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Censoring China’s Internet, for Stability and Profit

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Li Chengzhi had a lot to learn when he first got a job as a professional censor.

Like many young people in China, the 24-year-old recent college graduate knew little about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. He had never heard of China’s most famous dissident, Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died in custody two years ago.

Now, after training, he knows what to look for — and what to block. He spends his hours scanning online content on behalf of Chinese media companies looking for anything that will provoke the government’s wrath. He knows how to spot code words that obliquely refer to Chinese leaders and scandals, or the memes that touch on subjects the Chinese government doesn’t want people to read about.

Mr. Li, who still has traces of youthful acne on his face, takes his job seriously. “It helps cleanse the online environment,” he said.

For Chinese companies, staying on the safe side of government censors is a matter of life and death. Adding to the burden, the authorities demand that companies censor themselves, spurring them to hire thousands of people to police content.

That in turn has created a growing and lucrative new industry: censorship factories.

Mr. Li works for Beyondsoft, a Beijing-based tech services company that, among other businesses, takes on the censorship burden for other companies. He works in its office in the city of Chengdu. Located in the heart of a high-tech industrial area, the space is bright and new enough that it resembles the offices of well-funded start-ups in tech centers like Beijing and Shenzhen. It recently moved to the space because customers complained that its previous office was too cramped to allow employees to do their best work.

“Missing one beat could cause a serious political mistake,” said Yang Xiao, head of Beyondsoft’s internet service business, including content reviewing. (Beyondsoft declined to disclose which Chinese media or online companies it works for, citing confidentiality.)

China has built the world’s most extensive and sophisticated online censorship system. It grew even stronger under President Xi Jinping, who wants the internet to play a greater role in strengthening the Communist Party’s hold on society. More content is considered sensitive. Punishments are getting more severe.

Once circumspect about its controls, China now preaches a vision of a government-supervised internet that has surprising resonance in other countries. Even traditional bastions of free expression like Western Europe and the United States are considering their own digital limits. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube have said that they would hire thousands more people to better keep a handle on their content.

Workers like Mr. Li show the extremes of that approach — one that controls what more than 800 million internet users in China see every day.

Beyondsoft employs over 4,000 workers like Mr. Li at its content reviewing factories. That is up from about 200 in 2016. They review and censor content day and night.

“We’re the Foxconn in the data industry,” said Mr. Yang, comparing his firm to the biggest contract manufacturer that makes iPhones and other products for Apple.

Many online media companies have their own internal content review teams, sometimes numbering in the thousands. They are exploring ways to get artificial intelligence to do the work. The head of the A.I. lab at a major online media company, who asked for anonymity because the subject is sensitive, said the company has 120 machine learning models.

But success is spotty. Users can easily fool algorithms.

“The A.I. machines are intelligent but they aren’t as clever as human brains,” Mr. Li said. “They miss a lot of things when reviewing content.”

Beyondsoft has a team of 160 people in Chengdu working four shifts a day to review potentially politically sensitive content on a news aggregating app.

For the same app, Beyondsoft has another team in the western city of Xi’an reviewing potentially vulgar or profane content. Like the rest of the world, China’s internet is rife with pornography and other material that many users might find offensive.

In the Chengdu office, workers must put their smartphones in hallway lockers. They can’t take screenshots or send any information from their computers.

The workers are almost all young college graduates in their 20s. They are often unaware of, or indifferent to, politics. In China, many parents and teachers tell the young that caring about politics leads only to trouble.

To overcome that, Mr. Yang and his colleagues developed a sophisticated training system. New hires start with weeklong “theory” training, during which senior employees teach them the sensitive information that they didn’t know before.

“My office is next to the big training room,” Mr. Yang said. “I often hear the surprised sounds of ‘Ah, ah, ah.’”

“They didn’t know things like June 4,” he added, referring to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. “They really didn’t know.”

Beyondsoft has developed an extensive database based on such information that Mr. Yang calls one of its “core competencies.” They also use anti-censorship software to regularly visit what they call anti-revolutionary websites that are blocked by the Chinese government. They then update the database.

New employees study the database much like preparing for college entrance exams. After two weeks, they have to pass a test.

The screen saver on each computer is the same: photos and names of current and past members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s top leadership. Workers must memorize those faces: Only government-owned websites and specially approved political blogs — a group on what’s called a whitelist — are allowed to post photos of top leaders.

Workers are briefed at the beginning of their shift on the newest censoring instructions sent by clients, which the clients themselves receive from government censors. Workers then must answer about 10 questions designed to test their memory. The results of the exam affect the workers’ pay.

