Two former Qualcomm engineers are using AI to fix China’s healthcare problem

Artificial intelligence is widely heralded as something that could disrupt the jobs market across the board — potentially eating into careers as varied as accountants, advertising agents, reporters and more — but there are some industries in dire need of assistance where AI could make a wholly positive impact, a core one being healthcare.

Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China is still coping with a serious shortage of medical resources. In 2015, the country had 1.8 physicians per 1,000 citizens, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That figure puts China behind the U.S. at 2.6 and was well below the OECD average of 3.4.

The undersupply means a nation of overworked doctors who constantly struggle to finish screening patient scans. Misdiagnoses inevitably follow. Spotting the demand, forward-thinking engineers and healthcare professionals move to get deep learning into analyzing medical images. Research firm IDC estimates that the market for AI-aided medical diagnosis and treatment in China crossed 183 million yuan ($27 million) in 2017 and is expected to reach 5.88 billion yuan ($870 million) by 2022.

One up-and-comer in the sector is 12 Sigma, a San Diego-based startup founded by two former Qualcomm engineers with research teams in China. The company is competing against Yitu, Infervision and a handful of other well-funded Chinese startups that help doctors detect cancerous cells from medical scans. Between January and May last year alone, more than 10 Chinese companies with such a focus scored fundings of over 10 million yuan ($1.48 million), according to startup data provider Iyiou. 12 Sigma itself racked up a 200 million yuan Series B round at the end of 2017 and is mulling a new funding round as it looks to ramp up its sales team and develop new products, the company told TechCrunch.

“2015 to artificial intelligence is like 1995 to the Internet. It was the dawn of a revolution,” recalled Zhong Xin, who quit his management role at Qualcomm and went on to launch 12 Sigma in 2015. At the time, AI was cereping into virtually all facets of life, from public security, autonomous driving, agriculture, education to finance. Zhong took a bet on health care.

“For most industries, the AI technology might be available, but there isn’t really a pressing problem to solve. You are creating new demand there. But with healthcare, there is a clear problem, that is, how to more efficiently spot diseases from a single image,” the chief executive added.

An engineer named Gao Dashan who had worked closely with Zhong at Qualcomm’s U.S. office on computer vision and deep learning soon joined as the startup’s technology head. The pair both attended China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, another experience that boosted their sense of camaraderie.

Aside from the potential financial rewards, the founders also felt an urge to start something on their own as they entered their 40s. “We were too young to join the Internet boom. If we don’t create something now for the AI era, it will be too late for us to be entrepreneurs,” admitted Zhong who, with age, also started to recognize the vulnerability of life. “We see friends and relatives with cancers get diagnosed too late and end up  The more I see this happen, the more strongly I feel about getting involved in healthcare to give back to society.”

A three-tier playbook

12 Sigma and its peers may be powering ahead with their advanced imaging algorithms, but the real challenge is how to get China’s tangled mix of healthcare facilities to pay for novel technologies. Infervision, which TechCrunch wrote about earlier, stations programmers and sales teams at hospitals to mingle with doctors and learn their needs. 12 Sigma deploys the same on-the-ground strategy to crack the intricate network.

12 sigma

Zhong Xin, Co-founder and CEO of 12 Sigma / Photo source: 12 Sigma

“Social dynamics vary from region to region. We have to build trust with local doctors. That’s why we recruit sales persons locally. That’s the foundation. Then we begin by tackling the tertiary hospitals. If we manage to enter these hospitals,” said Zhong, referring to the top public hospitals in China’s three-tier medical system. “Those partnerships will boost our brand and give us greater bargaining power to go after the smaller ones.”

For that reason, the tertiary hospitals are crowded with earnest startups like 12 Sigma as well as tech giants like Tencent, which has a dedicated medical imaging unit called Miying. None of these providers is charging the top boys for using their image processors because “they could easily switch over to another brand,” suggested Gao.

Instead, 12 Sigma has its eyes on the second-tier hospitals. As of last April, China had about 30,000 hospitals, out of which 2,427 were rated tertiary, according to a survey done by the National Health and Family Planning Commission. The second tier, serving a wider base in medium-sized cities, had a network of 8,529 hospitals. 12 Sigma believes these facilities are where it could achieve most of its sales by selling device kits and charging maintenance fees in the future.

