May 15

China Watch Blog reports the amount of money stolen from Internet bank accounts in Japan so far this year has already exceeded the annual record marked last year, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

Jiji Press reported that the amount in a four-month period through Friday stood at some 1,417 million yen, compared with 1,406 million yen in 2013. A total of 58 banks were hit by illegal money transfers this year, up from 32.

A growing number of regional and “shinkin” banks, as well as “shinyo kumiai” credit cooperatives, reported illegal transfers, while corporate bank accounts were hit by a surge in theft.
“Thieves are widening their targets and stolen amounts may grow in size,” an NPA official said. The police urged nine financial industry groups, such as the Japanese Bankers Association, on Thursday to strengthen preventive measures.

A total of 873 cases of illegal money transfers were confirmed by Friday, with victims in all Japan’s 47 prefectures except Tottori.

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Apr 25

China Watch Blog reports that just three days before International Workers’ Memorial Day, honoring workers around the world who have died as a result of their jobs, two groups — Green America and China Labor Watch (CLW) — will hold a demonstration at the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York City to protest worker poisoning in the factories that supply Apple’s iPhones and iPads.  The event will take place at 12:30 p.m. on April 25, 2014.

The planned protest stems from the “Bad Apple Campaign,” launched jointly by Green America and CLW on March 12, 2014. To date, the campaign has collected nearly seventeen thousand signatures urging Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to remove dangerous chemicals in an effort to protect the young Chinese workers who manufacture Apple’s products. See http://www.greenamerica.org/bad-apple/ for more information.

The protests’ location at Apple’s “Cube” store, near Central Park, is significant in that the store is one of Apple’s most profitable retail locations, grossing more than $350 million per year.  Industry experts estimate that Apple could remove benzene and other dangerous chemicals from production for as little as $1 dollar per device.

Smartphones and other electronics are made with thousands of chemicals, many of which are known to be harmful to human health such as benzene or n-hexane.  Occupational exposure to benzene can lead to leukemia.  Apple is profiting at the expense of the workers who assemble their iconic products in China, even though safer chemical alternatives are available.  The campaign is calling on Apple to lead the way in protecting worker health and safety.

In April 2012, Greenpeace hosted an action at this store to call attention to Apple’s wasteful energy practices. As a result, one year later, Apple announced a plan to use 100% renewable energy at its data centers.

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Apr 06

China Watch Blog reports that authorities around the world should set up emergency communication teams to manage the amount of misinformation circulating on social media during disasters, terrorist attacks and other social crises.

A study on the use of social media in three major incidents, including the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, by Dr Onook Oh, of Warwick Business School, Manish Agrawal, of the University of South Florida, and Raghav Rao, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, revealed that Twitter is emerging as the dominant social reporting tool to report eye-witness accounts and share information on disasters, terrorist attacks and social crises as a collective effort to make sense of what is happening.

But when it is the online community who are creating and exchanging the news rather than official news channels, this can not only exaggerate the unfolding situation, but also unintentionally turn it into misinformation, diverting attention from the real problems.

Dr Oh, Assistant Professor of Information Systems, believes authorities or organisations involved in a disaster or terrorist attack need to set up an emergency communication centre to provide speedy, relevant information on the unfolding crisis and to confirm or dispel misinformation circulating on social media.

The study, which is the first application of rumour theory to social media and community intelligence, analyses three large Twitter data sets: the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, where a group of gunmen killed 165 and injured 304 people, the May 2012 shooting of five people by a gunman in Seattle and the recall of four million cars by Toyota in 2009 and 2010 because of a faulty accelerator pedal.

Within minutes of the initial terrorist attack in Mumbai, a local resident posted a stream of pictures on photo sharing website Flickr. Almost concurrently, a group of people voluntarily formed a Twitter page with a link to the Flickr site and spread eyewitness accounts of the terrorist attacks with texts, photos, and links to other sources.

While the flurry of social media activity had many positive outcomes, enabling people to contact family members, encouraging blood donations and providing eyewitness accounts, it also caused many rumours to circulate.

In total 20,920 tweets were analysed on the Mumbai attacks in the study, ‘Community Intelligence and Social Media Services: A Rumor Theoretic Analysis of Tweets During Social Crisis’ published in MIS Quarterly, from the moment the terror attack occurred on November 26 until November 30.

