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Twitter says accounts linked to China tried to ‘sow political discord’ in Hong Kong

Twitter says accounts linked to China tried to ‘sow political discord’ in Hong Kong

August 19, 2019

Twitter says a significant information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China were part of an effort to deliberately “sow political discord” in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region.

In a blog post, the social networking site said the 936 accounts it found tried to undermine “the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

More than a million protesters took to the streets this weekend to demonstrate peacefully against the Chinese government, which took over rule from the British government in 1997. Protests erupted months ago following a bid by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to push through a highly controversial bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The bill was suspended, effectively killing it from reaching the law books, but protests have continued, pushing back at claims that China is trying to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Although Twitter is banned in China, the social media giant says the latest onslaught of fake accounts is likely “a coordinated state-backed operation.”

“Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests,” the statement said.

Two of the tweets supplied by Twitter

Twitter said many of the accounts are using virtual private networks — or VPNs — which can be used to tunnel through China’s vast domestic censorship system, known as the Great Firewall. The company added that the accounts it is sharing represent the “most active” portions of a wider spam campaign of about 200,000 accounts.

“Covert, manipulative behaviors have no place on our service — they violate the fundamental principles on which our company is built,” said Twitter.

News of the fake accounts comes days after Twitter user @Pinboard warned that …

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Twitter is blocked in China, but its state news agency is buying promoted tweets to portray Hong Kong protestors as violent

Twitter is blocked in China, but its state news agency is buying promoted tweets to portray Hong Kong protestors as violent

August 19, 2019

Twitter is being criticized for running promoted tweets by China’s largest state news agency that paint pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as violent, even though the rallies, including one that drew an estimated 1.7 million people this weekend, have been described as mostly peaceful by international media.

Promoted tweets from China Xinhua News, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, were spotted and shared by the Twitter account of Pinboard, the bookmarking service founded by Maciej Ceglowski, and other users.

The demonstrations began in March to protest a now-suspended extradition bill, but have grown to encompass other demands including the release of imprisoned protestors, inquiries into police conduct, the resignation of current Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam and a more democratic process for electing Legislative Council members and the Chief Executive.

While China Xinhua News has repeatedly described demonstrators as violent, international observers have criticized the Hong Kong police’s use of excessive force against peaceful protestors, including incidents documented in footage verified by Amnesty International.

The irony of China Xinhua News’ tweets is that they let the Chinese Communist Party …

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Prenetics partners with Watsons, one of Asia’s largest personal care retailers, to sell its new consumer DNA tests

Prenetics partners with Watsons, one of Asia’s largest personal care retailers, to sell its new consumer DNA tests

July 29, 2019

Genetics testing startup Prenetics today announced a major new deal for its brand in Asia. The company is partnering with A.S. Watson Group, the personal care giant whose stores are ubiquitous in many East and Southeast Asian countries. That means Watsons’ Hong Kong stores and website will be the first retailer in Asia to sell Circle DNA, Prenetics’ new consumer DNA testing kit, before it launches in Watsons’ other Asian markets.

Watsons has 15,200 stores in 25 countries across Asia and Europe, including Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Ukraine and Russia, and claims to be the largest health and beauty retailer in the world. Also based in Hong Kong, Prenetics began by providing DNA tests for insurance firms and health care providers, before branching into consumer tests by buying London-based startup DNAFit last year. The acquisition of DNAFIt, which still sells testing services under its own brand, also gave Prenetics a foothold in the U.S., where DNAFit is partnered with Helix, another gene testing company.

Prenetics launched in 2009 and has raised more than $50 million so far from investors including Beyond Ventures and Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, who led its $40 million Series B in 2017.

As it expands, Prenetics will become a more direct competitor with companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA. Circle DNA’s kits differentiate by focusing primarily on health reports instead of ancestry. The most important advantage a DNA test can offer, however, is accuracy, and the ability of consumer DNA tests to answer certain questions reliably has been called into question by geneticists. Prenetics claims its technology, which uses whole exome sequencing instead of genotyping, is able to provide 50 to 100 times more data than competing tests.

In a press statement, A.S. Watson Group chief operating officer Malina …

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White Star Capital eyes Asia growth with new Hong Kong office

White Star Capital eyes Asia growth with new Hong Kong office

July 22, 2019

For western startups looking to enter Asia and Asian startups expanding globally, more funding has become available as investors are increasingly looking to export local tech solutions to overseas markets.

Globally based venture capital firm White Star Capital has set up a new office in Hong Kong this month to capture entrepreneurs in the budding region as well as help its portfolio companies go to Asia. Founded by Eric Martineau-Fortin, who spent years conducting mergers and acquisitions at Merrill Lynch, and Jean-Francois Marcoux, who sold his gaming startup Ludia to FermantleMedia, White Star has over the last decade backed a spectrum of early-stage companies across several continents.

Currently investing with eight partners spread across seven cities, White Star’s portfolio spans from New York-based healthy meal startup Freshly, rewards app Drop out of Toronto, on-demand photo platform Meero from Paris and dog food startup Butternut Box in London.

Beginning in 2017, Martineau-Fortin and his partners began looking eastward. They decided to initially exclude China as the market was already crowded with no shortage of funding available, leading to much larger investment round sizes compared to the U.S. and Europe as well as notoriously high valuations.

The investor also believed “cultural differences in both consumer and enterprise behavior” require different regional strategies. Whilst certain Asian companies specializing in artificial intelligence, fintech, enterprise software and micro-mobility share some commonalities with Western counterparts, others such as e-commerce businesses remain, still, quite distinct in Asia.

“Having said this, there is also a number of fabulously interesting ecosystems and countries outside of Hong Kong and China that are sometimes forgotten by North American and European-based investors, such as Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taipei. Those are also very advanced regions with great schools, great engineers having certainly easy access to capital but not always the ability …

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How a Hong Kong startup gets caught up in US-China trade war

How a Hong Kong startup gets caught up in US-China trade war

July 18, 2019

Taylor Host has been operating his artificial intelligence startup out of Hong Kong for more than two years. The American entrepreneur has clients from Europe, North America and Asia, but he settled in the city for its adjacency to Southeast Asia and mainland China’s massive market.

Miro, which Host co-founded in 2017 with British software engineer Jamie Wilde, had bootstrapped to six employees before raising a small note investment. Backed by Silicon Valley-based SOSV, it’s now seeking $2 million in a new funding round. As trade tensions between China and the U.S. drag on, the company is considering relocating for the first time because being a Hong Kong entity starts to turn off western investors.

Miro uses computer vision to tag images and videos of runners for the brands they wear. It then attributes that data — sporting goods purchases — to consumer profiles that are part of its clients’ customer relations management (CRM) system. Miro’s AI processes data in markets around the world, but China data, in particular, is desirable for western sports brands.

The Chinese rising middle-class has been fueling a marathon fever in recent years as they search for a healthier lifestyle. When they participate in a race, Miro’s sensors could be tracking their shoes and outfits for event organizers and sponsors. The technology has so far been used in nearly 500 events around the world and analyzed more than 10 million athletes — while most of the technical development has been conducted in Hong Kong.

“My co-founder and I both spent a considerable amount of time in Hong Kong. The majority of our team would call themselves Hong Kong Chinese, so we have a very strong foothold in Hong Kong and we love it here,” Host told TechCrunch over a phone interview.

“Lately though, it’s …

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