An unlikely e-commerce star
Aug 17, 2018 (WiC 420)

When you think of global brands on Alibaba’s Tmall shopping platform, names like Adidas, Lancome or Uniqlo might spring to mind. You probably wouldn’t propose the British Museum as a contender. But that would be a misjudgement. Since it launched its store on Tmall at the beginning of July, the museum has been a surprising hit. Website Huxiu even described it as the “best selling Tmall store” noting that the museum’s goods sold out within a month due to the scale of demand. The UK’s Daily Telegraph concurred, noting that it had proved a “smash hit on Tmall”. So what were the Chinese so avidly buying? At launch the museum offered 20 items from teacups featuring Egyptian princesses to iPhone cases embossed with images of pharaohs. Bags and moon-shaped fans were also available for prices that ranged from as low as Rmb6 for stationery to Rmb169 ($24.54) for umbrellas. By late July the museum had also gained an impressive 150,000 followers for its e-commerce site.

A message on the site now explains that the museum is replenishing its stock, with its merchandising boss Craig Bendle telling the Telegraph: “It’s an exciting prospect for the British Museum to be working with a company of Alibaba’s stature as part of the museum’s product licencing campaign.”

For Britain, maybe this is a positive signal. After all, the nation’s Brexiteers have claimed that the country can sell more to the Chinese as it tries to diversify away from the EU market. Perhaps one of the country’s best-loved tourist attractions can lead the effort?

Facing the future
Jul 27, 2018 (WiC 419)

At the beginning of this year few people would have associated a prominent Hong Kong pop star with advances in facial recognition technology. However, as we pointed out in WiC410, that all changed when Jacky Cheung’s concerts led to the arrest of three fugitives in three separate cities in China. The criminals were fans of the aging crooner, but got nabbed by police when cameras at his concerts matched their faces with a database of wanted men.

It was a sign of how far the country’s adoption of facial recognition software had progressed. And according to the South China Morning Post, the advances continue at Beijing’s second airport, where passengers’ faces will be scanned to ease bottlenecks at security and immigration counters.

The $12 billion airport will serve the capital, as well as the new administrative city of Xiongan, handling as many as 100 million passengers a year.­­ Passengers will be matched against a national database to speed identity verification and the SCMP says that Sensetime (the three year-old Alibaba-invested AI firm; see WiC405) is one of those hoping to win the airport contract.

Already worth around $4.5 billion, Sensetime has installed its face recognition software at airports in Chengdu and Haikou and at 30 train stations across China. Shanghai-based Yitu is also reported to be bidding for the contract.

Puff piece
Jul 20, 2018 (WiC 418)

“In the event that pilots begin smoking, oxygen masks will fall down…” That should have been the announcement last week when an Air China flight dropped 25,000 feet in 10 minutes following the co-pilot’s decision to smoke in the cockpit.

During the flight in question from Hong Kong to Dalian, the co-pilot (whose name has not been disclosed) ‘vaped’ an e-cigarette and tried to turn off the circulation fan in order to prevent the smoke filtering into the cabin. Instead he switched off an air conditioning unit, which left the cabin with an insufficient amount of oxygen. This prompted the emergency masks to fall down onto the seats of 153 unsuspecting passengers.

If a plane loses cabin pressure, standard operating procedure is to bring it to a lower altitude to keep crew and passengers safe. The plane later regained altitude and landed safely in Dalian, according to the CAAC (the Civil Aviation Administration of China). However, the CAAC fined the airline and cut the carrier’s flights with Boeing 737 models by 10%. Both the pilots have been suspended from flight duty and almost certainly won’t be returning to the skies as the airline wants their licences revoked.

Smoking has been banned on flights since 2000 but in 2015 an elderly Chinese passenger was caught smoking on a Cathay Pacific flight and fined. He argued that he did not know that lighting up was illegal and due to his illiteracy he could not read the signs warning that “smoking is strictly prohibited”, according to the South China Morning Post. Of course, Air China’s naughty pilots can hardly muster the same excuse.