One question on a recent Friday: Which one of the following names is the daughter of Li Peng, China’s former premier? The correct answer is Li Xiaolin, a longtime target of online ridicule for her expensive fashion taste and for being one of many children of senior officials who come into high positions or wealth.

That’s a relatively easy one. A tougher test is parsing out the roundabout ways that China’s internet users evade stringent censorship to talk about current affairs.

Take, for example, a Hong Kong news site’s 2017 commentary that compared the six Chinese leaders since Mao Zedong to emperors during the Han dynasty. Some Chinese users started using the emperors’ names when referring to the leaders. Beyondsoft’s workers have to know which emperor’s name is associated with which leader.

Then there are the photos of an empty chair. They refer to Mr. Liu, the Nobel laureate, who wasn’t allowed to leave China to attend the award ceremony and was represented by an empty chair. References to George Orwell’s novel “1984” are also forbidden.

Beyondsoft’s software trawls through web pages and marks potentially offensive words in different colors. If a page is full of color-coded words, it usually requires a closer look, according to the executives. If there are only one or two, it’s pretty safe to let it pass.

According to Beyondsoft’s website, its content monitoring service, called Rainbow Shield, has compiled over 100,000 basic sensitive words and over three million derivative words. Politically sensitive words make up one-third of the total, followed by words related to pornography, prostitution, gambling and knives.

Workers like Mr. Li make $350 to $500 a month, about average pay in Chengdu. Each worker is expected to review 1,000 to 2,000 articles during a shift. Articles uploaded to the news app must be approved or rejected within an hour. Unlike Foxconn workers, they don’t work much overtime because longer hours could hurt accuracy, said Mr. Yang, the executive.

It’s easy to make mistakes. One article about Peng Liyuan, China’s first lady, mistakenly used the photo of a famous singer rumored to be linked to another leader. It was caught by someone else before it went out, Mr. Yang said.

Mr. Li, the young censor, said the worst mistakes are almost all related to senior leaders. He once missed a tiny photo of Mr. Xi on a website not on the whitelist because he was tired. He still kicks himself for it.

When asked whether he had shared with family and friends what he learned at work, such as the Tiananmen crackdown, Mr. Li vehemently said no.

“This information is not for people outside to know,” he said. “Once many people know about it, it could generate rumors.”

But the crackdown was history. It wasn’t a rumor. How would he reconcile that?

“For certain things,” he said, “one just has to obey the rules.”

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The 3 Best Canadian Tech Stocks I Would Buy With $3,000 for 2021

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The majority of the Canadian tech stocks went through the roof in 2020 and delivered outsized returns. However, tech stocks witnessed sharp selling in the past 10 days, reflecting valuation concerns and expected normalization in demand. 

As these high-growth tech stocks shed some of their gains, I believe it’s time to accumulate them at current price levels to outperform the broader markets by a significant margin in 2021. Let’s dive into three tech stocks that have witnessed a pullback and are looking attractive bets. 

Lightspeed POS

Lightspeed POS (TSX:LSPD)(NYSE:LSPD) stock witnessed strong selling and is down about 33% in the last 10 days. I believe the selloff in Lightspeed presents an excellent opportunity for investors to invest in a high-growth and fundamentally strong company. 

Lightspeed witnessed an acceleration in demand for its digital products and services amid the pandemic. However, with the easing of lockdown measures and economic reopening, the demand for its products and services could normalize. Further, it faces tough year-over-year comparisons. 

Despite the normalization in demand, I believe the ongoing shift toward the omnichannel payment platform could continue to drive Lightspeed’s revenues and customer base. Besides, its accretive acquisitions, growing scale, and geographic expansion are likely to accelerate its growth and support the uptrend in its stock. Lightspeed stock is also expected to benefit from its growing average revenue per user, innovation, and up-selling initiatives.     

Shopify 

Like Lightspeed, Shopify (TSX:SHOP)(NYSE:SHOP) stock has also witnessed increased selling and has corrected by about 22% in the past 10 days. Notably, during the most recent quarter, Shopify said that it expects the vaccination and reopening of the economy to drive some of the consumer spending back to offline retail and services. Further, Shopify expects the pace of shift toward the e-commerce platform to return to the normal levels in 2021, which accelerated in 2020.

Despite the normalization in the pace of growth, a strong secular shift towards online commerce could continue to bring ample growth opportunities for Shopify, and the recent correction in its stock can be seen as a good buying opportunity. 

