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China's former internet czar faces graft probe
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 22, 2017

Skype joins list of apps on China blacklist
Shanghai (AFP) Nov 22, 2017 - Skype has apparently joined the lengthening list of internet communication tools on China's blacklist, with Apple saying Wednesday it was ordered to clear its download store of apps that violate national laws.

Skype is no longer available for download on the China Apple Store or Android sites, with Chinese web-users saying it had been gone for weeks.

"We have been notified by the Ministry of Public Security that a number of VoIP (voice over internet protocol) apps do not comply with local law, therefore these apps have been removed from the App Store in China," Apple said in an emailed statement.

"These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business."

The company did not specify which laws such apps were found to have violated.

But China has tightened its already stringent online policing this year, including enacting new rules that require tech companies to store user data inside the country as well as imposing new restrictions on what is permissible content.

Chinese authorities appeared to severely disrupt the WhatsApp messaging app as they ratcheted up security ahead of a Communist Party congress in October that saw President Xi Jinping consolidate his hold on the country.

The moves have prompted speculation on the Chinese internet that authorities were moving against services with effective encryption, like WhatsApp and Skype, that make them less vulnerable to government monitoring.

Skype Business, a separate app tailored more for corporate use, was still available for download.

China has for years blocked leading foreign websites or services including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a number of news organisations with a system of internet censorship nicknamed the "Great Firewall of China."

Skype's removal from app stores comes as China prepares to host its fourth World Internet Conference next month.

The annual event in eastern China is used by Beijing to promote its views about web policy, but has been criticised by rights groups.

On Tuesday the ruling Communist Party's anti-graft agency said China's former internet czar Lu Wei, who stepped down last year after overseeing a tightening of online censorship, was under investigation for suspected "severe disciplinary violations," which typically means corruption.

China's former internet czar, who oversaw a tightening of online censorship during his tenure, has become the latest top Communist Party figure to be ensnared in the country's anti-corruption drive.

The party's anti-graft agency said in a brief statement on its website late Tuesday that Lu Wei, 57, was being investigated for suspected "severe disciplinary violations".

Lu, who had stepped down from his post last year, was once named among the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine and had rubbed shoulders with the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

He had fiercely defended the country's censorship apparatus after he was appointed in 2013 to supervise controls on online expression as head of the Cyberspace Administration of China.

He is the most prominent figure to fall from grace since President Xi Jinping was given a second five-year term in office at a Communist Party congress last month.

Xi launched a major campaign against corruption when he took office in 2012 that has brought down 1.5 million officials since then.

At the congress that consolidated his power in October, Xi vowed no let up to the campaign against corruption, which he called the "greatest threat" to the party.

Lu was a powerful figure both at home and abroad, where he commanded the attention of global technology firms eager for a piece of the Chinese market.

He was personally received by Zuckerberg in 2014 at Facebook's Silicon Valley headquarters, and appeared in the front row of a group photo alongside top executives from American tech giants such as Amazon and Xi when the president visited the US in 2015.

Facebook is among a slew of Western websites, along with Twitter, Instagram and several news outlets, that are blocked by China's "Great Firewall" of internet censorship.

Authorities closely monitor what people say, see or share online, and block any content they deem illegal or politically sensitive.

Chinese nationals can face fines or even jail time for unfavourable social media posts.

Under Lu's watch, cyberspace regulations grew stricter with the passage of new online "security" regulations as part of a sweeping package of laws aimed at tightening state control over a wide range of domains.

While "the Chinese government has indeed expanded its power to control prominent problems online", Lu said in 2015, it has used its capabilities to control crime, pornography, and "rumours" -- a euphemism that can be applied to everything from misinformation to political speech.

Authorities have further tightened internet controls in recent months, shutting down celebrity gossip blogs and probing platforms for "obscenity".

Lu's investigation comes as China prepares to host its fourth World Internet Conference next month to promote its views about web policy, though the annual event has been criticised by rights groups.

Google's Missouri problem mirrors woes in EU
San Francisco (AFP) Nov 20, 2017
As an aggressive antitrust investigation plays out in Europe against Google, its practices have drawn comparatively little scrutiny from regulators on the US side of the Atlantic. But the midwest state of Missouri wants to change that. The state's Attorney General Josh Hawley has launched an investigation which appears to mirror the probe by EU authorities, demanding information on how Googl ... read more

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