This week The Asia Digital Life Project introduces a new feature: a weekly roundup of all our posts from the previous week called our Week in Review. In it, we cast an eye backward over the news and commentary we highlighted on this page (and at our Google+ mirror page) in the previous week and use the opportunity to look for patterns, trends and insights we might have missed at the time, when we had only a single post on our mind. We’ll also use it as a chance to provide a bit more commentary and context on those posts that seem to warrant it (difficult to do in a Facebook post of just a couple of short sentences) and provide more links to relevant source material and perspectives, when that seems like a good idea. 

At somepoint in the (hopefully) no tto distant future, we’ll be compiling this Week in Review into a snazzy HTML newsletter, which we’ll bundle up with that week’s podcast and some new content we’re working on with new partners who, like us, are fascinated by the way the Internet and digital technologies are impacting citizens and societies throughout Asia.

-Patrick Sharbaugh


With China’s latest crackdown on “rumours” on messaging app WeChat now at a fever pitch, party mouthpiece People’s Daily on Tuesday railed against the “free” aspect of free speech as the party understands it in China. In a single article it both ridiculed the notion of the marketplace of ideas and twisted the words of US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes into something the legendary free speech proponent would never have recognized.

The secret to success for a new wave of young writers in China is catering to the country’s underclass of young men in smaller cities by publishing online-only novels that can be easily read on smartphones. Their ranks now include some of the countries highest paid authors, such as Zhang Wei, Li Hu, and Liu Wei. Literature, they aren’t. But they offer escapism for those most in need of it.

ChinaSMACK last week translated a fascinating photo essay documenting the rise and fall of China’s Internet cafés, or wangba, Wangba played a critical role in extending the Internet’s reach in China but were subject to escalating government restrictions until independent cafés were outlawed in 2003.

Writing at The Wall Street Journal about this month’s new restrictions on Chinese instant messaging services such as WeChat, Jason Q. Ng. notes that the public accounts affected were already being censored behind a “cloak of ambiguity.” The only WeChat account holders now able to discuss, comment, or speculate upon “current political news” are those specifically authorized by the government to do so — and they must have government-issued licenses in order to do so legally.

air-pollutionIt wasn’t long ago that China was arresting Weibo users for attempting to crowdsource images of the nation’s polluted waterways. Now, new apps and laws appear to support a turn towards online tools to bolster transparency as a means of ensuring environmental compliance, expanding the public’s ability to hold polluters accountable.

After a report showed Chinese mobile phone company Xiaomi was secretly sending user data to a server in China without notifying users, it closed the “loophole.” But anonymous sources there are now saying such “back door” privacy infringements are common among Chinese digital providers, and that government collusion, or even coercion, is almost always involved. Will a Chinese Snowden be coming forward?

It’s beginning to seem like Google may be losing the momentum in the war for control of personal information online. As we mentioned last week, a Hong Kong court has opened the way for a local tycoon to sue Google over its autocomplete feature for adding “triad,” a term for Chinese criminal gangs, and “perversion” to his name when searched.

[Taiwan] The headline says it all: “Compassionate Taiwanese dog’s attempt to revive fish goes viral.” At this point nearly 300,000 views and counting.



Smriti Irani2An Indian government official is undergoing a trial by social media fire this week after being caught falsely claiming to have “a degree from Yale University.” After netizens discovered Education Minister Smriti Irani completed only a six-day certification at Yale, Twitter erupted with mockery of Irani, and the #memes are flying fast and thick.

Indian Internet users will surpass the number in the US by the end of this year and number half a billion by 2018, the managing director of Google India said on Tuesday. “We have seen nothing yet in terms of what the Internet can do to every aspect of life, of society and of governance,” he said.

On Thursday, The Hindu sent a memo urging its journalists not to tweet or share news stories from other competing news publications. The directive has created some controversy: “This is saying that a journalist should have no freedom to be an independent thinking individual, responding in a private capacity to articles disseminated on social media,” said one critic.



Ice2A well-known “otaku” shop in Tokyo threatened to post a shoplifter’s face on the Internet if he doesn’t return a stolen windup robot, a replica of the famous manga/anime character Tetsujin 28-go, he was filmed snatching Monday. Japanese netizens seem divided over the store’s vigilante approach to dealing with shoplifting, with some claiming it would infringe the thief’s privacy rights. Later in the week authorities in fact convinced the show owner not to post the thief’s photo.

