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Signal and Telegram are also growing in China — for now

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As fears over WhatsApp’s privacy policies send millions of users in the West to Signal and Telegram, the two encrypted apps are also seeing a slight user uptick in China, where WeChat has long dominated and the government has a tight grip on online communication.

Following WhatsApp’s pop-up notification reminding users that it shares their data with its parent Facebook, people began fleeing to alternate encrypted platforms. Telegram added 25 million just between January 10-13, the company said on its official Telegram channel, while Signal surged to the top of the App Store and Google Play Store in dozens of countries, TechCrunch learned earlier.

The migration was accelerated when, on January 7, Elon Musk urged his 40 million Twitter followers to install Signal in a tweet that likely stoked more interest in the end-to-end encryption messenger.

The growth of Telegram and Signal in China isn’t nearly as remarkable as their soaring popularity in regions where WhatsApp has been the mainstream chat app, but the uplift is a reminder that WeChat alternatives still exist in China in various capacities.

Signal amassed 9,000 new downloads from the China App Store between January 8 and 12, up 500% from the period between January 3 and 7, according to data from research firm Sensor Tower. Telegram added 17,000 downloads during January 8-12, up 6% from the January 3-7 duration. WhatsApp’s growth stalled, recording 10,000 downloads in both periods.

Sensor Tower estimates that Telegram has seen about 2.7 million total installs on China’s App Store, compared to 458,000 downloads from Signal and 9.5 million times from WhatsApp.

The fact that Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp are accessible in China might come as a surprise to some people. But China’s censorship decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent. As censorship monitoring site Apple Censorship shows, all major Western messengers are still available on the China App Store.

The situation for Android is trickier. Google services are largely blocked in China and Android users revert to Android app stores operated by local companies like Tencent and Baidu. Neither Telegram nor Signal is available on these third-party Android stores, but users with a tool that can bypass China’s Great Firewall, such as a virtual private network (VPN), can access Google Play and install the encrypted messengers.

The next challenge is actually using these apps. The major chat apps all get slightly different treatment from Beijing’s censorship apparatus. Some, like Signal, work perfectly without the need for a VPN. The catch is to sign up for Signal, a user must activate their account with a phone number, and Chinese phone numbers are tied to people’s real identities. Users have reported that WhatsApp occasionally works in China without a VPN, though it loads very slowly. And Facebook doesn’t work at all without a VPN.

“Some websites and apps can remain untouched until they reach a certain threshold of users at which point the authorities will try to block or disrupt the website or app,” said Charlie Smith, the pseudonymous head of Great Fire, an organization monitoring the Chinese internet that also runs Apple Censorship.

“Perhaps before this mass migration from WhatsApp, Signal did not have that many users in China. That might have changed over the last week in which case the authorities could be pondering restrictions for Signal,” Smith added.

To legally operate in China, companies must store their data within China and submit information to the authorities for security spot-checks, according to a cybersecurity law enacted in 2017. Apple, for instance, partners with a local cloud provider to store the data of its Chinese users.

The requirement raises questions about the type of interaction that Signal, Telegram and other foreign apps have with the Chinese authorities. Signal said it never turned over data to the Hong Kong police and had no data to turn over when concerns grew over Beijing’s heightened controls over the former British colony.

The biggest challenges for apps like Signal in China, according to Smith, will come from Apple, which is constantly under fire by investors and activists for submitting to the Chinese authorities.

In recent years, the American giant has stepped up app crackdown in China, zeroing in on services that grant Chinese users access to unfiltered information, such as VPN providers, RSS feed readers and podcast apps. Apple has also purged tens of thousands of unlicensed games in recent quarters after a years-long delay.

“Apple has a history of preemptively censoring apps that they believe the authorities would want censored,” Smith observed. “If Apple decides to remove Signal in China, either on its own initiative or in direct response to a request from the authorities, then Apple customers in China will be left with no secure messaging options.”

