Opinion: WeChat is eating the Chinese internet, and that’s not a good thing

If you want to understand how WeChat is changing the Chinese internet, I have a recommendation for you: Katamari Damacy.

In Katamari Damacy, a 2004 video game published by Japan’s Namco, players roll a very sticky ball called a katamari across the landscape, building it up by collecting increasingly large objects until virtually everything in the world has become part of the ball. If you’ve done your job right, at the end of a level, almost no independent objects remain.


Increasingly, China’s internet looks to me like a game of Katamari Damacy, and WeChat is the katamari. What began as a simple chat app has slowly added features that include everything from ecommerce to gaming to video sharing. Today, you can use WeChat to do almost everything in your life, from booking a cab to paying your water bill.

If you’re a Chinese internet user, over the past few years you’ve probably seen a dozen of your usual internet activities move onto the WeChat platform. More than half of WeChat users spend 90-plus minutes a day using the app. The latest online activity in danger of being absorbed into the WeChat machine is search, and my colleague Eva is right to suggest that Baidu should be worried. For the moment, there’s little overlap, but in the long run, WeChat’s search can leverage an absolute mountain of user data to provide personalized results Baidu likely can’t compete with.

In a world where most Chinese internet interactions happen through WeChat’s platform, Tencent gains a disconcerting level of control.

Certainly, Baidu wouldn’t be the first company to feel an impact from WeChat encroaching on its business. Alibaba’s Alipay, which once enjoyed relative dominance in China’s epayment market, is now only slightly ahead of Tencent’s WeChat Pay alternative. Video streaming services Youku-Tudou and iQiyi, which ruled China’s web when WeChat was first launched (despite the fact that Tencent did have a competing platform at that time), are now essentially equaled in market share by Tencent’s platform, thanks in no small part to WeChat. In digital advertising, Tencent started from further behind, but it’s already cutting into the lead enjoyed by market leaders Baidu and Alibaba, and it’s only expected to keep growing. The app’s influence is now so pervasive, in fact, that many Chinese internet startups choose to set up shop inside WeChat from day one rather than even attempting to build their own platforms.

All of this is excellent news for Tencent – which, not entirely coincidentally, just posted its best quarter ever and is now at a record high valuation of US$326 billion. But it may not be great news for people in general. China’s internet, which is already a virtual intranet thanks to the Great Firewall, seems to be in the process of shrinking even further, compressed onto a platform that is owned not by the people or the government, but by a for-profit corporation.

In a world where most Chinese internet interactions happen through WeChat’s platform, Tencent gains a disconcerting level of control over everything from business to entertainment to public discourse. If you’re a startup founder, for example, it might choose to block mentions of your business on its platform, or shut down other WeChat channels that connect to your products (sound far-fetched? Actually, that has already happened). Or it might simply use its vast, all-encompassing database of user data to copy your service and market a WeChat version of it that’s more convenient to all your customers. Even in a best-case scenario, if WeChat is China’s everything app, then businesses have to play by Tencent’s rules or forget about getting access to a vast majority of the internet-using population.

The more widely-used WeChat becomes, the more difficult extricating oneself from the platform becomes.

Needless to say, there are also serious security implications inherent in any market where people meet their every need through a single app. Already, if your WeChat account is hacked, the hackers could have access to everything from your bank accounts and your friends’ contacts to your health records and your shopping habits. The more everyday activities shift onto WeChat, the worse such a breach becomes.

And in this hypothetical WeChat world, if the entire system ever went down – imagine Tencent itself was hacked, or simply pushed a faulty update – Chinese internet commerce itself would come to a grinding halt.

We’re not there yet, obviously. Tencent still has powerful competitors in Baidu and Alibaba, and although Chinese internet users love WeChat, they’re still using other platforms, too. That said, it’s difficult to find a metric that isn’t trending in Tencent’s direction these days. Across a wide variety of internet verticals, Tencent is steadily creeping up on – or surpassing – competitors thanks in no small part to WeChat’s ubiquity. Once those competitors get far enough behind, they become functionally irrelevant, and Tencent gets the power to do more or less what it wants with that vertical.