Shopify’s initiatives to ramp up its fulfillment network, international expansion and growing adoption of its payment platform are likely to drive strong growth in revenues and GMVs. Moreover, its strong new sales and marketing channels bode well for future growth. I remain upbeat on Shopify’s growth prospects and expect the company to continue to multiply investors’ wealth with each passing year. 

Docebo 

Docebo (TSX:DCBO)(NASDAQ:DCBO) stock is down about 21% in the last 10 days despite sustained momentum in its base business. The enterprise learning platform provider’s key performance metrics remain strong, implying that investors should capitalize on its low stock price and start accumulating its stock at the current levels. 

Docebo’s annual recurring revenue or ARR (a measure of future revenues) continues to grow at a brisk pace. Its ARR is expected to mark 55-57% growth in Q4. Meanwhile, its top line could increase by 48-52% during the same period. The company’s average contract value is growing at a healthy rate and is likely to increase by 22-24% during Q4. 

With the continued expansion of its customer base, geographical expansion, innovation, and opportunistic acquisitions, Docebo could deliver strong returns in 2021 and beyond.

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Manitoba to invest $6.5 million in new systems

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WINNIPEG – The province of Manitoba is investing $6.5 million over three years to replace technical systems used in healthcare facilities, including replacing current voice dictation and transcription services with more modern systems and upgrading the Provincial Health Contact Centre (PHCC)’s triage, call-recording and telephone systems, Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson (pictured) announced.

“Our government is investing in the proper maintenance of information and communications technology to ensure digital health information can be safely stored and shared as needed,” said Stefanson. “These systems will ensure healthcare facilities can continue to provide high-quality services and allow Manitobans to get faster access to healthcare resources and information.”

Dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services are used by healthcare providers to write reports. There are currently approximately 80 healthcare sites across Manitoba using some combination of dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services. Many of these systems are nearing the end of their usable lifespans.

“Across our health system, radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians use voice-dictation services to help create diagnostic reports when reading imaging studies like ultrasound, nuclear medicine studies, X-rays, angiography, MRI and CT scans,” said Dr. Marco Essig, provincial specialty lead, diagnostic imaging, Shared Health. “Enhanced dictation and voice-recognition services will enable us to work more efficiently and provide healthcare providers with quicker access to these reports that support the diagnoses and treatment of Manitobans every day.”

The project will replace telephone-based dictation and transcription with voice-recognition functions, upgrade voice-recognition services for diagnostic imaging and enhance voice-recognition tools for mobile devices.

“Investing in more modern voice-transcription services will help our health-care workers do the administrative part of their jobs more quickly and effectively so they can get back to the most important part of their work – providing top-level healthcare and protecting Manitobans,” said Stefanson. “The transition to the new system will be made seamlessly so that services disruptions, which can lead to patient care safety risks, will not occur.”

The new systems will be compatible with other existing systems, will decrease turnaround times to improve patient care and will be standardized across the province to reduce ongoing costs and allow regional facilities to share resources as needed, Stefanson added.

The PHCC is a one-stop shop for incoming and outgoing citizen contact and supports programs such as Health Links–Info Santé, TeleCARE TeleSOINS and After-Hours Physician Access, as well as after-hours support services to public health, medical officers of health, home care and Manitoba Families.

The current vendor that supplies communications support to the PHCC is no longer providing service, making it an opportune time to invest in an upgraded system that will provide better service to Manitobans, the minister said, adding the project will provide the required systems and network infrastructure to continue providing essential services now and for the near future.

“The PHCC makes more than 650,000 customer service calls to Manitobans per year to a broad spectrum of clients with varied health issues. This reduces the need for people to visit a physician, urgent care or emergency departments,” said Stefanson. “The upgrade will also allow Manitobans in many communities to continue accessing the support they need from their home or local health centre, reducing the need for unnecessary travel.”

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Telus and UHN deliver services to the marginalized

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Telus’s Health for Good program has launched the latest of its specially equipped vans to provide medical services to the homeless and underserved, this time to the population of Toronto’s west end. The project relies not only on the hardware and software – the vans and technology – but on the care delivered by trained and socially sensitive medical professionals.

For the Toronto project, those professionals are working at the University Health Network’s Social Medicine program and the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. The city’s Parkdale community, in the west end, has a high concentration of homeless and marginalized people.

