Category Archives: Advertising & Marketing

Heavy fine for Chinese firm over unlicensed game

A notice about the fine on a Chinese government website
Image caption A notice announcing the fine appeared on a Chinese government website

A game launched in China without government approval has landed the company behind it with a heavy fine.

It is the first time such action has been taken since China reformed its gaming regulator last year.

In this case, the unnamed company that fell foul of the law has been fined seven times the revenue it earned from the game, or 700,000 yuan (£75,800).

Developers in China are required to seek a licence for each game they make before distributing it.

Authorities said the game was a mobile title, made by a firm in Beijing.

According to Abacus News, which first reported the fine, Chinese officials recently lifted a freeze on the licensing of new games but are still not approving as many titles as they used to before the freeze.

China’s stance on video games has become increasingly strict in recent years.

Last month, the country launched a new curfew for online gamers under the age of 18 meaning they are now banned from playing between 22:00 and 08:00.

Sessions are also limited to 90 minutes on weekdays and three hours at weekends.

Gaming remains hugely popular in the country.

In the five years to 2023, the number of mobile gamers in China is expected to rise from 598 million to 728 million, according to market research firm Niko.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro ‘can override location settings’

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iPhone 11 ProImage copyright Apple
Image caption Apple’s much-vaunted user control is acknowledged by a security researcher, despite his discovery

Apple’s flagship iPhone 11 Pro tracks users’ locations even when they have set it not to, a security researcher has discovered.

Brian Krebs found that the phone collects data about a user’s position even if location sharing has been turned off in every individual app.

However, the user could avoid being tracked if the entire system was set to never share location.

Apple said it was “expected behaviour” and denied it was a security problem.

The company has made big play of the fact that it allows users granular control over sharing their location – so for instance they can have location switched on for Maps but off for everything else.

Mr Krebs found users could disable all location services entirely via Settings>Privacy>Location Services, but if they chose the individual controls, they might still be tracked.

‘Expected behaviour’

“One of the more curious behaviours of Apple’s new iPhone 11 Pro is that it intermittently seeks the user’s location information even when all applications and system services on the phone are individually set to never request this data,” Mr Krebs wrote on his blog.

He contacted Apple to report the issue, sharing a video which showed the location services icon on, even though every app and system service was set to “never request” this information.

An engineer replied: “We do not see any actual security implications. It is expected behaviour that the locations services icon appears in the status bar when location services is enabled,” adding that some system services “do not have a switch in Settings”.

That, argued Mr Krebs “seems at odds with the company’s own privacy policy”.

In 2018, Google was found to be recording locations even when users had asked it not to.

In a report from Associated Press, a Princeton University researcher tracked his daily commute and found that Google saved location markers even though location history had been turned off.

To disable this entirely, users had to switch off another setting called Web and App Activity, which was enabled by default and did not mention location data.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin step back from top roles

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Larry Page and Sergey BrinImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have announced they are stepping down from top roles at the online giant’s parent company.

They will leave their respective roles as Alphabet’s chief executive officer and president but remain on the board.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai will become Alphabet’s CEO too, a statement said.

Alphabet was created in 2015 as part of a corporate restructuring of Google, which Mr Page and Mr Brin famously founded in a California garage in 1998.

The parent company was intended to make the tech giant’s activities “cleaner and more accountable” as it expanded from internet search into other areas such as self-driving cars.

The pair moved from Google to Alphabet when it was formed – saying they were making the jump to focus on starting new initiatives.

But in a blog post on Tuesday, the co-founders, both aged 46, announced they were stepping back from the day-to-day management of the company.

A joint letter said they would remain “actively involved as board members, shareholders and co-founders”, but said it was the “natural time to simplify our management structure”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The pair (photographed in 2008) founded Google 21 years ago

“We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President,” their letter said.

They also declared it was time to “assume the role of proud parents – offering advice and love, but not daily nagging” and insisted there was “no better person” to lead the company into the future than Mr Pichai.