While in theory users could choose to opt-out if WeChat reaches that level of control, the more widely-used WeChat becomes for aspects of everyday life (and the more of its competitors are eliminated) the more difficult extricating oneself from the platform becomes. It’s hassle enough to switch between chat apps. Imagine the hassle of switching away from an app that controlled your banking, shopping, food ordering, utility and bill payments, workplace communications, news and entertainment consumption, gaming and more, especially given that viable mobile competitors for some of those services might not be easy to find. While technically consumers always have the choice of not using WeChat, the bigger and more popular it gets, the less practical a choice that is.

Interestingly, the biggest barrier to WeChat eating China’s internet could be the government itself. China does have an antitrust law, and Tencent has already been sued for violating it once, although it was ultimately cleared. Legally speaking, challengers would need to prove that Tencent had somehow abused its position as the market leader with WeChat to have any hope of effecting change.

The legal implications of WeChat’s further growth may be best left for another day (and for someone who, unlike me, is knowledgeable about Chinese law). But it may be worth toning down some of the exuberance over WeChat’s impressive growth and its increasingly all-encompassing feature set. Yes, it offers incredible convenience, but you may find it less convenient when Tencent’s behemoth katamari rolls over your favorite corner of the internet.

This post Opinion: WeChat is eating the Chinese internet, and that’s not a good thing appeared first on Tech in Asia.

via Penn Olson http://bit.ly/2scw7Qi

These Photos Take On Over-Sexualization By Showing The Mundane In The Nude

It’s rare to see art that depicts nude bodies — particularly female ones — without eroticizing them. This convention is incredibly frustrating for many women. After all, the majority of our lives are spent not posing as sexual objects, but just going about our work and everyday tasks. That’s why Sophia Vogel’s nude photographs are so refreshing. Instead of trying to force her subjects’ bodies into seductive positions or flattering lighting, she captures them in the midst of the mundane activities they’d do if there were no camera around, like sitting at tables or reading books.

The people Vogel photographs are not models but volunteers who come to her Berlin studio and chat before the shoots begin, Hello Giggles reports. Once they’re comfortable, she has them do something that’s part of their normal routine and photographs them fully clothed. Then, they recreate the same action nude, and she captures the exact same scene — minus the clothing. She posts the two versions side by side on her Instagram page to juxtapose them. What’s striking about the nude ones is that though you can tell the people are naked, it’s really the action that draws your eye’s attention.

By showing naked people acting the same way they would if they were clothed, Vogel is trying to demonstrate that nudity is no big deal. "Over the last couple of years, nudity has emerged from being one of society’s taboos," she told Vice. "I love to present nudity in an aesthetic manner without any sexual context."

Ich war heute im schönen Greifswald mit diesen wunderbaren Menschen & wir haben ganz fantastische Fotos für mein Fotoprojekt " with and without " gemacht! Ich danke euch gaaanz herzlich für euer Engagement!! Freut euch auf die Fotos 🙈 ich suche nach wie vor noch Menschen in Berlin in allen Altersklassen, die gerne mit machen möchten! Außerdem fahre ich nochmal nach Stuttgart & nach München. Gibts da noch Menschen, die gerne mit machen möchten? Ich freu mich auf Euch! Schreibt mir ne DM oder über das Kontaktformular auf: http://bit.ly/2scmK2Z das Projekt läuft noch genau bis Ende Mai, wer also noch Teil des Projekts werden möchte: jetzt oder nie 🤘🏽 #sophiavogelphotos #photography #photoproject #photographer #natural #nature #bodylove #bodypositive #bodypositivity #beyourself #loveyourself #loveproject #artproject #withandwithout #jederistschön #beautifulnature #crewlove #beauty #camping #mitundohne #ostsee #meer #schönemenschen #makingoff #behindthescenes #sophiavogel

A post shared by sophiavogel (@sobirdy) on Apr 8, 2017 at 2:52pm PDT

Another goal of hers is to challenge beauty standards by showcasing every kind of body. "We are observed and judged every day, and the fashion industry lavishes beauty ideals and criticism on us. We set high standards for ourselves," she said. "By presenting all kinds of different body shapes and natural postures, I would love to show that everybody is beautiful in their own way." As one fan wrote to Vogel, beauty’s not the same thing as sex appeal — and as her work shows, it’s not just in what we look like but also in what we do.

