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ANALYSIS: China extends control with online gaming crackdown

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ANALYSIS China extends control with online gaming crackdown

Hugely popular online games and celebrity culture in China are the latest targets in the ruling Communist Party’s campaign to encourage the public to fall in line with its vision for a powerful, more wholesome country.

The message? Play less, study and work more.

Rules that take effect Wednesday cut the amount of game time children are allowed by more than two-thirds to three hours a week. That coincides with a campaign to curb what the party sees as unhealthy attention to celebrities online.

“Adolescents are the future of the motherland,” the Press and Publications Administration said in a statement Monday accompanying the game rules.

The measures add to a drumbeat of initiatives under President Xi Jinping over the past half-decade that are aimed at prodding the public and companies to align with the party’s political and economic goals.

“This appears to be part of China’s push to ensure that the government is front and center in all aspects of its citizens’ lives,” said Paul Haswell, who heads law firm Pinsent Masons’ technology, media and communications practice for the Asia-Pacific region.

Xi has called for a ” national rejuvenation ” to restore China to its rightful place as a global leader with the ruling party directing areas from economics and technology to culture, education, religion and society.

“The party is the leader of everything,” says a document on “Xi Jinping Theory in the New Era of Chinese Socialism” issued in 2018.

China’s few remaining dissidents have been jailed or intimidated into silence.

The party is rolling out a system known as Social Credit to track every individual and company in China and punish missteps ranging from dealing with business partners that break environmental rules to littering.

Beijing launched a barrage of anti-monopoly, data security and other enforcements beginning in late 2020. It aims to tighten control over internet giants including games and social media service Tencent Holding Ltd., e-commerce service Alibaba Group and ride-hailing service Didi Global Inc.

Online gaming is seen by regulators as a political danger because users can socialize while they play, and it is harder than other activities to monitor or control, said Haswell. That adds to the risk users might organize and express dissent.

An official panel was created in 2018 to review “ethical issues,” or make sure games conform to party positions on human rights, foreign relations and other issues.

Monday’s announcement made clear Beijing’s concern focuses on the ability of young Chinese to contribute to the economy.

“Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the vital interests of the broad masses of the people and the cultivation of newcomers in the era of national rejuvenation,” the publications agency said.

That reflects official unease about the need to ensure China has enough skilled future workers at a time when the workforce has shrunk over the past decade and is forecast to fall further.

Xi’s government appears to think China spends too much time and energy on entertainment and consumer services instead of manufacturing and high-tech industry Beijing regards as a strategic priority.

Under party pressure, Tencent, Alibaba and others have promised to spend billions of dollars on its priorities of developing processor chips, robots and other technology instead of on their core businesses.

On Saturday, microblog platform Weibo Corp. suspended thousands of accounts for fan clubs and entertainment news.

Platforms also have been barred from publishing lists of celebrities ranked by popularity.

A popular actress, Zhao Wei, has disappeared from streaming platforms without explanation. Her name has been removed from credits of movies and TV programs.

Another actress, Zheng Shuang, was fined 299 million yuan ($46 million) on tax evasion charges in a warning to celebrities to be positive role models for society.

The crackdown has been financially devastating to games operators including Tencent. Investor anxiety about the potential revenue loss has knocked more than $300 billion off Tencent’s stock market value and billions off those of smaller rivals.

“The irony is that China is home to a growing number of extremely talented game developers,” said Haswell.

An official newspaper lambasted online games in early August as “spiritual opium,” an explosive accusation in a system that associates nineteenth-century opium use with colonial powers seizing Chinese territory.

In 2018, Beijing froze new game approvals, citing concern children’s eyesight might suffer. News reports at the time said propaganda officials had taken over a leading role in regulation.

Game developers already were required to submit their latest titles for official approval before they could be released. Regulators also have called on developers to add nationalistic themes.

In 2019, game users under 18 were banned from playing between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Ahead of the new rules, Tencent, also known for its WeChat message service, had already reduced the time children could play popular games to one hour per day, down from 90 minutes. It installed measures including facial recognition to confirm other users were adults.

Businesspeople and economists warn the party might hurt the economy by suppressing thriving games, entertainment and other online industries that has generated jobs and wealth.

So far, that is a price the ruling party appears to be willing to force China to pay.


BEIJING (AP)

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UK to block Facebook parent Meta’s $315M acquisition of Giphy

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It is expected that the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will reverse Facebook parent company Meta’s purchase of Giphy in the coming days, according to the Financial Times.

 If that happens, it will mark the first time that the country’s competition regulator has unraveled a major tech acquisition.

Meta (Facebook previously) announced in May 2020 that it bought the GIF platform with the goal of rolling it into Instagram. Reports set the price of the deal at $400 million.

As such, Meta has previously argued that because Giphy doesn’t have any operations in the UK, the CMA has no jurisdiction in this case. In addition, it claimed Giphy’s paid services couldn’t be classed as display advertising according to the CMA’s market definition.