The 47-year-old was born in India, where he studied engineering. He went on to study in the US at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania before joining Google in 2004.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sundar Pichai will now serve as CEO of both companies

In a statement, he said he was “excited” about the transition and paid tribute to Mr Page and Mr Brin.

“The founders have given all of us an incredible chance to have an impact on the world,” Mr Pichai said. “Thanks to them, we have a timeless mission, enduring values, and a culture of collaboration and exploration that makes it exciting to come to work every day.

“It’s a strong foundation on which we will continue to build. Can’t wait to see where we go next and look forward to continuing the journey with all of you.”

‘Proud parents’ who aren’t giving up ultimate power

This move represents the most significant shake-up of leadership at Google since its inception – the first time the dynamic duo of Brin and Page, a legendary Silicon Valley partnership, won’t hold important management roles in the company they founded.

In reality, though, that’s been the case for some time – the public face of the firm has been Mr Pichai and, to a lesser extent, YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki. But Tuesday’s announcement makes it absolutely clear – Mr Page and Mr Brin aren’t running the company.

Yet while the pair are apparently relinquishing management duties, it won’t mean giving up ultimate power. Between them, they control 51% of voting rights on Alphabet’s board. This won’t change. They likened their new role to being “proud parents” to the company, looking on with close interest and care.

But should they feel the need, they can override any decision Mr Pichai makes – with little more than a parental “because we said so”.

Mr Page and Brin are ranked the 10th and 14th richest individuals in the world by Forbes, with each of them estimated to be worth about $50bn (£38bn).

The American business magazine ranks Alphabet as the 17th largest public company in the world, with an estimated market value of $863bn.

TikTok suppressed disabled users’ videos

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TikTok logo on phoneImage copyright Getty Images

Videos made by disabled users were deliberately prevented from going viral on TikTok by the firm’s moderators, the app has acknowledged.

The social network said the policy was introduced to reduce the amount of cyber-bullying on its platform, but added that it now recognised the approach had been flawed.

The measure was exposed by the German digital rights news site Netzpolitik.

Disability rights campaigners said the strategy had been “bizarre”.

A leaked extract from TikTok’s rulebook gave examples of what its moderators were instructed to be on the lookout for:

  • disabled people
  • people with facial disfigurements
  • people with other “facial problems” such as a birthmark or squint
  • Down’s syndrome
  • autism

Such users were “susceptible to bullying or harassment based on their physical or mental condition”, the guidelines added.

According to an unnamed TikTok source quoted by Netzpolitik, the moderators were told to limit viewership of affected users’ videos to the country where they were uploaded.

And in cases where the creators were judged to be particularly vulnerable, it reported that the moderators were ordered to prevent the clips from appearing in the app’s main video feed once they had reached between 6,000 to 10,000 views.

This video feed is auto-generated and personalised for each member. It accounts for where most people spend their time watching others’ content.

Netzpolitik reporter Chris Koever suggested the result was that the Chinese-owned firm had further victimised those affected “instead of policing the perpetrators”.

A spokesman for TikTok admitted it had made the wrong choice.

“Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy,” he told the BBC.

“This was never designed to be a long-term solution, and while the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong.

“We have long since removed the policy in favour of more nuanced anti-bullying policies.”

TikTok has not confirmed when it abandoned the measure, but Netzpolitik reported that it was still in force in September.

‘Actively excluded’

UK-based organisations have condemned the discovery.

“It’s good that TikTok has ended this bizarre policy,” Ceri Smith from the disability equality charity Scope said.

“Social media platforms must do more to tackle cyber-bullying, but hastily hiding away a group of users under the guise of protecting them is not the right approach at all.”

Anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label added that it hoped valuable lessons had been learned.

“It is concerning that young people with disabilities have been actively excluded from participating on a platform that prides itself as being fun and inclusive,” said chief executive Liam Hackett.

“This approach is discriminatory and further demonises disability, which we already know attracts a huge amount of abuse and intolerance.”

‘Consult users’

This is the latest in a series of controversies to affect the short-form video app in recent weeks.

In September, the Guardian reported that the app used to restrict or ban political content, including footage of the Tiananmen Square protests, that could be used to criticise the Chinese government.

The firm’s parent company Bytedance subsequently declined to testify to US Congress about its ties to China saying it had not been given enough warning.

Then last Wednesday, TikTok apologised to a US teenager for removing a video in which she had accused China of mistreating its Uighur Muslim population.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWATCH: Feroza Aziz rejected TikTok’s explanations for blocking her from its app

And it has since emerged that it is being sued by a US student who alleges that the firm surreptitiously transferred “vast quantities of private and personally identifiable user data” from the international version of its app to China. TikTok maintains it only stores US user data in the United States and Singapore.

For its part, Netzpolitik said it hoped the latest revelations would encourage the app to consult users before imposing potentially discriminatory changes.

“Basically any time you try to make a policy, ask those who will be affected by it,” said Ms Koever.

“That would be a good start.”

Amazon’s AI musical keyboard ‘sounds terrible’

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Amazon's music keyboard on a desk next to a laptop and headphonesImage copyright Amazon
Image caption Amazon’s new keyboard will be available in the US only at first, from early 2020

Amazon has unveiled a musical keyboard with a built-in artificial intelligence (AI) composer.

The AWS DeepComposer is a two-octave, 32-key keyboard that can connect to computers via a USB cable.

Users can play a short tune, or use a pre-recorded one, ask the keyboard to embellish it in one of four styles – jazz, classical, rock or pop – and then publish it on Soundcloud.

But one expert said the audio demo provided by Amazon was “terrible”.

‘Quick gimmick’

Prof Nick Collins, an expert on musical AI at Durham University, admitted it was difficult to evaluate the quality of DeepComposer based on the single audio example provided by Amazon in a blog.

“If I had to judge just based on what was on that web page, I wasn’t very impressed at all,” he told the BBC.

“It’s terrible. A musician with a basic sequencing ability could easily mock up better examples.”

A spokeswoman for Amazon said the device was intended for developers as a “fun and engaging way” to gain new skills.

Prof Collins said that, among more general users, it might fail to be seen as anything more than “a quick gimmick”.

Dr Oded Ben-Tal at Kingston University, who has worked on AI music projects, agreed.

“I see people doing this five times and then saying, ‘Yeah that’s fine,’ then [moving] on to something else,” he told the BBC.

Of the audio demo, he said: “I don’t think it sounds good.”

‘Deep-eche Mode’

Prof Collins even took issue with the name, adding that while he was intrigued by the rise of AI-enabled music tools and products in recent years, he was disappointed by their monikers.

“They haven’t even got to the best puns yet,” he said.

“I’ve been waiting for a system called Deep Purple or Deep-eche Mode but no-one’s done it yet.”

Image copyright Amazon

DeepComposer uses a form of deep-learning AI called a generative adversarial network, which uses one neural network to generate content and another to quality check it.

Such systems have been used to, for example, invent new levels of classic video games or modify photographs so they look like Van Gogh paintings.

The central idea in all these cases, DeepComposer included, is that AI can capture key features of an art form and transform other material so that it shares those features too.

DeepComposer will be available in the US only to begin with, from early 2020, and cost $99 (£76).

Facebook bows to Singapore’s ‘fake news’ law with post ‘correction’

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Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of the Facebook logo.Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Facebook said it was following the law by adding the correction label

Facebook has added a correction notice to a post that Singapore’s government said contained false information.

It is the first time Facebook has issued such a notice under the city-state’s controversial “fake news” law.

Singapore claimed the post, by fringe news site States Times Review (STR), contained “scurrilous accusations”.

The note issued by the social media giant said it “is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”.

Facebook’s addition was embedded at the bottom of the original post, which was not altered. It was only visible to social media users in Singapore.

In an emailed statement to the BBC, Facebook said it had applied a label to a post “determined by the Singapore government to contain false information”, as required under the “fake news” law.

The company – which has its Asia headquarters in the city-state – said it hoped assurances that the law would not impact on free expression “will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation”.

How did we get here?

The States Times Review post contained accusations about the arrest of an alleged whistleblower and election-rigging.

The government said no one had been arrested, and accused the STR of making “scurrilous accusations against the elections department, the prime minister, and the election process in Singapore”.

Image copyright Gov.sg/Screenshot
Image caption A post on the Singaporean government website said the STR post contained false statements

Authorities ordered editor Alex Tan to correct the post but the Australian citizen refused, saying he would “not comply with any order from a foreign government“.

Authorities then called on Facebook to “publish a correction notice” in line with the “fake news” law passed earlier this year.

What is the ‘fake news’ law?

The law, known as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill, came into effect in October.

It allows the government to order online platforms to remove and correct what it deems to be false statements that are “against the public interest”.

A person found guilty of doing this in Singapore could be fined heavily and face a prison sentence of up to five years.

The law also bans the use of fake accounts or bots to spread fake news – this carries penalties of up to S$1m (£563,000, $733,700) and a jail term of up to 10 years.

What’s been said about it?

Critics say the law threatens freedom of expression. Amnesty International said it would “give authorities unchecked powers to clamp down on online views of which it disapproves”.

But Singapore’s law minister said free speech “should not be affected by this bill”, adding that it was aimed only at tackling “falsehoods, bots, trolls and fake accounts”.

The government has argued that the law safeguards against abuse of power by allowing judicial reviews of its orders.

Has anyone else been affected?

Singapore’s government invoked the law for the first time on Monday to order opposition politician Brad Bowyer to correct a Facebook post questioning the independence of state investment funds.

Mr Bowyer complied, adding a note to the post saying it “contains false statements of fact”.

On the same day, Mr Bowyer wrote a new post saying he was “not against being asked to make clarifications or corrections especially if it is in the public interest”.

But on Thursday, Mr Bowyer clarified his earlier statement, saying: “Although I have no problems in following the law…that does not mean that I agree with the position they are taking or admit to any false statements on my part.”

He also said that, under the law, he must post the correction notice “regardless of whether I make an appeal”.

You might also be interested in:

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Media captionWhen misinformation leads to death threats

Apple to take ‘deeper look’ at disputed borders

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Apple Map showing CrimeaImage copyright Apple Maps
Image caption Apple Maps does not show a border between Crimea and Russia, to the east

Apple says it is taking “a deeper look” at how it handles disputed borders.

Ukraine criticised the tech giant for showing Crimea as part of Russia’s territory on its Maps and Weather apps.

An Apple spokeswoman says the company follows international and domestic laws and the change, which is only for users in Russia, had been made because of new legislation there.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 was condemned by much of the international community.

In a statement, Apple stressed “we have not made any changes to Apple Maps regarding Crimea outside of Russia.

“We review international law as well as relevant US and other domestic laws before making a determination in labelling on our Maps and make changes if required by law.”

Apple added it as a result of its review of how disputed borders are handled, it might make more changes in the future.

“Our intention is to make sure our customers can enjoy using Maps and other Apple services, everywhere in the world.”

Ukrainian condemnation

The changes to Apple’s Crimea map for users in Russia were announced earlier in the week by the State Duma, Russian parliament’s lower house, in a statement, which described the former boundaries as an “inaccuracy”.

“Crimea and Sevastopol now appear on Apple devices as Russian territory,” the statement read.

Russia treats the naval port city of Sevastopol as a separate region.

Apple has been in talks with Russia for several months and had hoped to keep Crimea as an undefined territory, part of neither Russia nor Ukraine.

Google, which produces its own popular map app, also shows Crimea as belonging to Russia when viewed from the country. That change happened in March.

Apple’s move brought sharp condemnation from Ukraine.

Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko tweeted: “Apple, please stick to hi-tech and entertainment. Global politics is not your strong side.”

Ukraine’s US embassy was equally critical on Twitter.

“We guess Ukrainians not giving any thanks to @Apple this #Thanksgiving. So let’s all remind Apple that #CrimeaIsUkraine and it is under Russian occupation – not its sovereignty,” it tweeted.

Russian ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov added his voice, calling the decision “unacceptable appeasement”.

He added: “Software is soft power. American tech companies should stand up for the values of innovation that made their success possible, not bow down to dictators for a little extra cash they don’t even need.”

Amazon: What does ‘peak season’ mean for employees?

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Amazon fulfilment centreImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Amazon’s fulfilment centres are huge out-of-town warehouses

Amazon orders are pouring into warehouses around the world as people rush to buy Christmas gifts and take advantage of Black Friday deals.

But for those fulfilling these orders, peak season – as workers call the run-up to Christmas – is not especially festive.

It means long hours, hard work and for some, difficult decisions.

One young woman working at an Amazon warehouse in the US describes driving hundreds of miles to drop her child with his father for the whole Christmas period. Her schedule means she cannot look after him.

She posted a picture of herself and her child in their car on a Facebook group.

The BBC gained access to the group, which has 20,000 members, and is a place where workers discuss their jobs, lives and working conditions.

Image caption Work at the Manchester Airport site is organised and seems fairly leisurely on the day I visited

Amazon insists that it pays industry-leading wages and that working conditions in its warehouses are very good.

Jeff Bezos, chief executive and one of the world’s richest men, has resisted calls for unionisation.

The Facebook group paints a complex picture of the firm.

Lots of people say they are worried about being fired.

Some (but not many) of the group appear to enjoy their jobs; lots of people make light of their daily routines with black humour, memes and videos. Sometimes they share good news about promotions or bosses spontaneously buying them pizza.

One has posted a live video of recent protests at a Staten Island warehouse alleging poor working conditions.

The first comment below it reads: “They will take names and six months from now none of those people protesting will be working there any more.”

Others point out that there did not seem to be much of a crowd, with some saying that while they agreed with the sentiment, it was “stupid” to protest.

Amazon told the BBC: “Fewer than five Amazon associates participated in the event outside the Staten Island fulfilment centre. It was obvious to the 4,500 full-time workforce that an outside organisation used our building and the upcoming retail holidays to raise its own visibility and spread misinformation.

“The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience, and the notable lack of Amazon employee participation shows that associates know this to be true.”

‘No more than five deaths’

One woman on bereavement leave is concerned that she won’t have a job when she returns because she is not sure how many times she is allowed to “be off” for family funerals. She seeks advice on the group.

“No more than five deaths” replies one.

Amazon responded: “Employees have time-off options they can choose to use if they would like.”

Another person on the group alleges that they earned just $20 (£15.50) for working an extra day while having $198 deducted for one sick day.

And another describes a car accident she had on the way to work.

After treatment in hospital, she called in to work to show her discharge papers to “prove” to HR that she has good reason for not being at work.

Even though the doctor prescribed bed rest for two-to-four days, the woman says she was advised she needed to return to her manager and start her shift, four hours into it. Not doing so will mean she falls into negative PTO/UPT (paid time off/unpaid time off).

The woman pointed out she couldn’t lift any objects and was on a lot of medication. She does the sensible thing and goes home. The next day she alleges she was fired.

Amazon said it could not comment on specific cases without names and the BBC has decided not to reveal the identities of those in the group.

The woman’s post receives a mixed response. One worker tells her she needs to start a lawsuit, saying that her bosses had agreed a settlement after she took them to court.

But another says she shouldn’t have used up all her UPT, as that is what it is for.

What no-one says is that she should take her case to a union.

Image caption Many fulfilment centres now employ robots (moving shelves essentially) to carry goods around the warehouse

On a recent visit to a fulfilment centre at Manchester Airport, I asked general manager Neil Travis why the firm was so against unionisation.

“We provide industry-leading pay and benefits and we deal directly with our team. We’d rather hear directly from them in terms of whether there are any issues, whether there is anything they want to share with us and whether there is anything we can do to help them,” he tells me.

“We have a forum that represents people within our building. We’d rather just have direct conversations with the people that work here, and that has been fairly well-received and respected by our teams.”

The UK’s GMB union said of Mr Travis’s response: “Amazon bosses are burying their heads in the sand if they don’t think they have a problem. Conditions are appalling.

“Their forum is clearly not fit for purpose. Amazon needs to get round the table with GMB and discuss ways to make their workplaces safer and to give their workers an independent voice.”

Amazon hit back, describing the union as “self-interested critics with a vested interest in spreading misinformation about Amazon”.

“The truth is that Amazon already offers industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits, as well as a safe, modern work environment.”

Accidents and incidents

A Freedom of Information request, sent to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive by the union and shared with the BBC, suggested that reports of serious incidents at the Manchester Airport site had doubled over the past three years, from 10 in 2016/17 to 22 in 2018/19.

The reports include cases of workers fracturing bones, another suffering concussion, falls and a collision with heavy equipment.

Image caption The robot-powered shelves contain a variety of goods

For injuries to be reported to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive under Riddor (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation) they must be:

  • from a list of specified injuries, including fractures, amputations, sight loss, crush injury, burns
  • so serious that the person has to have seven days off work

When I visit, a notice board in the lobby proudly proclaims that there have been 33 days since the last incident, although Mr Travis cannot say what that was. It turned out to have been a minor fall.

Meanwhile, evidence is mounting in the US that working conditions could be improved.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in its recent report, Time Off Task, that employees at the Staten Island distribution centre were encouraged to work faster and limit breaks, causing physical pain in 66% of the 145 workers surveyed.

Amazon dismissed the survey as “biased”, saying only a fraction of workers were questioned.

But an exclusive report from tech website Gizmodo suggested that Amazon’s own figures submitted to the OSHA revealed “staggering” injury rates at the warehouse.

According to one lawyer, they are higher than the national warehouse average and industries known to be dangerous, such as waste collection and policing.

In response, Amazon told the BBC a “snapshot of injury recordings” was misleading, adding that it invested heavily in safety.

“Safety training is constant, both in making sure employees know how best to work with the technology in the facility and also how to prevent injuries.

“There’s a dramatic level of under-recording of safety incidents across the industry. We recognised this in 2016 and began to take an aggressive stance on recording injuries, no matter how big or small, which can result in elevated recordable rates and makes comparisons difficult.”

Last month a worker died in an Amazon warehouse in Ohio. Although Billy Foister had a previous heart condition, and there is no suggestion his death was caused by working there, it is claimed his collapse went unnoticed at first, with co-workers told to go back to work.

On the Facebook group seen by the BBC, people claiming to have worked alongside him say that he had visited the warehouse’s medical clinic the week before, complaining of chest pains, but was not given any time off.

Amazon said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of one of our associates”.

“Billy Foister experienced a personal medical incident onsite and lost consciousness.

“Several trained and certified Amazon team members responded within three minutes to administer CPR and the AED (defibrillator) and did all they could to support him until local EMS (emergency medical services) arrived, within 10 minutes, to transport him to the hospital for further treatment.”

My trip to an Amazon warehouse

Image caption The worker bee has been a symbol of Manchester for centuries

On the wall of the Manchester Airport fulfilment centre is a worker bee – a symbol of Manchester since the 1800s, when the city was full of textile mills, commonly described as hives of activity, with the workers the “bees”.

Amazon’s fulfilment centres are the digital age’s equivalent and working conditions are undoubtedly a vast improvement on the mills of old.

It is far less frenetic than I expected. There are not hundreds of people hunched over workstations – in fact there are far more robots than people on the floor I visited.

Image caption I had a go at packing. I manage one parcel but the packer showing me the ropes told me he can do 230 per hour

General manager Mr Travis points out that the company runs public tours, with members of the public and schoolchildren invited to see conditions for themselves.

Excellent Cant Ride With Me By SKVD Rock Song

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Going through daily activities feels empty without listening to music or favorite songs at all.

Of the millions of songs available, there must be some of your favorite songs regardless of genre and origin, one of them is a domestic rap song, such as the song Cant Ride With Me which is sung by SKVD Rock.

Cant Ride With Me song is highly recommended by song observers from developed countries.
Please watch the following video to enjoy a song from SKVD Rock titled Cant Ride With Me

Holy Smoke Records Presents:

Cant Ride With Me, by: Skvd Rock
filmed and edited by: High Priest

TikTok apologises and reinstates banned US teen

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Media captionFeroza Aziz: “I’m not scared of TikTok”

Chinese-owned social network TikTok has apologised to a US teenager who was blocked from the service after she posted a viral clip criticising China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims.

The firm said it had now lifted the ban, maintaining it was due to 17-year-old Feroza Aziz’s prior conduct on the app – and unrelated to Chinese politics.

Additionally, the firm said “human moderation error” was to blame for the video being taken down on Thursday for almost an hour.

TIkTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has insisted it does not apply Chinese moderation principles to its product outside of mainland China.

Ms Aziz posted on Twitter that she did not accept the firm’s explanation.

“Do I believe they took it away because of a unrelated satirical video that was deleted on a previous deleted account of mine? Right after I finished posting a three-part video about the Uighurs? No.”

Image copyright TikTok
Image caption Ms Aziz said she wanted to raise awareness about China’s detainment of “innocent Muslims”

In an interview with BBC News reporter Vivienne Nunis, Ms Aziz said: “I will continue to talk about it, and I will talk about it on Twitter, on Instagram, on any platform I have, even TikTok.

“I’m not scared of TikTok, even after the suspension. I won’t be scared of TikTok.”

TikTok explanation

Eric Han, TikTok’s head of safety for the US, said Ms Aziz had been banned earlier this month after she posted a video containing an image of Osama Bin Laden.

“While we recognise that this video may have been intended as satire,” Mr Han said, “our policies on this front are currently strict.”

When TikTok bans users, it also prevents the same device being used to set up another account.

It was on a new account, set up on the same device, that Ms Aziz posted her video about the Uighurs, done in the style of a make-up tutorial, a popular genre on the network.

TikTok said that account was disabled after it ran a “platform-wide enforcement” that locked out Ms Aziz’s device, as well as 2,406 devices belonging to other users who had fallen foul of the site’s policies.

Mr Han wrote: “Because the user’s banned account (@getmefamousplzsir) was associated with the same device as her second account (@getmefamouspartthree), this had the effect of locking her out of being able to access her second, active account from that device.

“However, the account itself remained active and accessible, with its videos continuing to receive views.”

Image copyright Reuters

But on Thursday morning, the viral video – which has been viewed more than nine million times, across multiple networks – was also removed from TikTok, due to what Mr Han described as a “human moderation error”.

“It’s important to clarify that nothing in our community guidelines precludes content such as this video, and it should not have been removed,” he said.

“We would like to apologise to the user for the error on our part this morning.”

Rapid growth, added scrutiny

Human Rights Watch told the BBC that a lack of transparency is deserving of increased scrutiny.

“It is hard for outsiders to know the real reasons for the suspension of Aziz’s account,” said Yaqiu Wa, the non-profit’s China researcher.

“TikTok does not make public the data on the videos it removes or the users it suspends, or the artificial intelligence tools it uses to determine the removals and suspensions.

“While TikTok has repeatedly stressed that it does not take orders from the Chinese government in terms of what content it promotes or removes outside of China, it has done little to quench the suspicion, given that all Chinese companies are not only accountable to its shareholders, but also to the Chinese Communist Party.”

The incident marks an early, high-profile censorship dispute for TikTok, a network which has exploded in popularity over the past two years.

Globally, the app has now been downloaded 1.5 billion times, according to mobile intelligence analysts Sensor Tower.

It looks set to end 2019 as the third most-downloaded non-gaming app, ahead of rivals Facebook and Instagram.

That surge in popularity has caused concern in Western markets, due to the nature of its Chinese ownership.

In the US, TikTok’s deal to buy Musical.ly, a music-based social network, is now being examined by the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The committee is looking specifically at data storage and privacy practices.

In February the firm was handed the largest ever fine for a US case involving children’s data privacy. The company agreed to pay $5.7m (£4.3m) over its handling of data on users who were under 13, acquired thanks to its takeover of Musical.ly.

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