Danke für das liebe Feedback zum Artikel in der BZ. Nach wie vor suche ich in Berlin noch allerhand Damen & Herren, die am Projekt teilnehmen möchten, in allen Altersklassen ab der Volljährigkeit. Denn so langsam geht es Richtung Endspurt, bald beginne ich das crowdfunding und daaaann soll das Ganze ja in ein Buch, also wer noch mit machen möchte, dann jetzt! Desweiteren möchte ich auch gerne noch für spannende Motive in andere Städte fahren. Wo soll ich denn hin kommen? Wer hat wo Lust? Meldet euch gern! Hamburg & Leipzig würde auf dem Zettel stehen, gäbe es da noch Menschen mit denen ich bisher noch nicht schrieb, die aber gerne teilnehmen möchten? Ebenso ffm & Umland uuund wie steht es um München? Außerdem Köln? Ruhrpott an sich? Göttingen? Stuttgart? In diesen Städten habe ich je eine Person, die gerne mit machen möchte, da ich die Fahrtkosten jedoch aus eigener Tasche zahle, wäre es toll, wenn sich es mehr lohnen würde dorthin zu fahren 🙂 falls jemand aber ganz unbedingt möchte, dass ich vorbei komme – darf er das Projekt auch gerne mit einer Fahrtkostenspende supporten 🙈 Danke an den Herrn auf dem Bild. alle Infos zum Projekt: http://bit.ly/2scmK2Z #sophiavogelphotos #withandwithout #photoproject #artproject #bodylove #bodypositive #bodypositive #workworkwork #tfp #modelswanted

A post shared by sophiavogel (@sobirdy) on Feb 8, 2017 at 9:59am PST

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via Refinery29 http://r29.co/2rCZ8re

Analysis of WannaCry ransom message raises links to China

WannaCry Ransomware

When the WannaCry ransomware took hold earlier this month, it quickly began infecting thousands of machines in a number of countries all across the world. In the process, it even managed to infect computers at the National Health Service in the UK, effectively disabling IT systems at a number of hospitals.

All told, it’s believed that WannaCry managed to infect upwards of 300,000 machines, a figure that could have been much higher had it not been for a security researcher who accidentally stumbled upon the malware’s kill-switch. Incidentally, security researchers, the days following the attack, even managed to come up with a solution for some impacted users, effectively allowing them to reclaim their encrypted files without forking over $300 worth of Bitcoin to an unknown group of hackers.

Continue reading…

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via BGR http://bit.ly/2scI0G0

A psychologist debunks the claim that fidget spinners help kids focus

Fidget spinners are everywhere these days. You can buy them on any street corner for a few dollars, and both kids and adults are obsessed with them. The companies that make these hot new gadgets claim they help relieve stress and anxiety and can help kids with ADHD focus. David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist from the Child Mind Institute, shares his thoughts on spinners.

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Following is a transcript of the video:

They’re a toy. They’re a gag gift. Not so much a treatment.

My name is Dr. Dave Anderson. I’m  a clinical psychologist who trained and specializing in treatment for ADHD and behavior disorders.

Fidget spinners are a new craze similar to the slime craze earlier this year, where you have a couple arms, a little device that spins while you hold it. It has kind of this gyroscopic feel where you’re balancing it, maybe you could do some tricks with it.

This is a fidget spinner.