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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

I would like for you to imagine the promise of technology. Facebook promises to be the gateway to your friends and family, ridesharing and delivery apps efficiency and connection against the grueling commute, your internet service provider cutting-edge reliability and speed. Sometimes, they even give you the promise of the world. When we strip away the allure of technology, what are we left with? A world of disconnect fueled by antagonism and shock that is filtered by content moderators, a non-solution to a systemic transportation crisis that leave us stories of drivers exploited, and aggravated calls on your internet plan. You haven’t quite been given the world — you can’t even connect to your meeting. 

I would like for you to imagine who is behind technology. These promises, delivered or not, are given to us by tech CEOs and eagerly embraced across the world. We hunger for solutions to age-old problems from communication, transportation, news, education, energy, and love — and are eager to receive engineered solutions to these. In turn, those wielding technology offer endless streams to support new entrepreneurs, startups, and products to move us towards wealth and prosperity, each one supposedly more innovative than the last.

Our lives continuously cede to these platforms: our memories live in Facebook albums or the cloud, the rise and fall of political movements can be witnessed online — sometimes excusing us from on-the-grounds participation, developments in artificial intelligence offer us quicker answers, and we favor the simplicity offered a tap away. A hyper-efficient world aided by machines seems to solve society’s ills, until it becomes a sickness in itself.

The invisible laborers behind technology

In truth, our technological futures are built atop of obscured human labor. A phenomenon termed as “ghost work” by anthropologist Mary L. Gray refers to “work performed by a human which a customer believes is being performed by an automated process.”

Take ChatGPT, a general-purpose chatbot released in November 2022 that provides text responses near-instantaneously. It can help you with anything: writing emails, synthesizing data, or even programming itself. 

No machine thinks for itself. Models like ChatGPT are only able to impress us because they build on the breadth of human work, and thus carry the constraints and failures that accompany it. This begins a questioning of this “breadth” in the first place: who designs these models (and their intent), the data these models are trained on, and how this data is classified — of which all steps involve humans.

Widely lauded, universities are rushing to find solutions to potential cheating aided by ChatGPT. College-educated workers, even programmers themselves, begin to worry about employment as their labor seems increasingly replaceable by machines, even if it’s just new labor under the hood that we’re bending towards. 

ChatGPT’s success can largely be attributed to its palatability. While chatbots are not new, the lack of obscenity and profanity in one is. Human input is present at every step of design. The best and worst of humanity is fed into language models (hence the previous issues with obscenity and extremism). Human-aided supervision and reinforcement learning guide these model’s outputs. To ensure ChatGPT was unlike its predecessors, OpenAI recruited an outsourcing firm in Kenya to help design a safer model. The process? To have these outsourced workers manually label examples of profanity, violence, and hate speech to be filtered out, in exchange for pay about $2 (P108) an hour.

This is not a far cry. The Global South has long endured these roles, becoming the invisible army that powers every impressive technology.

Take Facebook for instance, ubiquitous enough that there are countries that understand it as the internet itself. A study conducted by Helani Galpaya showed that more respondents across several countries (including the Philippines) self-reported being “Facebook users” than “internet users.” Meanwhile, Filipino content moderators under intensely-surveilled working conditions screen reports, exposing themselves to graphic sexual content, violence, and extremism on a daily basis. It is incredibly dehumanizing, mentally taxing work that many of us cannot fathom because we’ve never seen it. It is of our best interest to only see the light. It appears that those who gate the internet are often the most gated from the internet themselves.

Who gets to be called a technologist?

Millions of Filipinos enter Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), data-labeling, or content moderation jobs to support the technological infrastructure and rapid pace of “innovation.” Enticed with decent pay, often posted with little to no qualifications necessary, and done in recruitment hub hiring sprees, it’s hard to deny the opportunity to join the workforce and indulge in the industry’s economic promise. Silicon Valley startups (or even the Filipino “Sinigang Valley”) use the excuse of economic opportunity to justify remote outsourcing.

Even those not literally invisible are devalued with this mindset. Underexploited laborers act as the on-demand service providers beneath the shiny interfaces on our phones: our food delivery drivers, content moderators that clean our TikTok feeds, and support staff. Technology is something that can be summoned and controlled, people cannot be — or shouldn’t be.