The bottom tier had 10,135 primary hospitals, which tend to concentrate in small towns and lack the financial capacity to pay the one-off device fees. As such, 12 Sigma plans to monetize these regions with a pay-per-use model.

So far, the medical imaging startup has about 200 hospitals across China testing its devices — for free. It’s sold only 10 machines, generating several millions of yuan in revenue, while very few of its rivals have achieved any sales at all according to Gao. At this stage, the key is to glean enough data so the startup’s algorithms get good enough to convince hospital administrators the machines are worth the investment. The company is targeting 100 million yuan ($14.8 million) in sales for 2019 and aims to break even by 2020.

China’s relatively lax data protection policy means entrepreneurs have easier access to patient scans compared to their peers in the west. Working with American hospitals has proven “very difficult” due to the country’s privacy protection policies, said Gao. They also come with a different motive. While China seeks help from AI to solve its doctor shortage, American hospitals place a larger focus on AI’s economic returns.

“The healthcare system in the U.S. is much more market-driven. Though doctors could be more conservative about applying AI than those in China, as soon as we prove that our devices can boost profitability, reduce misdiagnoses and lower insurance expenditures, health companies are keen to give it a try,” said Gao.

Two former Qualcomm engineers are using AI to fix China’s healthcare problem

Artificial intelligence is widely heralded as something that could disrupt the jobs market across the board — potentially eating into careers as varied as accountants, advertising agents, reporters and more — but there are some industries in dire need of assistance where AI could make a wholly positive impact, a core one being healthcare.

Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China is still coping with a serious shortage of medical resources. In 2015, the country had 1.8 physicians per 1,000 citizens, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That figure puts China behind the U.S. at 2.6 and was well below the OECD average of 3.4.

The undersupply means a nation of overworked doctors who constantly struggle to finish screening patient scans. Misdiagnoses inevitably follow. Spotting the demand, forward-thinking engineers and healthcare professionals move to get deep learning into analyzing medical images. Research firm IDC estimates that the market for AI-aided medical diagnosis and treatment in China crossed 183 million yuan ($27 million) in 2017 and is expected to reach 5.88 billion yuan ($870 million) by 2022.

One up-and-comer in the sector is 12 Sigma, a San Diego-based startup founded by two former Qualcomm engineers with research teams in China. The company is competing against Yitu, Infervision and a handful of other well-funded Chinese startups that help doctors detect cancerous cells from medical scans. Between January and May last year alone, more than 10 Chinese companies with such a focus scored fundings of over 10 million yuan ($1.48 million), according to startup data provider Iyiou. 12 Sigma itself racked up a 200 million yuan Series B round at the end of 2017 and is mulling a new funding round as it looks to ramp up its sales team and develop new products, the company told TechCrunch.

“2015 to artificial intelligence is like 1995 to the Internet. It was the dawn of a revolution,” recalled Zhong Xin, who quit his management role at Qualcomm and went on to launch 12 Sigma in 2015. At the time, AI was cereping into virtually all facets of life, from public security, autonomous driving, agriculture, education to finance. Zhong took a bet on health care.

“For most industries, the AI technology might be available, but there isn’t really a pressing problem to solve. You are creating new demand there. But with healthcare, there is a clear problem, that is, how to more efficiently spot diseases from a single image,” the chief executive added.

An engineer named Gao Dashan who had worked closely with Zhong at Qualcomm’s U.S. office on computer vision and deep learning soon joined as the startup’s technology head. The pair both attended China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, another experience that boosted their sense of camaraderie.

Aside from the potential financial rewards, the founders also felt an urge to start something on their own as they entered their 40s. “We were too young to join the Internet boom. If we don’t create something now for the AI era, it will be too late for us to be entrepreneurs,” admitted Zhong who, with age, also started to recognize the vulnerability of life. “We see friends and relatives with cancers get diagnosed too late and end up  The more I see this happen, the more strongly I feel about getting involved in healthcare to give back to society.”

A three-tier playbook

12 Sigma and its peers may be powering ahead with their advanced imaging algorithms, but the real challenge is how to get China’s tangled mix of healthcare facilities to pay for novel technologies. Infervision, which TechCrunch wrote about earlier, stations programmers and sales teams at hospitals to mingle with doctors and learn their needs. 12 Sigma deploys the same on-the-ground strategy to crack the intricate network.