They’re easy to buy, they’re on every street corner, and there’s a sense that, you know, to be cool you need to have one.

So the great thing about fidget spinners is that they’ve brought the discussion for what works for ADHD or what might work for anxiety or stress relief to the forefront, which is great for us to have. The only issue is they have about as much scientific evidence for stress relief or for treatment of anxiety and ADHD as a pet rock.

They’re a toy. They’re not a treatment.

So the thing is there’s no psychologically recommended gadget. There are only gadgets that fall in line with scientifically-based psychological principles.

So the idea is for a kid experiencing stress, or anxiety, or depression, or ADHD, we might create, say, a coping kit for that child, when they’re experiencing certain amounts of stress. That might include music to listen to. It might include a stress ball tho squeeze. It might include something to remind them to breathe or to practice a mindfulness strategy.

But it’s really on a case-by-case basis. There’s no universal recommendations of a particular toy for stress relief or a particular object for stress relief. Fidget spinners have absolutely no scientific studies behind them, showing any sort of effectiveness in treating this. And the major reason for that is that they’re a fad.

They’ve only just come about, and scientific studies take time and money. So if something is really new, and it’s making a lot of noise, it’s unlikely to be scientifically supported. And if we’re talking about treatment for anxiety, or ADHD, or for stress relief, we wanna go after things that have a bit more scientific support, like cognitive behavioral strategies for managing their symptoms.

In other words, a way of noticing when they might be distractable, or when they might be having difficulty focusing and figure out how they might be able to get back on task.

We teach them about how to break test into smaller pieces and how to make sure that they are going through each of those pieces and planning for the time that it might take.

I think it’s always an issue when any company makes a sensational claim about a new product that provides treatment that isn’t backed by science for mental illness. Fidget spinners are low in terms of that hierarchy, partly because we don’t necessarily think they’re doing any harm. Adults don’t seem swayed in thinking that this is a treatment, and it mainly seems like the kids have picked up on this argument that it’s helpful in stress relief, as an argument they might have with their teachers or with their parents, and nobody’s buying.

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via Business Insider http://read.bi/2s1q9AT

Experts poke holes in claims that fidget spinners can treat ADHD

Experts poke holes in claims that fidget spinners can treat ADHD

Teachers' worst nightmare.
Teachers’ worst nightmare.

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Fidget spinners are a fun, relaxing fount of mindless entertainment. But are they really more than a cheap toy?

Some experts say no. Despite marketing claims, there’s no research that shows the wildly popular spinners are therapeutic tools for people with anxiety, autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

“I know there’s lots of similar toys … and there’s basically no scientific evidence that those things work across the board,” Scott Kollins, a clinical psychologist and professor at Duke University, told NPR on Sunday.

That doesn’t mean the three-pronged plastic phenomena don’t provide any real benefits, or that parents and educators are wrong when they say it helps some children focus in the classroom. But retailers may be stretching the truth when they label these devices as treatments for fidgety behavior, minuscule attention spans, or discomfort in a classroom setting.

You sure about that, Mr. Fidget Spinner Maker?

You sure about that, Mr. Fidget Spinner Maker?

“It’s important for parents and teachers who work with kids who have ADHD to know that there are very well studied and documented treatments that work, and that they’re out there, so there’s not really quick and easy fixes like buying a toy,” Kollins told NPR. 

About 11 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 4 and 17 — or 6.4 million kids — have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Their parents often search for help beyond the typical medication, which might make them more vulnerable to marketing efforts that falsely lump these toys in the category of evaluated, proven solutions that help students focus and learn.

Another expert had a similarly skeptical view of fidget spinners.

“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD, told LiveScience earlier this month. 

Still, parents and some developmental specialists have defended fidget spinners, even as teachers and schools banned them from the classroom for being too disruptive. Proponents argue that, under the right circumstances, spinners and devices like them can soothe an anxious student or calm a hyperactive mind.

Hmm, maybe not.

Hmm, maybe not.