Dr Oh said: “Natural disasters and crises such as terrorist attacks provide the optimum conditions for rumours to spread which can exacerbate the situation for emergency response operations and cause panic amongst the public. For example, during the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the police control room was flooded with incorrect reports of explosions at leading hotels.

“Misinformation on the internet was also influencing what was being reported on official news channels. In fact, the BBC was forced to admit they had made a mistake after using Twitter coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks as a source of their official news.”

Dr Oh believes the main motivation for people turning to Twitter in a crisis is to find out what is happening in their immediate area or to acquaintances, so in order to control the flow of misinformation, emergency communication centres need to be set up quickly to respond to misinformation through social media channels.

“People use mainstream media to try to make sense of the situation but it usually provides general information or repeatedly broadcasts a few sensational scenes over and over again,” said Dr Oh, who cites the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Rumour Control Centre website during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 as an example of one way of using emergency communication centres. “Whereas what people involved in the crisis really want is very localised information in real time to aid their decision-making. Hence they rapidly realise that mainstream media do not provide them with local information that they desperately need to overcome the extreme situation, hence, they turn to social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Emergency response teams need to put in place prompt emergency communication systems to refute the misinformation and provide citizens with timely, localised, and correct information through multiple communication channels such as website links, social network websites, RSS, email, text message, radio, TV or retweets.

“In cases of community disasters, emergency responders need to make extra effort to distribute reliable information and, at the same time, control collective anxiety in the community to suppress the spreading of unintended rumour information. This includes the setting up of an ‘emergency communication centre’ in the local community who would monitor social media very closely and respond rapidly to unverified and incorrect rumour information.

“Given that the motivation of rumouring is fundamentally to make sense of uncertain situations such that people can deal with a possible threat, the provision of timely and certain information may lead to successful crisis management in partnership with voluntary online citizens.

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Jan 08

China Watch Blog reports the leak of information via Alipay, China’s largest third-party payment platform, has sparked a public outcry over transaction security at a time when the Internet is soaring as a major shopping avenue.

“The leaked data revealed only transaction information before 2010. They excluded sensitive information such as usernames or passwords, which were ciphered through a sophisticated method that is not available to anyone,” according to a statement by Alipay on Sunday.

The China Daily reported that Alipay apologized for the leak, saying it has notified Chinese regulators and will keep the public informed about the investigation in a timely manner.

Alipay accounts for 61 percent of the country’s third-party payment market, according to IT consultancy iResearch. Currently, about 200 banks and 400,000 e-commerce vendors or online units of brick-and-mortar stores accept Alipay as an online payment channel, according to company statistics.

Earlier media reports said police have held a former employee of Alipay, who told police he downloaded 20 gigabytes of personal information in 2010 — including users’ names, cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses, home addresses and purchase records — and his accomplices sold the information to others. Industry insiders said the information was useful for some e-commerce websites who need to locate their potential customers.

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Jan 02

China Watch Blog has reported that the US National Security Agency can reportedly sniff out every last bit of data from your iPhone, according to leaked NSA documents published by German magazine Der Spiegel.

Known as DROPOUTJEEP, the spyware is said to be one of the tools employed by the NSA’s ANT (Advanced or Access Network Technology) division to gain backdoor access to various electronic devices.

On Sunday, leaked documents obtained by Der Spiegel showed how these tools have reportedly been used to infiltrate computers, hard drives, routers, and other devices from tech companies such as Cisco, Dell, Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor, and Samsung. Those same documents reveal how DROPOUTJEEP can infiltrate virtually all areas of the iPhone, including voice mail, contact lists, instant messages, and cell tower location.

The tool’s abilities are revealed in the following description from one of the apparently leaked NSA documents published by Der Spiegel, Shelly Palmer reported.

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Aug 30

China Watch Blog reports that Vocefy, Inc. has announced the launch of Infinite English, a mobile learning app that will challenge all current approaches to learning English.

The app uses mobile smart devices and cloud processing to mimic a clever, animated personal tutor named “Vocefy.” The friendly online tutor lets users pick interesting content from anywhere, practice reading out loud and gives immediate feedback with infinite patience, anywhere and anytime. And she works cheap.

1.7 billion people worldwide study English as a second language. Through traditional avenues, students learn vocabulary and reading and writing, but because there are few opportunities to interact with native English speakers, they fail to develop conversational fluency.