12 sigma

Zhong Xin, Co-founder and CEO of 12 Sigma / Photo source: 12 Sigma

“Social dynamics vary from region to region. We have to build trust with local doctors. That’s why we recruit sales persons locally. That’s the foundation. Then we begin by tackling the tertiary hospitals. If we manage to enter these hospitals,” said Zhong, referring to the top public hospitals in China’s three-tier medical system. “Those partnerships will boost our brand and give us greater bargaining power to go after the smaller ones.”

For that reason, the tertiary hospitals are crowded with earnest startups like 12 Sigma as well as tech giants like Tencent, which has a dedicated medical imaging unit called Miying. None of these providers is charging the top boys for using their image processors because “they could easily switch over to another brand,” suggested Gao.

Instead, 12 Sigma has its eyes on the second-tier hospitals. As of last April, China had about 30,000 hospitals, out of which 2,427 were rated tertiary, according to a survey done by the National Health and Family Planning Commission. The second tier, serving a wider base in medium-sized cities, had a network of 8,529 hospitals. 12 Sigma believes these facilities are where it could achieve most of its sales by selling device kits and charging maintenance fees in the future.

The bottom tier had 10,135 primary hospitals, which tend to concentrate in small towns and lack the financial capacity to pay the one-off device fees. As such, 12 Sigma plans to monetize these regions with a pay-per-use model.

So far, the medical imaging startup has about 200 hospitals across China testing its devices — for free. It’s sold only 10 machines, generating several millions of yuan in revenue, while very few of its rivals have achieved any sales at all according to Gao. At this stage, the key is to glean enough data so the startup’s algorithms get good enough to convince hospital administrators the machines are worth the investment. The company is targeting 100 million yuan ($14.8 million) in sales for 2019 and aims to break even by 2020.

China’s relatively lax data protection policy means entrepreneurs have easier access to patient scans compared to their peers in the west. Working with American hospitals has proven “very difficult” due to the country’s privacy protection policies, said Gao. They also come with a different motive. While China seeks help from AI to solve its doctor shortage, American hospitals place a larger focus on AI’s economic returns.

“The healthcare system in the U.S. is much more market-driven. Though doctors could be more conservative about applying AI than those in China, as soon as we prove that our devices can boost profitability, reduce misdiagnoses and lower insurance expenditures, health companies are keen to give it a try,” said Gao.

Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush Soocas raises $30 million Series C

China’s Soocas continues to jostle with global toothbrush giants as it raises 200 million yuan ($30 million) in a series C funding round. The Shenzhen-based oral care manufacturer has secured the new capital from lead investor Vision Knight Capital, with Kinzon Capital, Greenwoods Investment, Yunmu Capital and Cathay Capital also participating in the round.

The new proceeds arrived less than a year after Soocas, one of Xiaomi’s home appliance portfolio startups, snapped up close to 100 million yuan in a Series B round last March. Best known for its budget smartphones, Xiaomi has a grand plan to construct an Internet of Things empire that encompasses smart TVs to electric toothbrushes, and it has been gearing up by shelling out strategic investments for consumer goods makers such as Soocas.

Founded in 2015, Soocas’s rise reflects a growing demand for personal care accessories as people’s disposable income increases. Electric toothbrushes are a relatively new concept to most Chinese consumers but the category is picking up steam fast. According to data compiled by Alibaba’s advertising service Alimama, gross merchandise volume sales of electric toothbrushes grew 97 percent between 2015 and 2017. Multinational brands still dominate the oral care space in China, with Procter & Gamble, Colgate and Hawley & Hazel Chemical occupying the top three spots as of 2017, a report from Euromonitor International shows, but local players are rapidly catching up.

Soocas faces some serious competition from its Chinese peers Usmile and Roaman. Like Soocas, the two rivals have also placed their offices in southern China for proximity to the region’s robust supply chain resources. Part of Soocas’s strength comes from its tie-up with Xiaomi, which gives its portfolio companies access to a massive online and offline distribution network worldwide. That comes at a cost, however, as Xiaomi is known to impose razor-thin margins on the companies it backs and controls.

According to a statement from Soocas’s founder Meng Fandi, the company has achieved profitability since its launch and has seen its margin increase over the years. It plans to spend its fresh proceeds on marketing in a race to lure China’s increasingly sophisticated young consumers with toothbrushes and its new lines of hair dryers, nasal trimmers and other tools that make you squeaky-clean.