The Ice-Bucket Challenge appears to have jumped the Pacific and landed on the shores of Japan. Japanese Twitter accounts have begun trending with videos and images of users dumping buckets of ice water over their heads and posting the footage online for charity.



The Internet is playing a greater role in the lives of average Indonesians, particularly among its huge population of youths. In return, they’re also demanding faster, better access, underlying some of the challenges facing the next administration.

Education in Indonesia is widely viewed as one of that nation’s least effective, most corrupt institutions. As a result, online ed-tech companies that bypass the education system entirely are gaining public interest. Tech in Asia posts an overview of those it feels have the most potential for disruptive change.


South Korea/North Korea

China North Korea Journalists Held[North Korea] A hackathon that aimed to find new ways to get information in, out and around North Korea took place on a recent weekend in San Francisco. The event, called “Hack North Korea,” was organized by New York-based charity Human Rights Foundation and brought together programmers, human rights campaigners and defectors. The winner was a group that proposed using small, commercial satellite antennas to bring Skylife TV to North Korea.

[North Korea] Housing prices have skyrocketed in a residential area of Pyongyang where the foreign embassies are located, as North Koreans are scrambling to move to that area, expecting to use the embassies’ Wi-Fi.



Writing at The Independent in Singapore, one “media analyst” this week praises China’s Great Firewall for spurring digital innovation there and suggests that for Singapore to step up its tech game, it should consider a similar strategy: eliminating Google, Facebook and Amazon from the picture. Agree? Disagree?

Criminals in Singapore appear to be turning increasingly to the Internet for their dirty work. Online scams there rose sharply in the first six months of the year, according to official statistics. The rise was due in large part to a big bump in Internet love scams there. Victims have been duped out of a mind-boggling $3.1 million in just 82 such cases in Singapore so far this year.



Last week Malaysia was contracted by debate over renewed calls to return to a restrictive censorship of the Internet there and even to ban Facebook and other social media that many claim are undermining morals in the nation. A number of groups slammed the calls as regressive, unconstitutional and economically destructive to the developing nation. The latter half of the week saw numerous op/eds arguing against such actions, and the mahathir-mohamad_0opposition DAP party said it would respond to bans with nationwide protests, citing the right for freedom of expression and the government’s pledge of no Internet censorship.

A high school student in Malaysia is being investigated by police and may be charged with sedition. Why? He clicked “Like” on a Facebook page for a group called “I Love Israel.” Noticing this, the student’s teacher shared it on her own Facebook page, criticising the student, and attracting threats from other Facebook users, some of whom have urged that the child be “burned.”

As it is doing elsewhere in Asia and across the globe, Uber is upending the taxi business and public transportation in Kuala Lumpur with a lower operating cost and lower rates than taxis there. A year and a half ago, Uber’s Asian presence didn’t extend beyond Singapore. Now it is operating in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, and six cities in India.



News outlets in Vietnam reporting that on Tuesday of last week many of Vietnam’s 25 million Facebook users found themselves locked out of their accounts and forced to change their passwords. Reports attribute this to “a protective move by the social network over claims that billions of user credentials were stolen by hackers,” but there’s no evidence of this happening elsewhere. Local users are also suspicious because the Vietnamese government has blocked Facebook at the DNS level since 2009.

Starbucks and KFC aren’t the only American brands entering Vietnam and changing the culture. The short Vimeo film The Day Dreamers, by Vietnamese production team Bluer Vietnam, showcases Vietnam’s own brand of tattooed hipsters. Youth there are quickly shaping their daily lives by adopting global influences and trends they witness online.



Khun_Narin-660x495 (1)Wired magazine this week explores how a tiny group of traditional Thai musicians in the deepest, darkest stretches of remote Thailand were discovered by an L.A. music producer after they loaded shaky camera phone video of themselves playing to YouTube. The debut self-titled album from Narin Electric Phin Band will be released August 26 on the Innovative Leisure label. Amazing.



Inexpensive calls and data are coming to Myanmar after years of junta-era restrictions. But some worry that the new Internet and phone access could fuel strife between Muslims and Buddhists. Internet penetration rates remain low in Myanmar, with just over a million Facebook users, but the coming data boom could have massive amplifying effects.