“These little gadgets should be called fidget tools, not toys, and they can be part of a successful strategy for managing fidgety behavior if they are introduced as a normal part of the classroom culture,” Claire Heffron, a pediatric occupational therapist in Cleveland, recently told the Washington Post.

A 2015 study found that students with ADHD performed better on a computerized attention test the more intensely they fidgeted. Children without ADHD, meanwhile, did not improve their test score with fidgeting.

But Julie Schweitzer, the study’s author and a clinical psychologist at the University of California at Davis, said it’s too early to know whether fidget spinners could deliver similar results. 

“We need to study them to find if they make a difference and for whom,” Schweitzer told the Post.

via Mashable! http://on.mash.to/2qR8tKT

Makers of Crowdfunded “Gravity Blanket” Withdraw Unsupported Medical Claims


“Gravity blanket” on Kickstarter that claimed to use cozy pressure to treat anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions has been taking the internet by storm, raising more than $3 million. But on Thursday, the company quietly deleted the bold medical claims on its crowdfunding site — language that violated Kickstarter policy and went against FDA recommendations — after STAT inquired about its promotional statements.

The creators of Gravity call their product a “premium-grade, therapeutic weighted blanket” intended to treat psychiatric illnesses. People quickly snuggled up to the idea: More than 15,000 donors contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to help get the blanket to the market, where it’s projected to sell for as much as $279.

A slew of publications have touted the product with headlines such as, “I Want This Anti-Anxiety Blanket and You Will Too.” But the science behind the blanket’s claims is scarce— as STAT found by reviewing the studies the manufacturer cites as evidence for its claims.


The Kickstarter campaign made big promises: “The science behind Gravity reveals that it can be used to treat a variety of ailments, including insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as circumstantial stress and prolonged anxiety.”

But on Thursday afternoon, that language was swapped to say the blanket could be “used” for those conditions, rather than treat them. Then, the section disappeared entirely. The makers haven’t posted an update about the changes for their buyers.

The blanket’s creators didn’t respond to a request for comment. After STAT inquired about the campaign with Kickstarter, the site said it asked the Gravity team to change the language because it wasn’t in line with their rules on health claims.

A screen capture of the Gravity Kickstarter page before the language was changed.

Gravity isn’t the type of product regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. However, FDA recommendations released in July 2016 laid out clear guidelines for promoting wellness products, which are low-risk items designed to support a healthy lifestyle.

They can be marketed as supporting people who live with anxiety. They shouldn’t claim that a product can treat an anxiety disorder.

The marketing language also appeared to violate Kickstarter’s rules. The crowdfunding site prohibits campaigns for “any item claiming to cure, treat, or prevent an illness or condition.” Kickstarter has previously said that the rule was developed out of concern that medical claims could have “harmful consequences” for consumers.

Regardless of how it’s promoted, the evidence behind the product is scarce.

It’s not a miracle therapy,” said Dr. Khalid Ismail, a sleep medicine researcher at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. “I don’t think it’s ready for prime time yet.”

Weighted blankets simulate the feeling of a big hug. The creators say it’s similar to swaddling a newborn baby, but with a much higher price tag. They claim that the increased weight — also known as deep touch pressure stimulation — can increase serotonin and melatonin levels while driving down cortisol, a stress hormone, “all without filling a prescription.”

It’s not a novel concept: Weighted blankets have been used in children with autism and elderly individuals with dementia. You can even buy them with a lower price tag from home goods stores.

What’s new is that they’re trying to broaden the indication for its use,” said Ismail. 

But the research they cite falls short of the hype.

One study looked at the use of weighted blankets, among other products, in a “sensory room” in an inpatient psychiatric unit. The researchers studied 75 people who used that room and concluded that those who tried the blanket reported a decrease in their anxiety and distress. But there was also a decrease in those symptoms among people who didn’t get under the blanket. And the study wasn’t blinded, so people might’ve reported positive effects because they were led to expect the blanket would have a positive effect.