A government propaganda app is going viral in China

Besides binge-watching TikTok videos and battling enemies in the magical land of mobile games, many Chinese people may also pass time during the upcoming Lunar New Year on Xuexi Qiangguo, a news and chat app developed by the country’s top ideology officials.

The app managed to top the Chinese App Store between January 22 and 25 before two ByteDance apps pushed it down to the third place this week, download statistics from App Annie shows. At a glance, the news section is almost exclusively about the Communist Party and president Xi Jinping.

xuexi qiangguo

The app is almost exclusively about the Communist Party and president Xi Jinping.

It doubles as an instant messenger, with development support provided by Alibaba’s Dingtalk enterprise communications tool. That means users can log in via their Dingtalk account and chat with their Dingtalk contacts directly over Xuexi Qiangguo.

xuexi qiangguo

The app doubles as a messenger with technical support provided by Alibaba’s Dingtalk.

Directly translated as “studying strengthens the nation,” Xuexi Qiangguo is the product of a research center under China’s Publicity Department, an important organ in charge of how information disseminates in the country. The digital weapon underscores the Communist Party’s growing efforts in recent years to appeal to phone-savvy generations, though the app seems to have peaked.

As of February 1, the iOS version of Xuexi Qiangguo is rated 2.4 out of 5 from 6,810 reviews. Its impressive download number, as it turns out, is in part a result of top-down order. Many early users are Party members or work in China’s giant state apparatus, who were told to install the app. Several users TechCrunch spoke to, including a public school principal, a director of a district party committee and a municipal government official, confirmed that everyone in their organizations must download the app and every now and then, users may get quizzed on relevant content.

Newspapers and social media posts also suggest local governments have mandated downloads among Party members and encouraged the general public to give it a try. Some take a step further to organize offline study sessions for the app. For some context, China had nearly 90 million Communist Party members by the end of 2017.

xuexi qiangguo

A city in Hunan Province has ordered all Party members to install Xuexi Qiangguo, a local newspaper reported. The photo shows a study session held for the app. Source: 衡阳晚报 via Weibo 

“I believe that most of the downloads were incentivized, probably only a very small portion was initiated by a real interest,” says Kristin Shi-Kupfer, director at MERICS, a German think tank specializing in China. “This app will probably drop out of the rankings of any app store soon.”

To engage the younger crowd, the app takes cues from new media forms in China’s flourishing online world. The news section, for instance, appears to be modelled on ByteDance’s popular news app Jinri Toutiao . While Toutiao uses algorithms to understand user preferences and delivers content from a wide array of third-party publications, Xuexi Qiangguo curates from an army of 18 state-controlled outlets.

The app also has a gamified loyalty program, which rewards users virtual points when they complete a task, such as daily sign-in. Since registrations are on a real-name basis, supervisors can check who in their organizations haven’t installed the app, ushering in a new kind of digital monitoring.

“The timing of the publishing of this app might be linked to the upcoming Chinese New Year Festival, which the Chinese Communist Party sees as an opportunity and a necessity to spread their ideology,” notes Shi-Kupfer.” [It] may be hoping that people would use the holiday season to take a closer look, but probably also knowing that most people would rather choose other sources to relax, consume and travel.”

The third paragraph was updated.

China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks

China will fast-track the issuance of commercial licenses for 5G as part of a national plan to boost consumer spending, said a notice published this week by the National Development and Reform Commission. The move appears to be multifaceted, for 5G plays a key role in China’s bid to lead the global technology race and one of its biggest 5G champions, Huawei, has been facing troubles on a global scale.

In its statement, the economic regulator calls on local governments to support the promotion and showcase of services utilizing the super-fast network technology. Ultra-high definition TVs, virtual/augmented reality handsets and other futuristic products will be eligible for government subsidies, though the regulator didn’t outline the detailed criteria.

The acceleration of 5G licenses comes as Beijing copes with a weakening national economy, a move that will “drum up demand with upgraded technology experiences across devices, automotive and manufacturing leveraging 5G technology,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, to TechCrunch. 5G is on course to generate 6.3 trillion yuan ($947 billion) worth of economic output and 8 million jobs for China by 2030, according to estimates from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Beijing has been gearing up to be the world leader in the next-generation network tech, pouring resources into 5G research and infrastructure. But it has been hit with a speed bump overseas as western countries grow increasingly wary of spy threat posed by Chinese 5G equipments. A souped-up domestic drive, therefore, could help neutralize some of the global setbacks faced by its 5G crown jewels like Huawei.