That’s where “Vocefy” and Infinite English come in. “Vocefy” is an always available and infinitely patient tutor. She delivers feedback and assistance in very much the same way as a live native English tutor. The only difference is that she is always accessible and never tires or gets frustrated. She’s also infinitely accommodating and will work with whatever content is interesting to the student.

“The technology behind “Vocefy” is very complex”, said Founder and CEO Jim Behrens, “But we were determined to hide all the complexity and really mimic a native tutor and offer unlimited interesting content. “Vocefy” is all you see and hear.”

Assistant Professor Julien McNulty from Chosun University in Korea participated in the testing in early 2013 and became a believer:

“Infinite English is very powerful and convenient for my students. I just didn’t have sufficient resources and time to push students through the fluency barrier. Now I will be able to assign content, see results immediately and better direct their English efforts all from their smart devices at their own individual speeds and needs.”

English Language Director Wu Dan from Global Education, Kunming, China sees Vocefy as an example of how technology should be used to solve educational barriers.

“I see these students on their phones constantly and now I can envision tens of millions of them improving their fluency at the same time using Infinite English. The convenience and immediate feedback will be very valuable. I think they will love Vocey”.

Infinite English supports 64 languages and launched in August 2013 and is available in 130 countries from the Apple and Android App stores at a yearly fee of $9.99 for unlimited use. Infinite English is a product of Vocefy, Inc., headquartered in Golden, CO, USA.

Summary:

Infinite English has been designed to change the way English is learned. This powerful and convenient on-the-go technology provides an animated, virtual tutor named “Vocefy” to address fluency – the most difficult part of mastering conversational English. “ Vocey” comes to life via a novel combination of a smart device and cloud technology. She is always available on the student’s smart device and utilizes whatever content the student chooses. She just might become your favorite tutor ever.

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Aug 15

China Watch Blog has learnt that sometimes breaking up in real life can be easier than removing all traces of an ex-partner from your virtual life.

A Shanghai Daily report said free online application designed to accomplish the romantic cleanup, designed by a Chinese computer student, can remove all traces of an ex on the renren networking site, China’s answer to Facebook.

“Renren breakup app,” for Google Chrome, is becoming popular among young people who tend to display their romantic lives on social networking sites. Click on “start breakup” the honeyed words and photos of the one you ditched, or who ditched you, are removed with no fuss, no muss.

The app was the idea of Xie Mengfei, a student majoring in computer science in Wuhan University in central Hubei Province.

Xie first publicized the app on his renren account a day after last year’s Qixi Festival, known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. But it didn’t really stick until he again posted it on this year’s festival, which was Tuesday. It can be downloaded on the renren site.

“You can have an easy breakup using the app,” he wrote.

Online reports show he had invented several other apps before, including one that helps others find nearby toilets.

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Jun 14

China Watch Blog has learnt that the former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about US surveillance claims that China’s mainland and Hong Kong have long been surveillance targets of the US spy programs.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post newspaper, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden claims the US has long been attacking a Hong Kong university that routes all Internet traffic in and out of the southern Chinese city.

Snowden said the National Security Agency’s 61,000 hacking targets around the world include hundreds in Hong Kong and China’s mainland, the paper reported. It said Snowden had presented documents to support those claims, but it did not describe the documents and said it could not verify them.

Snowden’s comments were his first since the 29-year-old American revealed himself as the source of a major leak of top-secret information on US surveillance programs. He flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii before revealing himself, and the SCMP said he was staying out of sight amid speculation the US may seek his extradition.

Snowden, who worked for the CIA and later as a contractor for the NSA, has revealed details about US spy programs that sweep up millions of Americans’ phone records, e-mails and Internet data in the hunt for terrorists. American law enforcement officials are building a case against him but have yet to bring charges.

The newspaper cited Snowden as saying the NSA had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and China’s mainland since 2009, citing documents he showed the paper. It didn’t provide further details about the documents.

He said that among the targets was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which hosts the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, the main hub for the city’s Internet traffic.

Set up in 1995, it allows all data between local servers to be routed locally instead of having to pass through exchanges in other countries, including the United States.

“We hack network backbones – like huge Internet routers, basically – that gives us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” Snowden told the SCMP.

