Good old propaganda
Governments have been doing it for years. It doesn’t actually work very well. If your population is well educated...
A US academic has revealed the existence of 2.4-million-person database he says was compiled by a Chinese company known to supply intelligence, military, and security agencies. The researcher alleges the purpose of the database is enabling influence operations to be conducted against prominent and influential people outside …
Most people can be ensnared by their own vanity or fears. If you have some idea how to approach a person to entrap them it is not very hard to turn them. So the idea is to find out these vectors from publicly available sources. There is no legal risk and it only takes time/manpower to do.
The plods often do a reverse of this when investigating a crime. Once a suspect is identified they often peruse social media for any free information they can get.
Ah, the optimists out there. The take away from the Cambridge debacle was that if a private corporation working more or less openly could be employed as it was, then just extensive would databases kept by various alphabet soup entities be? The Chinese effort is impressive, but Cambridge Analytic's was an order of magnitude bigger, so how big an how extensive could some secret western DBs be?
"The Cambridge Analytica scandal resulted in a database of over 70 million people that was used by the Cruz and Trump campaigns for directed propaganda.
Makes the Chinese effort of 2.4 million entries look amateurish by comparison."
What does the volume of records have to do with anything?
The number of people in a database is a relatively unimportant metric. More important ones include the breadth of information in the database (reportedly extensive), the degree to which such information can be used for leverage (uncertain, but sufficient to alarm the researchers), and exactly who is in the database (reportedly people with more influence than the average citizen). Those factors will determine how worrying this is. Maybe after more data about what is contained is released, we may be able to determine how worrying we believe it to be.
So true. And really, how can it be undemocratic when China is merely follows in the footsteps of that bastion of democracy, the US, which has been doing both mass and individual surveillance for years?
If the actions themselves are bad, then liberal democracies should not do them either. Otherwise, complaining that others do something while doing it yourself, that smacks of hypocrisy.
Want to give lessons to the world? Start by being an example to the world.
I'm not joking. But you, on the other hand, I'm wondering... You've not heard of the US surveillance programs, their no-fly lists, stingrays, asking for your social network IDs at the border? All on ElReg.
Here in France, the official numbers are of about 10000 people that are monitored by the government, who have not been convicted of anything, but are deemed to be "of interest", sometime merely because a neighbor sent an anonymous letter. They're not made aware of it. In some cases, that blocks their career, and they're still not made aware of it. There's no appeal or anything they can do. It's well-known, what I told you was on TV and radio.
But since some of those people are brown-skinned, nobody cares. Actually, some mainstream politicians repeatedly said all the brown people on the list should be put in concentration camps, indefinitely.
So remind me again - what is China doing, exactly?
"So remind me again - what is China doing, exactly?"
Lots of this kind of stuff: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/world/australia/politician-home-raid-china-influence.html
And yes western liberal democracies interfere with foreign politics too(*). If you're ambivalent to which political system you live under, okay with being in a concentration camp by the middle of the century and awakened by the sound of Chinese jackboots in the middle of the night then these two interferences are totally equivalent.
(*) With relatively little success it must be said.
okay with being in a concentration camp by the middle of the century and awakened by the sound of Chinese jackboots in the middle of the night
What utter and complete bollocks. You really think the Chinese are going to invade Europe or the US?
I've never heard such crap. Stop trying to spread such stupid fearmongering.
"What utter and complete bollocks. You really think the Chinese are going to invade Europe or the US?"
That's not what the person you replied to was saying. What they said was that, if you live in China, that could happen to you. This is true, because it already has to millions of Chinese citizens. The post was comparing democracies, which don't do this, to China, which does. They weren't claiming that China was going to come to democracies and do it to the people there. The rest of the post has some points that are worth arguing about, which I'll do in a different post, but if you want to argue with this one, understand what was said.
"F**k Trump!" or "Lock her up!" are free expressions of opinion and say much about the orators level of political tolerance.
Calling someone a Nazi is slander unless you can prove that they are, (it's an accusation of membership of an illegal organisation) . This has only started happening in recent years as the knowledge of actual Nazi atrocities diminishes over time* and insult/hyperbole inflation is now out of next steps.
* We don't teach the horrific details in school, that would give children the nightmares that surviving victims suffered.
"...awakened by the sound of Chinese jackboots in the middle of the night then these two interferences are totally equivalent...."