The U.S. and Australia have banned local firms from procuring equipment from Huawei, and Canada and the U.K. are currently reviewing whether to continue using 5G parts made by the Chinese telecom equipment giant. Meanwhile, Huawei is facing a list of criminal charges from the U.S. for stealing state secrets and its financial chief Meng is accused of bank fraud.

“Aaccelerating 5G licenses should indirectly help Huawei gain competitive edge for 5G considering it will be supplying solutions to the world’s largest mobile cellular market, China,” observes Counterpoint’s Shah. “This also gives Huawei an early platform to showcase its technology to the world and attract more global business.”

Huawei has continued with its 5G push despite being dogged by a string of global woes. Last week, the Shenzhen-based conglomerate unviled a 5G chipset for multiple commercial uses across smartphones, home and work. The chip, dubbed the Balong 5000, will be launching in February at a Barcelona tech trade show.

Meet the little-known Chinese WiFi startup that rubs shoulders with WeChat and Alipay

A service that connects people to WiFi hotspots for free turned out to be one of China’s most popular apps, nestling in the top ranks with Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s digital wallet affiliate Alipay. According to a report from app tracking service App Annie, WiFi Master Key was China’s fifth-largest app and the world’s ninth largest by monthly active users in 2018, titles it also held in 2017.

app annie china 2018

Report: The State of Mobile 2019, App Annie

The aptly-named WiFi Master Key, which owns the enviable domain wifi.com, is the product of a little-known startup called LinkSure in Shanghai that gets people onto the nearest wireless networks without the need for passwords. In addition, the app also recommends news and video content based on users’ past habits to lock them in, a feature similar to that of ByteDance’s algorithm-driven Jinri Toutiao news app.

Like many consumer-facing services in China, the app is free to use and monetizes traffic through advertising. It claims 700 million MAUs in China and another 100 million around the world. WeChat and Alipay, by comparison, each has around 1 billion MAUs worldwide.

The internet connectivity service helped LinkSure secure $52 million from a Series A round and value the parent at $1 billion back in 2015, only two years after the firm had launched. LinkSure has not announced further fundings since then and has kept a relatively low profile, though its founder Chen Danian was a household name from China’s early internet days. Along with his brother Chen Tianqiao, Chen founded Shanda Games, once China’s largest operator of online games before the rise of Tencent.

In November, Chen resigned as LinkSure’s chief operating officer as former Shanda executive Wang Jingying took over the reins to become one of the few prominent female CEOs in China’s tech sector.

Sharing passwords

The idea of freeloading on strangers’ networks strikes one as dodgy (or too good to be true), but the reality is more nuanced. WiFi Master Key keeps a database of passwords while encrypts and hides them from users, the company explains on its site. How does it collect all the credentials in the first place? Well, every time someone uses it to key in a login, the internet access app transmits that piece of information to the cloud. When people use it to, say, enter the WiFi passcode a barista just gave them, the data gets stored and shared to whoever at the cafe that uses the app.

wifi master key

Aside from bringing connectivity, WiFi Master Key also provides news, e-book and video content to lock users in. Screenshot: TechCrunch

Those inner workings enable the app to bill itself as a WiFi “sharing” service and distance itself from anything that’s remotely a hack. But its data practice still draws concerns over user privacy. Last April, the Chinese state television broadcaster ran a 25-minute feature lambasting the app for “stealing passwords.” That was followed by an industry-wide crackdown from the state’s cybersecurity watchdog on all WiFi crowdsourcing services with lacklustre security practices.

LinkSure rebuked the state report and said it always asked for user consent before gleaning their data. Chances are few people read the lengthy terms of use on any kind of apps in real life, and the less digital savvy may fail to grasp how the app actually works. A major source of debate is when users inadvertently make their house WiFi publicly available after giving the credentials away to a guest who happens to use the data ravenous app to access the host’s network. WiFi Master Key has not responded to emailed questions about its security practices.