According to Snowden’s documents, other NSA hacking targets included Hong Kong public officials, students and businesspeople, as well as targets on the mainland, though they did not include Chinese military systems, the paper said, without giving details.

A large number of mainland businesses, including state-owned ones, have offices in Hong Kong. The People’s Liberation Army has a base in Hong Kong and the central government and foreign affairs department have offices there.

The university is also home to the Satellite Remote Sensing Receiving Station, which captures data and imagery used to monitor the environment and natural disasters in a 2,500-kilometer radius around Hong Kong, an area that includes most of the Chinese mainland and Southeast Asia.

The university said in a statement that “every effort is made to protect” the exchange, which is monitored around the clock to defend against threats. “The university has not detected any form of hacking to the network, which has been running normally,” it said.

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May 05

China Watch Blog has learnt that a disturbing new type of telecom blackmail has appeared in Shanghai, one that seems to operate through enforcement loopholes of telephone companies and police.

Criminals are using telephone software to make very frequent phone calls to a victim’s cellphone, and threatening to keep it up until they are paid off, the Shanghai Daily reported.

In a recent case, a salesman surnamed Zhang said he received more than 2,000 calls, with a call every one to two minutes over two days, and as soon as he picked up, the call ended, the Shanghai Morning Post reported.

According to a message sent to Zhang, the harassment would stop only if he transferred 500 yuan to a designated bank account.

Zhang called police, but was told the amount of money was too small to file the case, and it is hard to collect evidence as the suspects usually use software and a server outside the city or country to make the calls.

Zhang’s phone service said it could act against only those calling or sending messages using their service.

The harassment started on Friday last week when a call that appeared as “private number” showed up on Zhang’s phone.

“I tried to call back, but the other side hung up right after the call was put through,” Zhang said.

In just 10 minutes, Zhang got 16 such calls. Zhang did not pay the 500 yuan and he received more than 2,000 calls that weekend.

Zhang dared not turn off his phone for fear of missing important calls.

“I think they found my number on the Internet,” Zhang said. “I’m so frustrated. I don’t want to change my number and I’m afraid they are just going to ask for more if I pay.”

“The suspects are very crafty as they asked for only a couple of hundred yuan just to avoid criminal charges,” a police officer said.

The phone company suggested Zhang set up his phone to allow only calls from contacts in his phone, which Zhang said wasn’t a good answer, either.

During the May Day holiday, Zhang turned off his phone and received no more of the calls when he turned it on again. He’s hoping they don’t come back.

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Feb 24

China Watch Blog has learnt that guaranteeing school safety is increasingly more difficult. But tech expert Scott Schober has some important points to keep in mind. Even though parents may feel they have no control over their children’s safety once they leave home, he says, technical advances applied with old-fashioned common sense are one way to feel more prepared.

Schober, CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, recently shared safety tips from the National Crime Prevention Council on his blog. Staying in touch with your child while he or she is at school is something every parent should consider carefully, he says.

“This isn’t as simple as sending them off with an iPhone,” Schober cautions. Parents should make sure the devices are used in compliance with school regulations and also understand the advantages and disadvantages of GPS tracking capabilities. For more tips, visit: http://www.bvsystems.com/WordPress/?p=104.

Berkeley Varitronics Systems (BVS) offers several different technologies to help schools and parents ensure compliance and increase school safety.

The Wolfhound Pro with a direction finding antenna helps many parents find peace of mind; the handheld device allows them and/or law enforcement officers to track a GPS device attached to a child’s clothing or backpack. BVS also sells the most effective handheld metal detectors on the market; Garrett Metal Detectors allow school security officers to confiscate contraband guns, knives and phones.

Under development at BVS is the MantaRay mobile phone detector which will allow security personnel to scan a child without having to physically touch the child or their backpack when searching for a mobile phone. To cut down on distracted driving, BVS also makes the TransitHound, which monitors and discourages use of cell phones and distracted driving.

Scott Schober and his technological innovations were recently featured on the CNBC documentary “Faking The Grade” for the PocketHound cell phone detector, used for catching students cheating on exams using their mobile phone. Please see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcjQ1fVlMPk&feature=player_embedded.

Scott N. Schober is the President and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, a 39-year-old provider of advanced wireless solutions for the telecommunications and security markets.

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