China has a population of around 1.4 billion. That is a lot of bodies. And, they are bodies that need to eat, drink and do the same general stuff that every human does. Compared to that population, the Chinese Army runs about 2 million. The US has just under 1 million in the Army alone. And the US number does not count the Navy, Air force, and Marines. China has the the "third largest" military, and as fraction of the population, it is even smaller. China has a very long, very extensive history of "throw the rascals out" moments. Their interests are primarily at home, and that includes the home population not getting ideas. But, because of that same population, they must look outside the country to off set risks from crop losses in side their borders and the last two years for example have been catastrophic to their agriculture. The point here is that they essentially that they are pretty near the edge economically. Trying to put "Chinese jackboots" too far from home would be counter productive and not in China's best interests. They know that better than any other country on earth. The modern "Communist Party" is composed of Mandarins in the 19th century sense, with very few remaining believers. They are and have always been very pragmatic. They know markets just as well as any western capitalist. And, because of a very long recorded history, they may have a better predictive grasp of possible and likely problems (weather, crops, etc.) than we imagine. They have been buying land in Australia and parts of North Africa and curiously in North Africa, those areas are receiving more rainfall than they have in centuries.
I find this line of question interesting. While attending SERE school in the military I was trained in ways of avoiding answering questions and providing the enemy with personal information. Why? Because every piece of information they have about you can and will be used against you in some way. If one doesn't get a reaction the next one will. For example, if they find out you're married they can have their HUMINT assets take a picture of your wife during a lunch with coworkers. They can doctor the photo and make it look like she's on a date. They have no scruples. That's the way the intelligence services operate. Ours are not boy scouts either. Anything they have on you will be used and like a good lawyer they will be cast in the worst possible light.
This western government has been spending billions annually to fill acres of supercomputers with every electronic whisper we make. The idea that the government can only access it with a properly approved FISA warrant was proven to be an outright lie with the Russian election interference hoax.
It's somewhat amusing to me, that even here on The Reg, where most of us have facility with more or less advanced maths, many people don't understand the mathematical asymmetry in the competition for information between democracies, who at least nominally are required to follow the rule of law, and totalitarian states, which laugh at ideas such as privacy or individual rights.
Sooner or later, this issue will have to be dealt with. Playing like it's the same in Washington and Beijing is simply stupid.
Down the back of the sofa. It was also labelled "top secret Chinese database of influential people.accdb" and has absolutely and I need to be really clear on this nothing whatsoever to do with him losing his job in China for calling them out on their human rights record then having to leave the country concerned about his safety. No conflict of interest there at all.
According to Balding's website, it was leaked:
The individual who provided the Shenzhen Zhenhua database by putting themselves at risk to get this data out has done an enormous service and is proof that many inside China are concerned about CCP authoritarianism and surveillance.
> The individual who provided the Shenzhen Zhenhua database by putting themselves at risk to get this data out has done an enormous service and is proof that many inside China are concerned about CCP authoritarianism and surveillance.
Yes, yes, an enormous service ... enormous.
Edward Snowden on the other hand ...
This is important to me; I form my opinions from several places, including the comments pages here. It would be easy to place "desirable" opinions here to influence individuals known to read The Register.
I doubt that I will have featured as important, but my views could be polluted through association with those worthy of being targeted.
Finding where young low level activists already indoctrinated into following the party line hang out and then using subtle methods to ‘inform’ their opinion is part of the long game that will be in play, but there are easier places to tinker with than a forum with a high ‘trust no government’ quotient.
Placing opinions desirable to the Chinese* here without triggering a giant WTF response from all and sundry seems a high hurdle compared to most interweb forums, after all, this is EL-reg, home to a readership of analytical & sceptical techies skilled in 'reading between BS statement lines’ and possess the ability to think for themselves (mostly).
Divide & conquer has been the basis for foreign policy in every country looking to exert external influence without incurring the risks & expense of an actual war, find weaknesses that can be exploited and chip away at them. currently in the US it’s the racial divide in policing, in the UK it’s anything to do with empire.
For example we could blame Chinese influence for the current climate of denouncing almost any prominent historical western figure or activity as <whatever>ist, it has direct parallels in the cultural revolution (denounce anything old) and those red guard teenagers from the late ‘60s now occupy the top levels within the CCP directing foreign policy.
