WeChat and the Surveillance State

I spent a great deal of time setting up WeChat while I was in China – particularly WeChat wallet which is almost an indispensable addition but often difficult for foreigners to activate. It’s no exaggeration to say that WeChat is almost a requirement for living a normal life in China. It also delivers to the Communist Party a life map of pretty much everybody in this country, citizens and foreigners alike.

I’ve just been locked out of WeChat (or Weixin 微信 as it is known in Chinese) and, to get back on, have had to pass through some pretty Orwellian steps – steps which have led others to question why I went along with it.

“Faceprint is required for security purposes,” it said.

I was instructed to hold my phone up – to ‘face front camera straight on’ – looking directly at the image of a human head. Then told to ‘Read numbers aloud in Mandarin Chinese’.

In China pretty much everyone has WeChat. It’s almost impossible to live without it. People wouldn’t be able to speak to their friends or family without it. So the censors who can lock you out of WeChat hold real power over you.

WeChat could “deliver to the Communist Party a life map of pretty much everybody in this country, citizens and foreigners alike.

Capturing the face and voice image of everyone who was suspended for mentioning the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary in recent days would be considered very useful for those who want to monitor anyone who might potentially cause problems.

The app – thought by Western intelligence agencies to be the least secure of its type in the world – has essentially got you over a barrel.

If you want to have a normal life in China, you had better not say anything controversial about the Communist Party and especially not about its leader, Xi Jinping.

China social media: WeChat and the Surveillance State

This would have made a worthy addition to the discussion that followed Oliver’s excellent presentation on surveillance during the Crafting {:} a Life unconference.


Always on surveillance

Chinese schools are prototyping facial recognition to monitor students to identify distractedness, level of engagement, responsiveness and other attributes. Every culture has different notions of privacy that are present in social and technological norms and what is considered creepy one day can become the status quo the next and vice versa once underlying dynamics are revealed. The relative importance of education in China, and the invasiveness of these systems will make school monitoring systems a bellwether for Chinese privacy norms, until the next wave of invasiveness arrives.

Chinese schools are using facial recognition on students

If in-classroom facial-recognition systems are teaching students and staff to “perform” for the cameras—in the theatrical rather than pedagogical sense of the word—then how will similar systems extrapolate to society at large? Or for populations whose belief systems are considered at-odds with central government? If you live in a democracy, or a country such as the United States whose current leadership is leaning-towards autocracy then “at-odds-with” means any community that didn’t vote for the existing power structure.

How China’s Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life

You get used to having different personas for various aspects of your life. It’s only when you are in the comfort of your home, can you be your true self.

Via studio D.


There’s no shortage of individuals and individual freedom. In America, people are willing to sacrifice their well-being, social cohesion, stability and sustainability for the false notion of individual freedom. But the truth is, there is no individual. There’s no such thing. It’s an utter fiction. It was created in order to promote more consumption. The more people spend time with one another, the less stuff they buy. A deep connection to other humans makes you an enemy of the marketplace.
Douglas Rushkoff — Fighting for #TeamHuman


How An Aging Population Will Reshape The Internet

Although many older Americans have, like the rest of us, embraced the tools and playthings of the technology industry, a growing body of research shows they have disproportionately fallen prey to the dangers of internet misinformation and risk being further polarized by their online habits. While that matters much to them, it’s also a massive challenge for society given the outsize role older generations play in civic life, and demographic changes that are increasing their power and influence.

People 65 and older will soon make up the largest single age group in the United States, and will remain that way for decades to come, according to the US Census. This massive demographic shift is occurring when this age group is moving online and onto Facebook in droves, deeply struggling with digital literacy, and being targeted by a wide range of online bad actors who try to feed them fake news, infect their devices with malware, and steal their money in scams. Yet older people are largely being left out of what has become something of a golden age for digital literacy efforts.
Old, Online, And Fed On Lies


Versage: Following knock-off fashion’s flow from Lagos to Guangzhou (and back again).

“Nigerians in their own way like to emulate you know? We like to learn. Everywhere we are we just look at what entices our eyes and kind of put it on to try it, then we keep wearing it and we’ll think, if we can change it this way it can be also nice,” Uzoma mused. “We are inquisitive when it comes to fashion, curious. And we are also creative. We steal, we change, and add things to it.”


Life on the wrong side of China’s social credit system

As long as I’m insolvent, then I’m an unpardonable devil
David Kong, ‘discredited individual’

Sarah Dai writing for Inkstone on the social credit system in China.

While the Chinese social credit system appears draconian, with offenders banned from planes and high-speed trains, parallels can be made with ratings agencies and their clients the world over. A person who is interesting enough to have earned a low score, will also be interesting enough to work around the restrictions. Foreign companies are also required to register, and while it’s not yet official policy, expect all visitors to China to eventually have a score assigned to them. A score which follows you with facial recognition.


Copy machines

I’ve been both a part of the machine and on the receiving end of China and Taiwan’s remix copy culture.

Part of my value within one team was my then keen memory for design patterns and recollection of how other software makers solved certain problems. In may role as a human copy machine I produced all kinds of examples that the software team could follow, thereby saving them the effort of testing iterations.

The latest example, was receiving an email to collaborate on an app that just happens to be a carbon copy of a concept that we launched, and an offer to license my wife’s voice. I jokingly said that they will likely launch new products featuring her faster than we will. She didn’t find it very funny.