After all, for technology to be consumable, it has to be palatable. Palatability involves shrouding the violent, intensive human labor needed to maintain technologies. This is why we are moved when we see the Facebook post of a delivery driver left to bear the brunt of canceled orders, wading through weather. Or with “older” technologies: how we turn a blind eye to ruthless production factories that power the fast fashion industry. It reminds us, for a brief moment, of the humanity in everything around us. Instead, companies continue to express technology as the stuff of magic. Perfectly cheap, efficient, and convenient. Then we are moved to hit checkout.

Even Silicon Valley’s model of classically educated laborers are no longer safe themselves. Microsoft has begun talks to invest $10 billion into OpenAI, while at the same time announcing layoffs for 10,000 workers. They are joined by Google and Amazon among others, all companies previously touted to push the boundaries of innovation. As we head towards a global economic downturn, it appears that this at-will treatment previously reserved for the global south now spares no one.

Tech workers, whether working as ride-share drivers, content moderators, or BS Computer Science-educated software engineers — must come together in solidarity with consumers against an industry that has historically erased its people. 

We need to call into question who the “technologists” that drive innovation are, especially when this innovation is at the expense of people. We need to recognize the breadth of forms that a technologist takes, and the truth that the massive forces of labor that write code, serve content, and protect us are continuously exploited. We need to know that maintaining a myopic view of the role of a “technologist” glorifies “technology” alone, detaching it from the human workforce that powers it. Without these laborers, these technologies would effectively be nothing. 

At the end of the day, technology is nothing but a tool. Technology is shaped by people, for people.

I’m not discounting technology’s potential for economic empowerment; I disparage how technology has been used as an exploitative force rather than a transformative one. It is time to reclaim technology and look towards its potential for hope — where this act of reclamation begins with power placed on all tech workers rather than the few.

I want a world where technology is used to put us in dialogue with one another, breaking down barriers instead of enacting more walls that hide us from one another. I want a world where machines don’t replace artists, but instead help more people make more art. I believe in a world where technology is a tool rather than the solution, where we have agency to use it as we please. I believe in a world where we think of people, first and foremost, not over-optimization and hyper-efficiency. I believe in a world where technology is a communal medium in which we can imagine better futures, where everyone is a technologist and engineer, not a tool wielded by the few. 

As technology is a tool, it is time for us to take it back. The truly magical part about technology is that it might be the most human thing about us. It is shaped by people, for people. – Rappler.com

Chia Amisola is Product Designer based in San Francisco, California who graduated with a BA in Computing and the Arts from Yale University in 2022. They are the founder of Developh and the Philippine Internet Archive.

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

(Credits: Far Out / Press / A24)

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Oscar nominee Ke Huy Quan’s acting career has come in two parts, several decades distanced from one another. Having played Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and also performed in The GooniesEncino Man and Head of the Class, Quan took the decision to quit acting in 1992 as he struggled to make the significant progress he was hoping for.

Fast forward to 2021, and Quan secured the role in one of the most celebrated films of last year, Everything Everywhere All at Once, for which he won a Golden Globe and was this week nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Asked how the two Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) came to cast Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once during a Hollywood Reporter Actor’s Roundtable, Quan responded: “I decided to get back to acting. It was when the Daniels saw somebody did a joke on Facebook, and it was a picture of Andrew Yang running for President. The caption said Short Round is all grown up and he’s running for President, which triggered him to go, ‘Oh, I wonder what Khe is doing?’”

Thankfully for Quan, somebody online made that stupid meme. He added: “[Daniel] started searching, and he was doing the calculations, ‘Oh, he’s about the same age as his character’. It was at the same time that I called an agent friend of mine – I didn’t have an agent for decades – so I was practically begging him to represent me. He said yes.”

Fortunately, the two Daniels were looking for someone of Quan’s ilk just as he had decided to give acting another shot – some 30 years later. Quan went on: “Literally two weeks later, I got a call about the script, and I read it, and I was blown away by the script. Not only was it beautifully written, but it was a script I wanted to read. I was so hungry, so eager for a script like this, for a role like this.”

