And Finally

The naked truth

Rogue employees cripple a rival dating app using dirty tricks

Soul-app-w

Revenge porn is typically the result of an intimate relationship gone wrong. The aggrieved party distributes images of a former partner to shame and embarrass them.

But in China companies are trying out a variation of the same abuse – using the country’s anti-pornography laws to falsely incriminate competitors.

The most recent case involves two Shanghai-based dating apps: Soul and Uki.

According to a report in 21CN Business Herald two employees from Soul have been arrested for creating Uki accounts to which they then uploaded pornographic content.

The men took screen shots of the images and reported their competitor to the authorities for hosting indecent content.

Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 there has been a prolonged drive to delete pornographic material from the internet in China – no small feat given that it is one of the world’s largest consumers of erotic content.

In 2018 Xi told officials that the internet should be “clean and righteous” and the authorities responded by removing 43,000 websites and 34,000 apps for hosting indecent or illegal content.

This puritanical push – backed up by algorithms designed to detect and destroy pornographic scenes – can sometimes have unintended consequences.

For instance, health instructors have reported that some of their online tutorials on avoiding the coronavirus outbreak have been shut down by automated censors for discussing topics such as child births.

In the case of the content on Uki, the response was swift. Once the material had been reported as pornographic the app was removed from all major stores within a month. However, Uki was then able to trace the two accounts back to the Soul employees who had opened them to post the illegal content.

Both men have been arrested and charged with “maliciously suppressing their peer” by damaging its reputation and product, 21CN said.

While other tech companies have tried similar tricks in the past this is the first case that has resulted in charges, the newspaper believes.

Indeed, the phenomenon is common enough to have its own name – gangster PR – with 65% of cases originating in the world of tech, Xinhua said.

In another example from 2017 the popular education app Xiaoyuan Souti was also accused of hosting porn. A man pretending to be the parent of a child who had stumbled across inappropriate material gave a series of interviews to the press. Parents heard about the case and began deleting the app.

But an investigation by the company that owned the app alleged that the material had been uploaded by the employees of a rival offering – Baidu’s ZuoYebang.

The two companies locked horns, threatening to sue one another. But both sides stepped back from legal confrontation and Xiaoyuan wasn’t removed from app stores.


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