Aside from enabling strangers to crowdsource WiFi, LinkSure has also joined hands with two major Chinese telecommunication companies to offer a separate broadband card with appealing data plans. That puts it in competition with Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and other tech firms that are working with big telcos to provide cheap or unlimited data enticing people to use their in-house apps.

Meanwhile, LinkSure is eying to beam down its own internet connection from the space as SpaceX and OneWeb do. The plan is to target the next few billion rural users who are just coming online and live in areas currently uncovered by terrestrial networks. LinkSure says it’s aiming to provide free satellite network around the world by 2026, with the first out of a constellation of 272 satellites bound to launch later this year.

A government-backed report put the number of people with internet access in China at 802 million in June, leaving nearly 600 million who are still unconnected. 30 million people came online for the first time last year, including an expanding base of elderly users who are increasingly embracing Alipay and WeChat to go about daily lives.

China finally grants a game license to Tencent

Tencent has finally come out of a prolonged freeze on game approvals as Beijing granted licenses to two of its mobile games this month.

According to a notice published by China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on January 24, Tencent is one of nearly 200 games assigned licenses in January.

That’s big news for the Shenzhen-based firm which has seen its share price plummet in the past months because the licensing halt crippled its ability to generate gaming revenues. Tencent is best known for its immensely popular WeChat messenger, but gaming makes up a bulk of its earnings.

China resumed its game approval process in December after a nine-month hiatus during which it worked to reshuffle its main regulating bodies for games. However, it left Tencent, the country’s biggest game publisher, and runner-up NetEase off its first batch of approved titles. NetEase also scored its first post-freeze license this month.

Despite the thawing, industry experts warn that approving will come at a much slower rate than before as regulators look to more closely monitor game contents, putting the burden on game developers and publishers to decipher new industry rules.

“The size of the gaming company does not matter. It matters how fast the company can be adapting to the new set of rules and guidelines,” Shenzhen-based game consultant Ilya Gutov told TechCrunch in December.

More to come

Microsoft confirms Bing is down in China

Microsoft’s Bing is down in China, according to users who took to social media beginning Wednesday afternoon to complain and express concerns.

The Seattle-based behemoth has confirmed that its search engine is currently inaccessible in China and is “engaged to determine next steps,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch Thursday morning.

Citing sources, the Financial Times reported (paywalled) on Thursday that China Unicom, a major state-owned telecommunication company, confirmed the government had ordered a block on Bing.

Public reaction

The situation appears to be a DNS (domain name system) corruption, one method for China to block websites through its intricate censoring system called the Great Firewall. When a user enters a domain name associated with a banned IP address, the Firewall will corrupt the connection to stop the page from loading.

Several users told TechCrunch they are still able to access Bing by directly visiting its IP address as of Thursday morning.

Other users writing on social media believe the block is a result of Bing’s server crash after a viral article (link in Chinese) attacking Baidu’s search quality directed traffic to its lesser-known American rival. Many referred to a Chinese report that says high traffic from Baidu had crashed Bing. The article, published by Jiemian, a news site under the state-owned Shanghai United Media Group, now returns a 404 error.

Tight seal

Bing remained one of the few non-Chinese internet firms that still have their core products up and running in a country where Google and Facebook have long been unavailable. Another rare case is LinkedIn, which runs a filtered version of its social network for professionals and caught flack for bending to local censorship.

Bing also censors its search service for Chinese users, so it would be odd if its inaccessibility turned out to be a case of government clampdown. That said, China appears to be further tightening control over the cyberspace. Case in point, LinkedIn recently started to run strict identity checks on its China-based users.

Baidu remains the biggest search engine in China with smaller rival Sogou coming in second. Bing, which some users find is a more pleasant alternative to local options that are usually flooded with ads, is active on 320,000 unique devices monthly, according to third-party research firm iResearch. That’s dwarfed by Baidu’s 466 million and Sogou’s 43 million.

Google told the U.S. Congress in December it had no immediate plans to relaunch its search engine in China but felt “reaching out and giving users more information has a very positive impact.” The Mountain View-based firm shut down its search engine in mainland China back in 2010 under pressure over censorship but also cited cyber attacks as a factor in its decision to leave.

Canada’s Telus says partner Huawei is ‘reliable’: reports

The US-China tension over Huawei is leaving telecommunications companies around the world at a crossroad, but one spoke out last week. Telus, one of Canada’s largest phone companies showed support for its Chinese partner despite a global backlash against Huawei over cybersecurity threats.