First launched in 2014, Telus’s Health for Good program has delivered mobile clinics to 13 Canadian cities, from Victoria to Halifax. Originally designed to deliver primary care, the program pivoted to meet the needs of patients in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Nimtaz Kanji, Calgary-based director of Telus Social Purpose Programs.

Angela Robertson of the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre (CHC) asserted that marginalized people are particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19, as they don’t have access to the basic precautions that prevent its spread.

The clinic is located near a Pizza Pizza franchise; homeless people shelter under its overhang on the weekends, she said. Some have encampments under nearby bridges.

“The public health guidelines and requirements call for things that individuals who are homeless don’t have,” Robertson said. “If the response calls for isolation, that suggests people have places to isolate in.”

And in the shelter system, pre-COVID, the environment was very congregate, with many people in the same physical space, said Robertson. Some homeless persons, in order to keep themselves safe, have created encampments, and the city has opened up some hotel rooms across the city to create spaces for physical distancing.

Even proper hand-washing and hygiene becomes a challenge for the homeless.

“COVID calls for individuals to practice constant hand-washing. Oftentimes, individuals who are homeless use public washroom facilities that may be in restaurants or coffee shops, and many of those spaces are now closed. So there are limitations to accessing those facilities. It’s not like they’re in a community where there are public hand-washing facilities for people who are homeless.”

The mobile health clinic allows the CHC to take “pop-up testing” into communities where there is high positivity and where additional COVID testing is needed. The CHC can take testing into congregate sites and congregate housing to provide more testing, Robertson said.

“The other piece that we will use the van to do is, when the vaccine supply gets back online, and when the health system gets to doing community vaccinations … we hope that we can be part of that effort.”

COVID has contributed to a spike in cases of Toronto’s other pandemic: opioid overdoses. Some community members are reluctant to seek care because of the stigma attached to substance abuse; and COVID has a one-two punch for users.

The first rule of substance abuse is, don’t use alone; always be with someone who can respond to a potential overdose, ideally someone who can administer Nalaxone to reverse the effects of the overdose, Robertson said. “It’s substance abuse 101,” and the need for social distancing makes this impossible.

Secondly, COVID has affected the supply chain of street drugs. As a result, they’re being mixed increasingly with “toxic” impurities like Fentanyl that can be deadly.

The van itself is a Mercedes Sprinter, modified by architectural firm éKM architecture et aménagement and builder Zone Technologie, both based in Montréal. According to Car and Driver magazine, the Sprinter line – with 21 cargo models and 10 passenger versions – is “considered by many to be the king of cargo and passenger vans.”

Kanji said the platform was chosen for its reputation for reliability and robustness.

While the configuration is customized for each mobile clinic, it generally consists of two sections: A practitioner’s workstation and a more spacious and private examination room, so patients can receive treatment with privacy and dignity, Kanji said. The Parkdale clinic is 92 square feet.

“While the layouts vary across regions, they typically include an examination table and health practitioners’ workstation, including equipment necessary to provide primary healthcare,” the Telus vice-president of provider solutions wrote in an e-mail interview. The Parkdale Queen West mobile clinic is designed for primary medical services, including wound care, mobile COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts, harm reduction services, mental healthcare and counseling.

The clinic equipped with an electronic medical record (EMR) from TELUS Health and TELUS LTE Wi-Fi network technology.

Practitioners will be able to collect and store patient data, examine a patient’s results over time, and provide better continuity of care to those marginalized citizens who often would have had undocumented medical histories.

The EMR system is Telus Health’s PS Suite (formerly Practice Solutions). It is an easy-to-use, customizable solution for general and specialty practices that captures, organizes, and displays patient information in a user-friendly way. The solution allows for the electronic management of patient charts and scheduling, receipt of labs and hospital reports directly into the EMR, and personalization of workflows with customizable templates, toolbars, and encounter assistants.

But like others tested for COVID, it’s a 24-48 hour wait for results. Pop-up or not, how does the mobile team get results to patients who have no fixed address?

The CHC set up a centre for testing in a tent at the Waterfront Community Centre. Swabs are sent to the lab. “We are responsible for connecting back with community members and their results,” Robertson said.

“This is the value of having Parkdale Queen West being in front of the testing, because many of the community members who are homeless we know through our other services, and there is some trust in folks either coming to us to make arrangements to collect their results, or we know where they are.”

This is a key element of the program, said Kanji – leveraging community trust. In Vancouver downtown east side, for example, where there is a high concentration of marginalized members of the indigenous community, nurse practitioners are accompanied by native elders in a partnership with the Kilala Lelum Health Centre.

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