“After failing to compete with new innovators, Facebook illegally bought or buried them when their popularity became an existential threat,” Holly Vedova, acting head of the U.S.’ Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) competition bureau, said in a statement.

The FTC filed a revised complaint against the firm just weeks after a judge threw out its original case in June. The judge had accused federal regulators of failing to provide enough evidence that Facebook created a monopoly in the social networking space.

The CMA opened an investigation into the deal the following month after it raised concerns about the acquisition. The regulator declared in August that the deal could prevent rivals such as TikTok and Snapchat from accessing Giphy’s library of GIFs, as well as removing a potential competitor to Meta in the UK advertising sector.

Meta ended Giphy’s paid ad partnerships, which the CMA said ceased the company’s ad expansion, including to other countries. Also, the watchdog suggested Meta could be forced to sell the service, having until December 1st to publish its final decision.

The UK regulator fined Meta, in October, more than $67.2 million for a “major breach” of an order to remain separate from Giphy during its investigation. The fine was the largest ever handed down by the agency. This step was taken after the regulator accused Meta of “consciously refusing to report” information about the merger.

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Australia plans laws to make social networks identify trolls

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In a step meant to set restrictions on social media platforms, the Australian government is planning to introduce laws that force social media platforms to “unmask” online trolls despite experts saying it will do little to reduce online abuse.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed plans for legislation that could force social networks to reveal the identities of trolls and others making defamatory comments. A complaint mechanism would require online platforms to take these hostile posts down, and if they don’t, the court system could order a given site to provide details of the offending poster.

“Digital platforms, these online companies, must have proper processes to enable the takedown of this content. There needs to be an easy and quick and fast way for people to raise these issues with these platforms and get it taken down,” Morrison said on Sunday afternoon.

The PM’s announcement of the anti-troll social media legislation comes two months after he said social media platforms were a “coward’s palace” and declared that they would be viewed as publishers if they are unwilling to identify users that post foul and offensive content.

In addition, the proposed laws would also make it mandatory for social media platforms to have a standardised complaints system that allows defamatory remarks to be removed and trolls identified with their consent.

As such, Digital Rights Watch executive director Lucie Krahulcova, made some remarks regarding these laws, saying they are not focused on pursuing people who libel, malign, harass, or commit similar crimes online.

“They’re not actually very excited about enforcing [existing laws] on behalf of women, people of colour, and historically I think there’s plenty of evidence of that in Australia,” Krahulcova said.

The laws, if passed, would also redirect the liability for potential defamation from organisations running a social media page to social media platforms instead.

Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash explained the attempt to shift defamation liability is in response to the recent Voller High Court case, which set a legal precedent where Australians who maintain social media pages could be publishers of defamatory comments made by others on social media even if they did not know about the comments. Since the ruling, media outlet CNN disabled its Facebook page in Australia.

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Nissan investing in electric vehicles, battery development

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Nissan investing in electric vehicles, battery development

Nissan said Monday it is investing 2 trillion yen ($17.6 billion) over the next five years and developing a cheaper, more powerful battery to boost its electric vehicle lineup.

The Japanese automaker’s chief executive, Makoto Uchida, said 15 new electric vehicles will be available by fiscal 2030. Nissan Motor Co. is aiming for a 50% “electrification” of the company’s model lineup, under what Uchida called the “Nissan Ambition 2030” long-term plan. Electrified vehicles include hybrids and other kinds of environmentally friendly models other than just electric vehicles.

The effort is focused mainly on electric vehicles to cut emissions and meet various customers’ needs, said Uchida. Nissan also will reduce carbon emissions at its factories, he added.

The company has been struggling to put the scandal of its former Chairman Carlos Ghosn behind it. Ghosn, who led Nissan for two decades, after he was sent to Japan by French alliance partner Renault, was arrested in Tokyo in 2018 on various financial misconduct charges.

Uchida made no mention of the scandal but referred to “past mistakes” he promised won’t be repeated at Nissan.

Nissan’s “electrification” rests on developing a new ASSB, or all solid state battery, that it categorized as “a breakthrough” for being cheaper and generating more power than batteries now in use.

That means electric powertrains can be more easily used in trucks, vans and other heavier vehicles because the batteries can be smaller. The ASSB will be in mass production by 2028, according to Nissan.

The costs of electric vehicles will also fall thanks to the battery innovation to levels comparable with regular gasoline cars, Uchida said.

“Nissan has emerged from a crisis and is ready to make a new start,” he said.

All top automakers, including Nissan’s Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp., are working on electric vehicles, amid growing concern over climate change and sustainability. Global consumers are also demanding more safety features.

Uchida said Nissan was hiring 3,000 engineers to strengthen its research, including digital technology for vehicles.

Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, has suffered recently from the computer chips shortage that’s slammed all automakers because of lockdowns and other measures at chip factories to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The maker of the Infiniti luxury models, Leaf electric vehicle and Z sportscar is projecting a return to profitability for the fiscal year through March 2022 after racking up two straight years of losses.


TOKYO (AP)

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