Another study touted by Gravity’s creators found that 63 percent of individuals who used a 30-pound weighted blanket had reduced symptoms of anxiety. But the research included only 32 adults and no control group.

The creators of the blanket did not respond to a request for comment.

Ismail said it isn’t clear who, exactly, the blanket would benefit. Many cases of sleeplessness result from poor sleep hygiene, like being glued to a phone before bed; others result from underlying psychiatric disorders that require treatment.

It might have a role, but in a very, very small subset of patients,” Ismail said, “and I don’t think we’ve identified that subset of patients with a really good randomized controlled trial.” 

The campaign says it expects to start shipping blankets in October.

This post has been updated with information about new changes to the Kickstarter page.

via Hacker News http://bit.ly/2q5KMiK

Free Loaders: Building tiny towns with a Little Land

If anyone is reading this, I need your help. The apocalyptic thunderstorm happening in the clouds above me has already knocked out the power once, and there’s no telling when it might happen again, so I must write quickly, even it makes this opening paragraph sound like the last note written by a doomed character in Prey. I’ve collected some free games, please take them to safety and play the ones you think are neat. You can find them in the locker. The code is 1234.

Little Lands by Robin Field and Billy Hobson

Teeny weeny town clicker. Randomise the landscape (or create your own island) then start constructing your colourful little town. The ultimate goal is to funnel enough resources from time to time into your shipyard, so that you may escape this listless existence in a “space boat to freedom”. But pirate ships will come and attack you from the coastal waters, because you are soft and squishy.

But maybe you can build those archery towers. Oh wait you need workers. Build a worker’s house, then. Oh wait you need wood. Build a lumberjack’s cabin! Oh wait you need stone. Build a quarry! Oh wait you need food. Do you see what is going on here? A tight wee game of resource management and adjacency bonuses. Don’t worry if the pirates chip away at the land, new tiles generate randomly over time, meaning the island is constantly (if slowly) growing. Important note: pressing ‘R’ does not rotate your buildings. It restarts your game. Learn from my mistakes, young free loader.

MOLOCH by Seemingly Pointless

Corporate interview OS. I bet you really want that sweet job as [shift manager] in the MOLOCH corporation. This test will see if you are good enough. Or, it’s supposed to. I did it myself and I am none the wiser as to my suitability for the role. And I was extra obedient too, and efficient! I was probably only responsible for about 40 casualties. I guess I’m just not what they’re looking for.

Murdercide 2017 by Powerhoof

“Soft-boiled” cyberpunk. There’s been a “murder-killing” and detective Murphy is being brought in to investigate. An old-fashioned point and click adventure made of good jokes, bad jokes and some awful jokes. Arguably the whole thing – the murder, the machines, the inventory puzzles – is one big set-up for the final, fatal punchline, which is a joke of Airplane! proportions. I like that the inner monologue is that of a rough and seasoned Chandleresque P.I. but the main character’s actual voice is goofy, loud-mouthed and incredibly annoying. It’s good that the whole disaster is wrapped up within 15 minutes, because I probably couldn’t stand to listen to him anymore.

Causeway by Yarn Spinner

Short banching choices walkabout. You dander along a sandy bank, finding messages in bottles about your life and making decisions about where to go next based on the signs ahead of you. You’ve left home, you see, following some unspoken altercation with your parents – anything after that is a series of binary decisions for you to make. Oh, it’s a CAUSEway. I get it. A literal geographical representation of whether the decision to laugh at a thoughtless joke or speak up for yourself might have an effect on your life (or maybe not as much of an effect as you’d hope). I got Good End and Mediocre End. I don’t know if there’s a Bad End. Play it and find out for me, willya?

Carrocalipse by Pedro Paiva

Like Frogger, but filled with FILTHY COMMUNISM!

Depthgun by Leafo

Intenstinal shooter. Sphincter status: critical.

via Rock, Paper, Shotgun http://bit.ly/2rsUZWs