Technology: Asia goes potty for Pokémon

The Pokémon Go craze that has gripped the world over the last month or so is now live in over 15 countries in Asia but two of the largest in the region are still waiting for their chance to capture the quirky characters online.

A man plays "Pokemon Go" by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

A man plays “Pokemon Go” by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam, August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

India and China are notably absent from the list of countries posted on the company’s website which include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.

The delay in China is primarily due to the game’s reliance on Google Maps and GPS data, access to which is highly regulated on the mainland due to government red tape and censorship. Players in China will need to have a Google account and register a gamer account which involves climbing the Great Firewall as these services are blocked within the country. As often the case in China, a number of fake imitations of the game have already surfaced.

In India, there are a number of possible reasons for the delay. A huge population and surging smartphone sales growth would require a lot more resources from developer Niantic who are already experiencing server lags and overloading from their current player base. Third party tracker applications have also been cited as cause for delay and have been blocked by the company which said: “We were delayed in doing that due to aggressive efforts by third parties to access our servers outside of the Pokémon GO game client and our terms of service.”

The online augmented reality game has also yet to make an appearance in South Korea as Google Map information there is limited due to security concerns over North.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, two men came to blows and were arrested this week following an argument between a driver and a pedestrian engrossed in the game that has already notched up over 100 million downloads globally.

Thailand is also jumping on the Poké-wagon by trying to use the game to revive the country’s flailing tourism industry following a number of bomb attacks at popular tourist destinations. The Tourism Minister wanted to talk directly with creators of the game in Japan in the hope that they would increase the number of rare Pokémons in Thailand, especially in tourist destinations.

The move, however, would likely add to the increasing number of road accidents as players are already taking to their motorcycles while hunting the digital sprites.

Industry
China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba reported record growth in Q2 of this year as users on mobile devices outspent those on desktop for the first time.

A 59% revenue increase awarded the company the highest growth since it went public with the largest IPO in history in September 2014. The record revenue stood at $4.8 billion (RMB 32.2 billion) as retail marketplaces in China surged despite talk of economic slowdown. Shoppers on the mainland notched up sales of $3.5 billion, 75% of which originated from mobile devices.

In a conference call following the earnings release, Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai stated that this growth “might have surprised many, given the economic headwinds”.

However, the company still faces strong challenges as its net income dropped 76% year on year to $1.1 billion (RMB 7.2 billion). The fall has been primarily attributed to a one off investment gain from its Alibaba Pictures affiliate last year and investments into new services such as food delivery.

Meanwhile, rival e-commerce company JD.com Inc, China’s second largest online retailer, showed reported revenue within company forecasts for Q2, but flat overall compared with the previous quarter. JD.com said it expects revenues for the third quarter to be RMB 59-61 billion, a rise of 34-38% from the same quarter in 2015.

It saw expansion in online shopping from mobile devices with a 79% order rate from an estimated 100,000 merchants it claims to be working with. The company also struck a deal with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in June to expand its e-commerce business in China.

Apple Inc aims to expand its already burgeoning business in China by building a new research and development center before the end of the year. The announcement came as CEO Tim Cook visited the mainland this week.

Sales have been slowing dramatically in China and although it is still a major market for Apple, slowing economic growth combined with increased competition with Chinese OEMs are warning signs for the tech giant. A company statement said the center will unite Apple’s engineering and operations teams in China and is also intended to deepen the company’s ties to partners and universities.

Security
Researchers from computer security firms Symantec and Kaspersky Lab have revealed an advanced malware platform that has gone undetected for five years. The software has been dubbed Project Sauron after a number of references to the all seeing bad guy from Lord of the Rings.

The cyber-espionage platform has been active since 2011 or earlier, targeting networks in countries like Russia, China, and Iran. Instead of the more common malware that infects regular computers, it is designed to infiltrate high-profile computer networks run by governments, military science, IT corporations, and science research centers.

Logging keystrokes enables the malware to spy on infected networks and open back-doors into compromised systems which then enables stealing passwords and personal information. According to the reports, systems are also infected via USB sticks and even machines off the internet can be compromised. Malware as sophisticated as this is likely to be the work of a state or nation-sponsored hacking group, said the researchers.

In a related story, anti-virus guru John McAffee has warned China over creating huge hacking vulnerabilities for itself.

“China is taking the lead in putting intelligence into devices, from refrigerators to smart thermostats, and this is our weakest link in cybersecurity,” he said in Beijing.

Hackers have already been able to take over a number of newly connected devices from fridges to safes, automobiles and aeroplanes may be next unless we can take security of these devices more seriously, McAffee warned.



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