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Siri Bows to Chinese Censors

Siri Bows to Chinese Censors

Today in international tech news: Apple's Siri voice assistant now speaks Mandarin, but don't expect her to banter about -- or even give directions to -- Tiananmen Square. Also: A Chinese man's incarceration and fine set off a debate about the nation's pornography policies; Japan may have made watching YouTube illegal; and Samsung addresses that exploding phone.

By David Vranicar
06/22/12 8:51 AM PT

In a nod to Chinese consumers, Apple announced earlier this year that its Siri voice assistant will speak Mandarin and Contonese.

But in a nod to Chinese authorities, Siri apparently has no interest in bantering about Tiananmen Square.

Siri has linguistics limitations when it comes to certain phrases, such as Tiananmen and "6-4," a reference to June 4, the climax of the Chinese army's crackdown during the 1989 protests, according to reports in WantChinaTimes.com and The Wall Street Journal.

Siri, which is generally eager to dish out directions, apparently won't even tell people how to get to Tiananmen Square, located in Beijing.

The original, English-language Siri also has some taboo topics. Last December, for instance, it was noted that Siri was apparently unwilling to entertain certain questions about abortion, including how to get to an abortion clinic.

The root of Siri's unwillingness to discuss Tiananmen is unclear, according to the reports. While the Mandarin-speaking Siri may indeed have been programmed to stonewall questions about Tiananmen, it's also possible that the service -- which retrieves information from the Internet -- is simply running up against the Great Firewall of China when it searches for an answer.

Chinese Man Set Off 'Porn Firestorm'

A Chinese man who was sentenced to jail for possessing pornography on his computer has cast a spotlight on China's strict porn policies, according to Bloomberg.

The story, as Bloomberg tell it, is pretty bizarre: The man in question, known as "Mr. Gu," accidentally posted to an Internet message board a picture of a man seated atop a police car, wielding a machete. Police were curious about the origins of the picture, so they detained Gu and his computer.

Upon inspecting Gu's computer, authorities came across pornographic images. Chinese law on pornography states that anyone "who produces, transports, duplicated, sells or lends pornographic materials" will be jailed for no less than 10 days and fined 3,000 yuan, or about US$470.

The law is meant to be clear-cut, but Gu's case introduced a twist: He hadn't, in fact, distributed any pornographic materials. They were, Gu argued, for personal use.

All the same, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail and fined the 3,000 yuan.

Gu petitioned the local government after being released but got nowhere, so he started a blog chronicling his experiences. And the blog blew up. It trended on Sina Weibo -- which is similar to Twitter -- and was covered by some of China's eminent newspapers.

Earlier this week, the uproar prompted authorities to refund Gu's fine. They also gave him money for his trouble -- apparently to the tune of thousands of yuan.

The article did not say what happened to Gu's computer.

Japanese Copyright Revision Complicates YouTube

The Japanese House of Representative revised the country's copyright law this week in a way that could drastically limit citizens' access to YouTube, according to Mashable.com, which cited a Japanese-language report.

The revision, which also affects the Japanese YouTube equivalent Nico Nico Douga, makes illegally downloading copyrighted videos publishable by up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 2 million Yen (roughly $25,000 dollars). The country revised its copyright laws in 2010 to make downloading pirated content illegal, but penalties had not been stipulated until now.

This affects YouTube because, according to Mashable, every time a user watches a video on YouTube, their "computer stores a temporary download file in the browser cache" on the hard drive. This technical intricacy could make countless people subject to the prosecution under the new law, according to Mashable.

Samsung Burning for Answers

Samsung announced an investigation into the case of a Galaxy S III theat recently caught fire, according to a post on the company's blog.

The owner of the flaming phone wrote about the incident Wednesday on an Irish message board, claiming that while he was driving, the phone emitted a white flame, sparks and a bang.


Tech Trek is a blog that looks at tech news from around the world. David Vranicar is a freelance journalist currently living in the Netherlands. His ECT News Network archive, with links to articles and podcasts, is available here. You can email him at david.vranicar@newsroom.ectnews.com



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