“Clearly, Huawei remains a viable and reliable participant in the Canadian telecommunications space, bolstered by globally leading innovation, comprehensive security measures, and new software upgrades,” said an internal memo signed by a Telus executive that The Globe and Mail obtained.

The Vancouver-based firm is among a handful of Canadian companies that could potentially leverage the Shenzhen-based company to build out 5G systems, the technology that speeds up not just mobile connection but more crucially powers emerging fields like low-latency autonomous driving and 8K video streaming. TechCrunch has contacted Telus for comments and will update the article when more information becomes available.

The United States has long worried that China’s telecom equipment makers could be beholden to Beijing and thus pose espionage risks. As fears heighten, President Donald Trump is reportedly mulling a boycott of Huawei and ZTE this year, according to Reuters. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that US federal prosecutors may bring criminal charges against Huawei for stealing trade secrets.

Australia and New Zealand have both blocked local providers from using Huawei components. The United Kingdom has not officially banned Huawei but its authorities have come under pressure to take sides soon.

Canada, which is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network alongside Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US, is still conducting a security review ahead of its 5G rollout but has been urged by neighboring US to steer clear of Huawei in building the next-gen tech.

China has hit back at spy claims against its tech crown jewel over the past months. Last week, its ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye warned that blocking the world’s largest telecom equipment maker may yield repercussions.

“I always have concerns that Canada may make the same decision as the US, Australia and New Zealand did. And I believe such decisions are not fair because their accusations are groundless,” Lu said at a press conference. “As for the consequences of banning Huawei from 5G network, I am not sure yet what kind of consequences will be, but I surely believe there will be consequences.”

Last week also saw Huawei chief executive officer Ren Zhengfei appear in a rare interview with international media. At the roundtable, he denied security charges against the firm he founded in 1987 and cautioned the exclusion of Chinese firms may delay plans in the US to deliver ultra-high-speed networks to rural populations — including to the rich.

“If Huawei is not involved in this, these districts may have to pay very high prices in order to enjoy that level of experience,” argued Ren. “Those countries may voluntarily approach Huawei and ask Huawei to sell them 5G products rather than banning Huawei from selling 5G systems.”

The Huawei controversy comes as the US and China are locked in a trade war that’s sending reverberations across countries that rely on the US for security protection and China for investment and increasingly skilled — not just cheap — labor.

Canada got caught between the feuding giants after it arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who’s also Ren’s daughter, at the request of US authorities. The White House is now facing a deadline at the end of January to extradite Meng. Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trump are urging Beijing to release two Canadian citizens who Beijing detained following Meng’s arrest.

Tesla to recall 14,000 Model S cars in China over faulty Takata airbags

China’s top market regulator said on Friday that Tesla will recall a total of 14,123 imported Model S vehicles in the country over potentially deadly airbags.

The recall is part of an industry-wide crackdown on Takata-made front passenger airbags, which involves roughly 37 million vehicles including more mainstream brands such as Toyota and Ford, as noted by the United States Department of Transportation. These defective airbags use a propellant that might rupture the airbag and cause serious injuries, or even deaths.

Tesla has begun a worldwide recall of its sedans that use Takata airbags, the firm said on its Support blog. It noted that the airbags only become defective based on certain factors, such as age. The recall does not affect later Model S vehicles, Roadster, Model X, or its more affordable Model 3.

The China recall involves Model S cars manufactured between February 2014 to December 2016, shows a notice posted on the website of China’s State Administration for Market Regulation. TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla for comments and will update the article once more information is available.

The setback comes as Tesla is making a big push into the world’s largest auto market and tapping on Beijing’s effort to phase out fossil-fuel cars for China. The company recently reached an agreement with the Shanghai government to build its first Gigafactory outside the US, which will focus on making Model 3 cars for Chinese consumers. There is no target date for the factory to become fully operational yet.

Despite being an alluring market, China has been a major source of Tesla’s concerns over the past months due to escalating trade tensions and the rollback of government subsidies for green vehicles. Tesla responded by slashing its Model 3 price by 7.6 percent for China to neutralize heavy tariffs on imported cars.

The Palo Alto-based company previously recalled 8,898 Model S vehicles in China over corroding bolts, which it claimed at the time had not led to any accidents or injuries.