In fact, the script was so good that Quan remembers staying up all night “reading it until like 5am”. He added: “I sat there, and in my head, I had all these ideas that I wanted to do with this role, and I was watching out the window, the sun was rising, and I said, ‘Oh, I have to go to sleep’, because my audition was in the afternoon.”

However, despite his desire to secure the part, a wave of doubt overcame Quan. “Right before I went to bed, I go, ‘There’s no way they would offer me this.’ It was like impossible; it stars Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis,” he said. But Quan’s wife reassured him of his abilities and “kept encouraging” him.

Quan noted that it had been 25 years since he last auditioned for a part, so naturally, he was nervous. However, he was made comfortable by the Daniels and the film’s casting director, whom he called “amazing” and “so sweet”. Yet he must have feared the worst when he did not hear back for two months. I auditioned and didn’t hear from them for two months. 

The long wait left Quan feeling “miserable” because he “wanted this role so bad.” Then, the call suddenly came in. “I went in to audition for the second time,” he said, which laid the foundations for one of the most important phone calls Quan would ever receive. He added: “You hear those three words, ‘We want you’, and I was screaming so loud, I was jumping up so high, and to this day, I cannot believe how everything came to be.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

For the second time this month, residents across southern New Jersey have been reporting long periods of shaking inside their homes Thursday afternoon, with windows and walls rattling. And just like before, there have been no earthquakes reported anywhere in the eastern United States.

There also have been no thunderstorms reported in or near New Jersey on Thursday, but some residents are speculating the rattling inside their homes — along with some reports of loud booms — may be linked to military planes and helicopters flying over the Garden State.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River, a U.S. naval station based in St. Mary’s County in Maryland, issued a noise advisory on its Facebook page Tuesday, saying it would be conducting “noise-generating testing events” between Tuesday and Friday.

“Pilots at NAS Patuxent River will be conducting Field Carrier Landing Practices (FCLPs). FCLPs are simulated carrier landings conducted to prepare the pilot to land safely on an aircraft carrier,” the agency said in its Facebook post.

“The practices consist of series of touch-and-go maneuvers, called ‘bounces.’ Airspeed, altitude and power are all precisely choreographed in order for a pilot to approach the ship within an acceptable window to land on the deck safely,” the post added.

“Residents may notice increased noise levels due to these operations,” the post said.

It wasn’t immediately known how far away the noise would carry. But Facebook has been packed with reports of shaking in homes and businesses across South Jersey Thursday afternoon. The first was around 11 a.m. and the second about two hours later.

Several residents noted they have felt some shaking or heard some loud booms in the past, but they said they never felt the rattling become as intense as it was on Thursday.

Among the towns or sections of towns where rattling was reported were Erma, Cape May, Galloway, Middle Township, North Cape May, Rio Grande and Smithville. Some residents said they felt their houses shake but heard no booms, while others said they heard loud booms.

“My whole house shook. Windows rattle(d), bed moved back and forth. And it was long,” one resident wrote on the Facebook page of South Jersey weather forecaster “Nor’easter Nick” Pittman. “I do hear the jets as I’m in Galloway near the airport, but this just seemed different. No boom, just steady shaking. At first I thought it was the wind but it got stronger.”

Another Facebook user in Atlantic County said: “In Smithville we just shook for a good 45-60 seconds with a small pause, but the dog and cats did not like it, this time was more than the sonic boom or break that we feel at 2 p.m. It was freaky!!”

On Friday, Jan. 13, residents from as far south as Cape May and up to Manahawkin along the coast and as far west as Glassboro in Gloucester County reported feeling shaking in their homes. They said the rattling lasted at least 10 seconds.

A supersonic military airplane was flying a few miles off the coast that day, and could have been the cause of the rumbling, the Press of Atlantic City reported at the time. The military has an Atlantic test track for flights about 3 miles off the eastern seaboard, and a sonic boom would occur if a plane was flying fast enough to break the sound barrier.

South Jersey isn’t alone when it comes to feeling and hearing loud noises. In early January, a loud boom — which some described as being as loud as an explosion — was reported by many people in northern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania.

The cause of that boom was not immediately determined.

___

© 2023 Advance Local Media LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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