News Republic app censored stories on topics sensitive to China
A POPULAR English language news app now owned by Chinese social media company TikTok was censoring stories about Tibet and the Dalai Lama, both of which are not recognised by the ruling communist party in China.
News Republic, which was abruptly shuttered in English-speaking markets in May, had a blacklist of topics that its algorithmic news aggregator was prohibited from sharing, according to claims made by a source who asked to remain anonymous. The app, which was downloaded by 5million people in the US and UK since 2014, recommends headlines based on interests of users.
It also takes account of news they have read and what users with similar reading habits pick. Founded in France, where it still operates, it was bought in 2016 by Cheetah Mobile, a Chinese software giant, after winning a bidding war against ByteDance.
News Republic was told to set up a filter removing articles with slang and offensive language as well as words like
“freedom of the press”, “Tibet” and “Dalai Lama”, the source claimed. ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, eventually bought News Republic for a reported $86m in 2017.
TikTok did not confirm whether it was aware of the blacklist when it bought News Republic, which part- nered with a number of news organisations including Sky, The Telegraph, The
Guardian, the BBC, CNN and USA Today. A ByteDance spokesman said: “The period in question was prior to our acquisition of News Republic from
Cheetah Mobile, and the alleged policies do not in any way reflect those after the acquisition.”
ByteDance is currently in crunch talks over a sale to Microsoft, Oracle and numerous American investors after President Donald Trump threatened that it would be banned if it remained wholly Chinese owned.
Washington has repeatedly claimed ByteDance, Huawei and other Chinese companies operating in the US pose a national security risk because of a law introduced in China in 2017 that obligates Chinese companies to support and work with the country’s national intelligence services. ByteDance said it plans to file a lawsuit in retaliation.
ByteDance admitted to censoring
say LED lights suck up a lot of energy and their sustainability credentials are not foolproof.
Lloyd-Jones retorts: “It’s a lazy argument against vertical farming. Yes, it needs a lot of energy, but you can use your renewable energy. What’s the real energy cost when you are using a tractor, are having employees drive to a farm and using heavy machinery, and putting produce into big lorries and flying it all over the world?”
Vertical farms are also relatively limited in terms of what they can grow. It is not practical to grow tall trees, which take up a lot of space and time to mature, nor to cultivate commodities such as bulk grains or cereals with wafer-thin profit margins.
“I don’t foresee a time where you are going to grow potatoes in vertical farms,” says Stewart McGuire, a former Credit Suisse analyst who now runs Ocado’s ventures business.
“The value in vertical farming is when you have a crop that is especially valuable on a per kilogram basis like lemon grass and basil where the majority of the plant created is edible. You don’t eat the tree of the apple tree.”
Ocado ploughed £17m in vertical farming last year. It invested in both Lloyd-Jones’s JFC, plus a joint venture with a Dutch firm that provides climate control technology alongside an American vertical farm business.
“We want to have a bit more flexibility across the whole sector,” says McGuire. “Having a farm [JFC] already at scale eliminates some of the pitfalls of just trying to rely on what might seem an interesting
TikTok videos that mentioned Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence and the banned religious group Falun Gong, up until May. It has since changed this policy.
New York-listed Cheetah Mobile is most well known in the west for an app named Clean Master, which was banned from the Android Play Store in February in a wider crackdown on “disruptive” mobile advertising and fraud. It was not available for comment. News Republic is now wholly owned by TikTok UK.
technology.” Ocado thinks it can use vertical farming to its advantage after it largely anticipated the shift to online grocery shopping. It has ambitions to sell vertical farming to other retailers across the world.
“Together we could have a system that is highly automated, highly efficient and fully integrated that people could use,” says McGuire. “It should be built and operated by people who just wanted to operate them as opposed to people who are either farmers or in vertical farming.”
The online grocer’s chief executive also believes vertical farms could be built next to its depots, especially the mini ones that serve its speedy delivery service Zoom, to deliver fresh ingredients.
Ocado’s investment adds credibility to a sector that has already been littered with collapses. The units themselves require relatively high upfront investment. Then there is the cost of securing the land, be it urban or in the countryside, which could be financially ruinous if farms do not sell enough goods.
McGuire says: “It’s a fairly nascent industry, the winners and losers are not understood yet.”