* given that we'll poke at any group expanding it's control or spying over us, a lack of articles on Chinese activities would be the only desirable I can spot.
"It might not be high-value, but I've long assumed that the PLA is active here." Exactly this. Of course they're active here. There are often posts here supporting China's activities, often linked to posts critical of them. The CCP's cronies are everywhere, trying to make China look truly wonderful. Truth is, they only accept international law when it suits them. Oh crap, now I'm a target!
Your point being, you're ok with your country doing plenty of bad things, as long as you're able to point to something even worse being done somewhere else?
Great way to give lessons, that. Carry on.
"Your point being, you're ok with your country doing plenty of bad things, as long as you're able to point to something even worse being done somewhere else?"
No. My point is that if a is a bad thing, and b is a bad thing, then a and b are not the same.
Try to keep some perspective. Do you genuinely, really, think that the UK and China are equal in terms of their treatment of human rights? If you do, you are utterly beyond help.
Try to keep some perspective. Do you genuinely, really, think that the UK and China are equal in terms of their treatment of human rights?
If you confine yourself to a very narrow view of the UK at present, you are correct, but looking at what the British Empire was capable of in the past, there's little reason to put yourself up on a self-righteous pedestal.
What dreadful people we are:-
Ending slavery -- first to do so since ancient Persia.
Giving rights and protections to indigenous populations; the families massacred at Wounded Knee were just trying to get to Canada where "Old Women Queen" would treat them better.
Giving Jews a homeland in Palestine -- oops!
Saving the world from Hitler.
Good points *but* if you could look a *little* bit closer at the 'gaps', you would find that there are a *few* areas where the UK got it wrong !!! [Empire dies hard !!!]
Additionally, your 'oops' point is not so small to be brushed aside so easily, that 'oops ' has been impacting the world for nearly 100 years, in one form or another both large and small.
GB and the Empire etc and related attitudes to 'others' ..... to date is *not* 100% free of fault.
I would view that we are better than the US of A *but* there is the debate about 'shades of gray', if we are truthful.
However we would seem to be the least bad empire in history, the least bad colonialists.
I would even make a case for the least bad slave owners compared with say Algiers or Morocco.
Its just impossible to judge the past by today's standards. Worse to do it selectively and hold one nation to those standards while ignoring the behaviour of everyone else around at the time. Anyone with a West African background is more likely to have active slave traders among their ancestors than any ethnic Scottish person. White folks just turned up at the docks and bought what was on sale. The supply side was managed by native Africans.
What was done in the past is important, but a lot less than what is being done today. One is a terrible event for which we should try to atone. The other is a very terrible thing that is harming people actively. If you care about what the British empire did to those it virtually enslaved, you probably don't like human rights abuses. We cannot go back in time and terminate the British empire's crimes, but we could attempt to stop the crimes that occur now. Ignoring those who are harming people because some of our ancestors did similar or worse things to others of our ancestors is missing the point and perpetuating the thing that must be destroyed.
USA is hardly a democracy, the guy in power wasn't the person they voted for.
The Electoral College ensures Moscow has more influence than New York on the election result.
Time for the USA to implement a proper privacy law. The Chinese could simply buy this data and there's a myriad of US companies that will sell them it. *live* location data too. Where they are, where their family members are. DNA data from those ancestry sites. The list of private data for sale is endless.
But Facebook and others would block such a law, and voters don't matter if its not a democracy, money does. The downfall of an empire.
Slightly disagree about the dog whistle words.
"liberal" lost its dog whistle power years ago, they switched to "socialist", and when people started talking about "socialist healthcare" and Americans said "wait, socialists have healthcare???!!"
"Antifa" was a flop, the Russian fake "Antifa" accounts where exposed, so it became clear that "Antifa" is a Republican/Russian invented/exaggerated bogey man.
Tucker Carlson uses "Marxist" a lot. He's always going on about secret Marxist plots to turn Jesus gay and such like.
Nothings really sticking, but they keep trying to train their audience. "Sit", "Roll Over"
"But everywhere in the West "conservative" is used as an insult - but that's ok, right?"
But just like 'Liberal' it has different meanings depending on where you are !!!
In the UK 'Conservative' is used as an insult because many have experienced both 'Thatcher' and never ending austerity. If you are not in the City of London or the majority of the Southern part of England, both of these experiences did not improve life and this was reflected in the BREXIT debacle ( for both sides !!!).