Presence

Dinner is a great chance to talk to your colleagues and find out what is happening in their lives outside of work.


Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacrum and Simulacra


Old school social platform

Phone, newspapers and local advertising

There is certainly a lot to unpack in this photograph. It’s the way we used to communicate, keep informed and be pitched to all in one location; like the iPhone or Facebook. You could also imagine seeing missing pet signs or offers for various personal services.


Anytime is TV time

Waiting for an order at a Starbucks in Fuzhou.

Watching a Chinese soap opera while waiting in line for coffee at a Starbucks in China. With all too common use case, even in my household, you miss out on so much of what is happening around you. It’s also creating a generation of patients for physiotherapists. In an age of this kind of media portability I am an extreme edge case. I can stand in line for extended periods of time and simply think and observe.


Outlier

Standing in line waiting for the clinic to open near GuanXin Rd. in Hsinchu

1 out of 12 seems about a correct ratio for people who would not continuously look at their phone while standing in line here in Hsinchu. I suspect he forgot his.


HR is a reflection of a company’s culture

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”— Buddha

I just got off WeChat with my former company’s HR representative. I dread seeing anything from them, and though I am always polite, I’m sure they at the least think I am difficult, likely worse.

This time it’s about flight reimbursements which were part of my contract. Many were unable to receive this part of their offer, for one reason or another, and warned me not to expect it. I wasn’t concerned as I didn’t stress the financial side of our agreement, as I should have.

Of course the rules were never explicitly stated on how to get reimbursed, perhaps due to negligence, or perhaps a clever method to not have to pay. More likely a symptom of a bureaucratic system mired in fixed procedures, in which no single person is aware. Empathy is in short supply.

I realize my perception is overly negative.

This distrust came as a result of a deeply flawed on-boarding process which poisoned what could have been a normal working relationship. They became the adversary, not a collaborator. Imagine if all contact with HR was positive, professional, constructive, and helpful. That would set a different tone. Unfortunately that wasn’t the experience I had.

I also don’t work well with long restrictive rules, a major part of the company’s and China’s culture. I work best in a human centered approach that treats people with respect.

In the end I see this as a failure on my part, to not maintain an air of positivity when working within a strict bureaucracy, despite all the bad experiences. To let bad situations overly influence my thinking, and not be my usual easy-going self.

Positivity helps develop a mental capacity that allows us to adapt with ease during adversity, to develop a set of powerful mental traits that allow us to have faith, courage and a ‘letting it happen’ attitude to cope with the crap that comes our way.

Smile and don’t dwell on the negative.

Perhaps a read of The Power of Positive Thinking is in order.


Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Khalil Gibran


Ink Café

A couple photos of one of my favorite places to drink my favorite beverages with a side of cheesecake. I haven’t yet found a coffee shop that compares – certainly nothing in Charlottetown. As I contemplate our relocation here I realize that my interest in having a hobby roasting coffee beans may take on a more urgent need.

Coffee is one of my favorite subjects on my instagram feed, including my many visits to Ink Café in Hsinchu.

The above photos are from Inks’ own Instagram photos.


You can’t bullshit a bullshitter

Harry Frankfurt an American philosopher and author of On Bullshit, talks about what bullshit is and how dangerous it is to society.

The reason why there’s so much bullshit I think is that people just talk. If they don’t talk, they don’t get paid. The advertiser wants to gain sales. The politician wants to gain votes. Now, that’s ok but they have to talk about things that they don’t really know much about. So, since they don’t have anything really valid to say, they just say whatever they think will interest the audience, make it appear they know what they’re talking about. And what comes out is bullshit.

The bullshitter is more creative. He’s not submissive. It’s not important to him what the world really is like. What’s important to him is how he’d like to represent himself. He takes a more adventurous and inventive attitude towards reality, which may be sometimes very colorful, sometimes amusing, sometimes it might produce results that are enjoyable. But it’s also very dangerous.

[…]

Liars attempt to conceal the truth by substituting something for the truth that isn’t true. Bullshit is not a matter of trying to conceal the truth, it is a matter of trying to manipulate the listener, and if the truth will do, then that’s fine and if the truth won’t do, that’s also fine. The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth in a way in which the liar is not. He’s playing a different game.


Just as food companies learned that if they want to sell a lot of cheap calories, they should pack them with salt, fat, and sugar — the stuff that people crave — media companies learned that affirmation sells a lot better than information. Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they’re right?
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption


Two countries

In a few hours half of the US will be weeping while the other half rejoices. The fact that this election is as close as it is has had me perplexed for weeks.
You have a president who is universally derided, a wrecked economy, disastrous wars of dubious if not criminal purpose, record budget deficits, and a foreign policy that has ruined the country’s standing abroad. The list goes on, with little to no positive counterpoints. How could so many people fervently support the party which holds the ultimate responsibility for the debacle of the past eight years?
Perhaps there are two Americas one that looks back and one that looks forward. Perhaps it’s cultural or class based. I don’t have enough insight to have a real answer but if you look at the results from previous American elections you see that when it comes to electing a president America has been somewhat evenly divided through-out it’s recent history (The Reagan era may be an exception).
politics.jpg
That gives historical perspective but not an answer. It’s going to be hard to focus on work this morning.
Via How will it feel on Nov 5th? and Where’s my country…