include: Saudi Arabia, The UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman.