Friday, November 29, 2013

Google restricts KitKat updates, bans Cyanogen from Play store

Google has angered many owners of older Nexus devices by refusing to roll out the latest version of Android Kit Kat despite the fact such devices are capable of running the software. Furthermore the search giant has effectively ousted Cyanogen from its Play store which had provided software which allowed users to install such operating systems manually.

The moves have signalled a distinct change in the way the company behaves to its massive user base and an apparent shift away from previously stated policies.

Abandoned promises

Ever since the launch of Google's line of Nexus phones the company promised users they would always be the first to receive the latest updates. Nexus devices run on what is often referred to as stock Android or Vanilla Android, a version of the Android operating system which omits much of the bloatware often added by other manufacturers. Fans of Google and Android devices often state that stock Android is far superior to that offered on other devices and as such have opted to only purchase Google's line of Nexus devices.

The first device to appear under the Nexus brand was the Nexus One, but with limited memory it was only able to upgrade to Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread. Soon after The Nexus One fell out of favour the Nexus S took centre stage. It was faster than the previous device and possessed more memory though it can only be updated to Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.

In November 2011 came the Galaxy Nexus which launched with  Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and later, for most users, updated to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. However there the updates stopped, despite the device having sufficient RAM to house the latest software build that of Android 4.4 KitKat.


Google merely states that the Galaxy Nexus won't receive an update because the device has fallen out of its 18 month update cycle despite the fact the device was on sale less than 12 months ago. The decision has angered Galaxy Nexus owners who feel they have been lied to by a company that promised they would always be first to receive new software updates, given technical specifications allowed. It has prompted some to launch a petition which aims to persuade Google to change its mind [].

Those writing on forums have expressed dismay at Google's decision claiming that the company has broken its promise to those who bought Nexus devices.

"I purchased my Galaxy Nexus a little over a year ago - why? Because at the time, Google maintained the line that all supported Galaxy phones would be updated to the latest version of Android. No rooting or flashing, I got every update," one angry Galaxy Nexus owner posted on the Inquirer website. "So what the heck are they thinking now? The KitKat update not only supports my phone, but it's just a .4 release. And it's not like getting an OS update would keep me from buying the new phone with better hardware. If anything, it makes me hesitant to buy the new one when there's a chance I'll get burned like this again. This breaks every promise I was sold."

In fact many also accuse the company of ignoring or abandoning its much stated green credentials suggesting that junking a perfectly good phone for a new Nexus 5 in order to take advantage of Android KitKat is not exactly environmentally friendly.

Mixed opinions

However some have suggested that all the complaints are unwarranted given the Galaxy Nexus is some two years old, or that KitKat, despite some improvements, is not worth getting frustrated about.

On one Google+ post there are mixed opinions some accusing Google, others accusing the carriers and even the components' manufacturers. Others suggest installing 4.4 manually, though this does require a certain amount of technical knowledge, patience and comes with some risk.

Manual installation

There are some articles to be found on the subject of installing Android KitKat on the Galaxy Nexus. The IBTimes goes into great depth, describing the procedure using CyanogenMod a specialist tool that enables Android users flash different ROMs or software onto their devices.

However in a move that some may see as particularly vindictive, Google requested Cyanogen remove their free application from the Google Play store.

The app had been available in the Google Play store since 12th November this year and Cyanogen claims "hundreds of thousands" of users have installed it already. But on Wednesday the Cyanogen team apparently received an email from Google informing them that the CyanogenMod Installer violated Google Play's terms and conditions.

"After reaching out to the Play team their feedback was that though the application itself is harmless, since it 'encourages users to void their warranty', it would not be allowed to remain in the store," the software developers said in a blog post [Phandroid / Register].

Commercial considerations

Google's move could well be seen as a further attempt to encourage users to purchase its new flagship Nexus 5 phone rather than hold on to their older devices. However, the attitude and apparent signs of contempt for older Nexus phone owners could work against the company, at least in the short or medium term.

Google certainly has commercial obligations and considerations. Having signed Nestle with its KitKat name tie-in and with shares now hovering at over $1,000 Google might be seen as having forgotten its customer base, a core of consumers that has stuck with the company from the beginning. With feelings already soured by concerns over privacy and potential leaks or sharing data with the NSA - which Google denies - there are many bridges need mending. Destroying more bridges is not the way of maintaining customer loyalty.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Western media begins self censorship in China

It has long been the case that Chinese media kowtows to the state, publishing only stories sanctioned by government censors and binning reports considered too sensitive. The reasoning is one of self preservation by journalists, reporters and organisations that would otherwise find themselves in hot water. But western journalists and media organisations have often ignored the rules that Chinese journalists have to abide by, delving into subjects and reporting on issues which could land their Chinese colleagues in jail.

Kowtowing to a "Nazi state"

However there appears to be a change in mood with some media companies beginning to kowtow to Chinese authorities, burying stories and self censoring in order to maintain their presence in China. Such behaviour has been criticised by some journalists who liken it to Nazi-era Germany, where news organizations had censored themselves to maintain access to the country.

Such self censoring has come about due to a sustained barrage of attacks by Chinese authorities on western media outlets and its journalists. Following the publication of stories deemed too critical China has blocked Internet access to the specific news organisation's website or refused visa extensions or renewals to journalists.

In the past few years several big names have been targeted after they printed stories delving into party corruption and details of China's leaders' financial affairs.

Critical reporting

In October 2012 China blocked both the Chinese and English versions of the New York Times' websites following a report which looked into Premier Wen Jiabao's relatives accumulation of billions of dollars. The article claimed that Wen's family members "have controlled assets worth at least $2.7bn (£1.7bn)", though it did not make a direct accusation of any misconduct, by either Wen or his family.

Nonetheless, the inference was there, and China condemned the publication as a "smear" and accused the New York Times of having "ulterior motives" [BBC].

A few months earlier Bloomberg had also been censured after it had dared to publish financial details of Xi Jinping's family [Guardian]  

The stories came at a particularly sensitive time for China as it was about to embark on its once in a decade change of leadership. Sensitive reports of an outgoing premier, Wen Jiabao, and an incoming president, Xi Jinping, were unlikely to be ignored by China.

Savage response

However their reaction was far more severe than many might have anticipated, and the fallout far larger than one could have imagined.

Some journalists received death threats following the Xi Jinping reports. Leta Hong Fincher, a well-known academic in China who is married to Bloomberg News correspondent Mike Forsythe, posted a tweet in October 2012 saying "we got death threats after Bloomberg story on Xi Jinping" [Business Insider].

The situation has intensified with forced resignations, buried stories and further news blackouts. This month Bloomberg suspended Michael Forsythe, a Hong Kong based journalist who has written many award-winning investigative articles on China [NYT].

Bloomberg gave no explanation of his suspension, nor his eventual departure from the media outlet, but the move came only days after several news outlets, including the New York Times, published reports quoting unnamed Bloomberg employees saying that top editors, led by Matthew Winkler, the editor in chief, decided in late October not to publish an investigative article because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China.

Bloomberg had apparently kowtowed to the Chinese after months, if not years of web blocks, and expulsions targeted against western media.

Expulsions & visa refusals

This month foreign correspondent Paul Mooney, an American who has covered China for the past eighteen years, for Newsweek, the South China Morning Post, and others, became the latest to be denied a visa [Business Insider].

In 2012 Al-Jazeera journalist Melissa Chan was essentially expelled after being refused a visa, finally forcing the news station to shut down its Beijing bureau [NYT / tvnewswatch: Doubltalk & memory holes as Melissa Chan expelled - May 2012]. The war against journalists has been a long one however. Andrew Higgins, a correspondent for London's Independent newspaper, was expelled in 1991 after being found with confidential information about a supposed crackdown on Inner Mongolian nationalists.

The expulsions and censorship has not stopped. This last month saw the Chinese versions of the Wall Street Journal and Reuters websites blocked [Tech In Asia]. The reason was not immediately clear though the blocks came only days after the Communist Party's 3rd Plenum meeting ended and media were publishing their analyses.

Embarrassing stories

The latest round of censorship also coincided with the publication of a story revealing ties between former premier Wen Jiabao's daughter and the US finance company JP Morgan [NYT / NYT / Reuters - Chinese].

Wen Runchun had been using an alias reported to have been government approved and an effort to hide her links to the inner government circle. Her chosen alias of Lily Chang has itself sparked considerable debate. Chang is a common Chinese surname, though it could also be an alternative form of English spelling for the widely used Chinese last name Zhang, often used by Taiwanese or overseas Chinese.

Zhang is the surname of Wen Jiabao's wife, Zhang Peili, a geologist and a former vice-president of the Chinese Jewelry Association. And while her adopted surname matched that of her mother's, albeit with the Taiwanese spelling, 'Lily' seems to have partially reflected her mother's given name, 'Peili'.

Though adopting an alias to cover up a notable family background is believed to be common practise among the children of the elite, Chinese microbloggers have pointed out that forging ID documents is a crime under the law in China.

United States authorities are also scrutinizing JPMorgan's ties to Ms. Wen, aka Lily Chang, as part of a wider bribery investigation into whether the bank swapped contracts and jobs for business deals with state-owned Chinese companies, according to the documents and interviews. The bank, which is cooperating with the inquiries and conducting its own internal review, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the reports are further embarrassment to the Chinese Communist Party, and a story like many others they would rather suppress [SCMP].

Battle lines

Thus comes the censorship with China blocking websites. Some groups have attempted to thwart such efforts by creating mirror websites and using a subpath of Amazon and Google's domains that support HTTPS access. This essentially means that China would need to block both hosting domains run by Google and Amazon to kill access to the mirror sites such as this one for the Chinese version of Reuters [The Next Web].

Of course censors could block Amazon or Google's domains entirely though doing so could create big problems for thousands of Chinese web services which also use their services. However pressure from China could force the web companies themselves to self censor. Google has already made its feelings clear on the matter of censorship and China and may be reluctant to play ball. Amazon might have more to lose financially and could possibly cave in to government pressure.

China certainly appears to be taking a harder line on Western media which it sees as a major threat. A leaked internal Communist Party document from April listed "Western media" as one of seven threats against which the Party must be vigilant.

"The ultimate goal of advocating Western views of media is to hawk the principle of abstract and absolute freedom of press, oppose the Party's leadership in the media, and gouge an opening through which to infiltrate our ideology," the document said [Global Post].

White flags

And with the media clearly in the gun sights some organisations are clearly raising a white flag. In early November Bloomberg editor Matthew Winkler is said to have pulled an investigative report which detailed the hidden financial ties between one of the wealthiest men in China and the families of top Chinese leaders. Less than a week later, a second article, about the children of senior Chinese officials employed by foreign banks, was also declared dead, according to Bloomberg employees that spoke anonymously to the New York Times.

When challenged on the issue Winkle insisted that the articles in question were not killed. "The stories are active and not spiked," he told the NYT in an email.

However the supposed spiked stories comes only weeks before high profile visits to China by two senior Bloomberg figures. Daniel L. Doctoroff, the chief executive of Bloomberg L.P., the parent company, is expected to travel to China in the coming weeks. And the company's billionaire founder, Michael R. Bloomberg, told Forbes this autumn that he plans to go to China soon after stepping down as New York City's mayor in January to "give some speeches on behalf of the company."

Protecting assets

Should Bloomberg have gone to press with more unsavoury revelations about China's elite, these excursions could become rather uncomfortable. Furthermore Bloomberg has also seen a small part of its financial arm, and perhaps the most lucrative element of its business, dwindle in China. Financial news terminal subscriptions, which cost more than $20,000 per year and are the main revenue generator for Bloomberg, slowed for a spell in China, after officials issued orders to some Chinese companies to avoid buying subscriptions.

Bloomberg's financial services are a major cash cow and the observation did not go unnoticed by satirical Hong Kong based news outlet Next Media, which mocked Bloomberg's self censorship via a video posted on YouTube [Sinosphere].  

Jokes aside there is a serious issue as to whether the true nature of journalism can be maintained in China when news organisations are going to censor what they report. If Bloomberg are censoring whole stories could they also be censoring parts of a story thus failing to give the whole picture behind a single report. Such questions could play in the minds of  Bloomberg readers who may turn away from the news organisation if trust in their reporting begins to wane.

Losing integrity

But what of other news organisations working out of China. If Bloomberg is kowtowing, who is to say others are not acquiescing to Chinese demands.

Media organisations may lose in the short term by failing to give in to China's demands on not reporting certain stories. They may find themselves effectively expelled from China with visa refused, resident permits revoked and websites blocked. But the reputation of media organisations who stay and kowtow could be irreparably damaged [New Yorker].

The truth always emerges eventually, despite any attempt by the state to cover things up. In fact by attempting to hide things may often create more problems and foster rumours or conspiracy theories far more elaborate that the basic truth would have ever done.

A case in point is the fact that John F Kennedy may well have died from a wound inflicted by a bullet accidentally fired from a secret service rifle [NBC]. Yet the subsequent attempt to cover up the accident has itself created more conspiracy theories than one can imagine.  

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blocked website list grows in war on piracy

When one thinks of Internet censorship and blocks on websites one generally focuses upon China, however many western countries, including the UK, are also beginning to censor the web.

Differing standards

While China is focused more on stopping access to information deemed controversial, sharing material outside the Communist Party's control on social media or inciting dissent, the West is more concerned about online piracy and copyright infringement.

