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Beijing's 'Water Army' Swamps Social Media

Beijing's 'Water Army' Swamps Social Media

Today in international tech news: Following the indictment of a former Communist Party heavyweight in China, anonymous accounts are littering Chinese social media with pro-Beijing rhetoric. Also: Another woman hospitalized for reported iPhone shock; Chinese apps targeted in Android vulnerability; and Germany wants the EU to push for changes to international privacy agreements.

By David Vranicar
07/25/13 5:00 PM PT

Long known for its out-and-out censorship, Beijing now appears to be filling Chinese social media with pro-government messages.

The new tack was on full display after the Thursday indictment of fallen Communist Party member Bo Xilai, who was busted for corruption and abuse of power in 2012.

While China's social media censors were surely working overtime in the wake of the indictment, so too were its copywriters. On Sina Weibo, the country's top social media platform (it's roughly akin to Twitter), the main news feed echoed sentiments that were eerily similar to those espoused by China's state-run media -- championing the indictment as a testament to Beijing's crackdown on corruption.

Users -- anonymous ones, mind you, with very few followers -- wrote stuff like, "This case utterly proves the ... determination to fight corruption" and "I believe in the party and I believe in the government."

Riiiight.

In China, this is referred to as a "Water Army" -- anonymous posters who use zombie accounts to peddle ... well, anything. Usually water armies -- which make up a startling percentage of Chinese social media accounts -- operate in a commercial capacity. The Bo case, however, shows that the same method is being employed to (try to) control the conversation about current events as well, according to some China watchers.

That said, not everything is changed. Weibo comments about Bo that were deemed inappropriate have been disappearing in the blink of an eye.

[Source: The Wall Street Journal]

Another iPhone Shock - This Time Outside China

A woman from Sydney, Australia, was taken to the hospital after what she claims was an electric shock from her iPhone.

A handful of similar stories have come out of China -- including one that resulted in a 23-year-old woman's death -- but this appears to be one of the first news-making iPhone electrocution mishaps from outside the Middle Kingdom.

The woman was not seriously injured, but the incident will nonetheless add a sense of urgency to Apple's investigation into similar reports.

[Source: The Age]

Report: Chinese Apps Targeted by Android Vulnerability

Security firm Symantec is reporting that it identified the first known malicious use of Android's "master key" vulnerability, and that it is compromising apps available in China.

The vulnerability, which was first reported earlier this month, allows people to install code onto Android devices and then commandeer control of said devices. Symantec reports that Chinese apps designed to find and make doctor appointments have been affixed with this sinister code.

Information such as phone numbers is available, while people can also send premium SMS messages and disable security software.

Google, whose Android devices are way out ahead of iOS in China, released a patch designed to remedy the vulnerability.

[Source: Symantec via BBC]

Germany Presses EU for Backup on Online Privacy

Officials in Germany are seeking support from the European Union on a global charter designed to protect online privacy.

Germany, which has both expressed outrage over U.S. snooping and been called out as a serial NSA accomplice, wants to safeguard against future intrusions into Germans' privacy. The push was no doubt inspired by revelations that personal information of millions of German Web users may have been collected by the U.S.

Germany's request came in the form of a letter sent to ministers of the European Union. The letter implores an expansion of a 1966 UN treaty that, having been written in 1966, is woefully lacking on anything relating to email, SMS, etc.

The letter was sent last week but not disclosed until Wednesday.

[Source: The Guardian]


David Vranicar is a freelance journalist and author of The Lost Graduation: Stepping off campus and into a crisis. You can check out his ECT News archive here, and you can email him at david[dot]vranicar[at]newsroom[dot]ectnews[dot]com.


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