Oh, please. If that's all you are aware of, you aren't looking. There are plenty of localities where calling some fellow a liberal is an insult. Try reading the papers in Brazil, the Philippines, Aussy, or even parts of your favoured UK. Political animus isn't confined to the North American continent.
But more to the point, political insults are nothing, compared to what is now happening in Hong Kong. Which once was part of Britain. Giving that away seems like bollocks now eh? I sincerely hope you understand the endgame here. Because partisan wrangling in the West merely gives totalitarians the time and space to make all of Great Britain into the next Hong Kong.
Nice irony there, yes?
Open liberal democratic states
It's a code phrase. Signals that the authors are "with the team".
Open" means "Global Markets", "Liberal" means "Markets Decide", "Democratic" means "Legitimate" and "States" refers to a Club which follows The Code: "Global Markets Deciding Democratic outcomes is what makes this State Legitimate" - which keeps the colour revolutyions, drones & sactions away. For a while!
The Liberals* are most likely concerned that heathen communist competion will lower the market value and exclusivity of, say, FaceBook's data hoarding and "influencing interface" :).
*)Euro-style, liberals a.k.a. neo-liberals, market-fundamentalists, et cetera.
Replace Chinese database with Facebook database. Would anyone be shocked at the revelations?
China does terrible things and they are certainly an internal surveillance state but this database seems somewhat innocuous. I also assume there are much more dangerous databases compiled by their intelligence agencies (with much more actionable blackmail information).
I'd be surprised if any country didn't have databases like this.
"Replace Chinese database with Facebook database. Would anyone be shocked at the revelations?"
I would. Only 2.4 million? Facebook can do better than that. China should really consider just buying Facebook's database.
Maybe countries do all try to collect this, but in my opinion, they shouldn't. If a country complains about this database, I would expect them not to have collected their own (well, actually I expect hypocrisy at every turn, but I would hope that they haven't created their own). At the moment, however, we try to prevent our countries from violating our rights in that way, and using this database as an example of why it doesn't matter because China does it too doesn't help.
The relative numbers bear out my point. This seems more like a database to prepare briefings for diplomats or other government officials so they can ask how their kids are doing or commiserate that the team they follow was relegated or whatever in an attempt to build rapport.
I am worried much more about countries' intelligence agency databases (Chinese near the top of the list) which are the real basis for their nefarious activities.
Several of the commenters don't seem to realize this guy knows his stuff about China. He works in Vietnam, which as a close neighbor is entitled to be pretty concerned about the goings-on next door.
Christopher Balding is an associate professor at the Fulbright University Vietnam after nine years at the HSBC Business School of Peking University Graduate School in Shenzhen, China. Considered to be one of the leading experts on the Chinese economy and financial markets, he is a Bloomberg View contributor and advises governments, central banks, and investors around the world on China. https://fulbright.edu.vn/our-team/christopher-balding/
Two sides at least to every argument/discussion.
Worth noting that the Western democracies aren't exactly guiltless. Surveillance has been growing year by year, and the excuses - when the governments are found out - have been growing weaker and weaker.
The PRC's taking dossiers. The Russians have been putting up fake info on the social web for at least four years, most probably longer. The PRC and Russia have not always got along so nicely. Anyone see any risk to the PRC in this? let alone to Cambridge Analytica fanbois worldwide? Poisoning wells has long been a tactic in wars.
It's not a storm in a teacup. it's a very real threat to anyone using social media. But it's also a huge risk to the collators of this data - there's a possibility that somewhere someone along the way will have poisoned it - or after having collated it, someone might crack into it and poison it.
FWVVLIW - there SNAFU like an AFU ...
«Chinese intelligence, military, and security agencies use the open information environment we in open liberal democracies take for granted to target individuals and institutions.» Mr Sharwood seems for some reason to assume that so-called «open liberal democracies» (without defining the term or showing evidence that such exist in the real world) don't compile data bases with personal information on «important people» whom one would like to «influence». Either Mr Sharwood is too naive for this world - and has never heard of the NSA, Edward Joseph Snowden, Julian Paul Assange, and myriad other figures who have shown, often at great risk to themselves, that that is precisely what the really existing «open liberal democracies» do - or he is hoping that El Reg< readers are....
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