Britain in particular has begun to force ISPs [Internet Service Providers] to stop access to many file sharing websites and the list is getting longer.

UK censorship

In May 2012 Virgin Media and several other ISPs complied with a court order asking them to prevent access to the torrent site Pirate Bay [tvnewswatch: Internet censorship a step closer after Pirate Bay is blocked]

It was the first sledgehammer blow, enforced by law, since the Digital Act became law in April 2010, passed after what was seen as a grandiose display of apathy [tvnewswatch: UK: Anger as MPs pass digital bill]

There had been some amendments to the bill before it became law, however the main tenet remained in place, that of clause 8 which stated, "The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the Internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright."

Unfounded fears

While, as some feared, whole sections of otherwise legitimate of the Internet have not been targeted, such as Google's Blogger, YouTube or cloud services, other more blatant file sharing sites have been struck down with court orders.

After Pirate Bay was blocked in May last year those that ran the site began to set up several proxies. This certainly kept some traffic heading their way although the list of proxies has also been gradually added to the ISP's blocked list.

Growing list

Others that have been targeted include EZTV, BeeMP3, Filestube and Filecrop but that list is far from complete. Indeed while the likes of Virgin, BT, Sky, PlusNet, O2  and EE are open in their willing to comply with court orders none are willing to provide a detailed list of what is blocked.

For the average consumer there is perhaps no real reason to fret, after all most of the sites are in essence illegal in that they are sharing copyrighted material. However the risk is that such censorship could spread to more mainstream sites. It is unlikely that YouTube would be blocked, despite the mountains of films and albums uploaded to the site. However foreign clones such as China's Youku or Tudou could very easily become targeted for its often blatant and unhindered distribution of the latest Hollywood films.


In response to the blocks many filesharing sites have set up proxy sites, which weren't initially blocked because they weren't named in the court order. However, since June 2013 ISPs are blocking a huge number of proxies as well [The Inquirer].

Even without proxies, it is possible for the determined to get around the blocking method the ISPs use. One method is, of course, to change to a small ISP such as Zen Internet or Eclipse Internet which have yet to impose such blocks. Few are likely to uproot themselves in order to obtain a less restricted Internet. Furthermore such providers may not be as good on other fronts, such as speed or reliability [Choose].


The only real escape for Internet users in Britain and elsewhere, who insist on wanting to download music or films from the Internet is to use a VPN [Virtual Private Network]. Even this has its pitfalls however. When routing through a VPN the speed can be cut dramatically, and whilst normal browsing might not be noticeable the download of a film or album could take hours instead of minutes. A VPN can also cost as much as $120 a year thus the free download may not be as free as it once was, and with the added problem of slow download speeds it could be more trouble than it's worth to grab that 'free' movie, after all 'Time is Money'. And with relatively cheap streaming services such as Netflix and LoveFilm, or video vaults such as Google Play or Flixster providing access to movies purchased either physically, through Flixster's Ultraviolet partnership, or virtually, online piracy could wane merely because of an issue of convenience.


There are however other reasons to use a VPN, other than getting on Facebook in China or downloading a Torrent from Pirate Bay in the UK, and that is better privacy and security. With Snowden's revelations and concerns about government snooping, which have been growing for some time [tvnewswatch: Britain to increase data surveillance powers April 2012 / tvnewswatch: Thoughtcrime nears with social media tracking tool Feb 2013], maybe a VPN isn't such a bad idea!

Final note

This is the most definitive list one has been able to establish of sites blocked by ISPs in Britain: : The Pirate Bay, Kat, H33t, Fenopy, 1337x, BitSnoop, ExtraTorrent, Monova, TorrentCrazy, TorrentDownloads, TorrentHound, Torrentreactor and Torrentz. And the aggregators: Abmp3, BeeMP3, Bomb-MP3, eMP3World, FilesCrop, FilesTube, MP3Juices, MP3Lemon, MP3Raid, MP3Skull, NewAlbumReleases and RapidLibrary. Yify-Torrents, Project-Free TV, Primewire, Vodly and Watchfreemovies have also been added to the list and set to be blocked by the end of November. Meanwhile movie-streaming sites SolarMovie and Tubeplus were added to the list only this week.

But at least news websites are still accessible, for now. In China The Chinese language versions of Reuters and the Wall Street Journal came under the sledgehammer yesterday [Tech in Asia]. They join a long line of western media news websites which have been deemed unsuitable for Chinese citizen's eyes.

tvnewswatch, London, UK