Blackberry Surges on Deal With Baidu for Self-driving Cars

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BlackBerry Ltd and Chinese internet search firm Baidu Inc on Wednesday signed a deal to jointly develop self-driving vehicle technology, sending BlackBerry’s Toronto-listed shares up 13 percent to a four-year high.

The deal follows similar agreements with firms including Qualcomm Inc, Denso and Aptiv Plc to develop autonomous-driving technology with BlackBerry’s QNX software, which are expected to start generating revenue in 2019.

Investors and analysts are closely watching what comes of those agreements amid expectations that QNX could become a key technology in the burgeoning self-driving vehicle industry, serving as the operating system for computer chips used to run self-driving vehicles.

QNX will be the operating system for Apollo, a platform for self-driving vehicles that Baidu announced in April and has billed as the “Android” of the autonomous driving industry.

“The opportunity is global, it’s for a very large market and I think it’s a very solid win for BlackBerry,” said CIBC Capital Markets analyst Todd Coupland.

Apollo has since signed up several major automakers, including Ford Motor Co, Hyundai Motor Group and several Chinese carmakers.

QNX has long been used to run car infotainment consoles. BlackBerry has recently developed the software to run sophisticated computer chips for autos that manage multiple safety-critical systems.

BlackBerry shares rose 13 percent in Toronto to C$16.95, their sharpest one-day gain since April and highest close since March 2013.

The two companies said they will also integrate Baidu’s CarLife, a leading smartphone integration software for connected cars in China, its conversational AI system and high definition maps with BlackBerry’s infotainment platform.

 

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One Difference Between 2009 vs 2018 Iran Protests? 48 Million Smartphones

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In 2009, the world watched as Iranians marching in the streets turned to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to organize and share information.

The technology-assisted protests were dubbed the first “Twitter revolution.”

Flash forward to 2018 and technology again is playing a role in demonstrations sweeping cities across Iran.

But much has changed in the intervening years when it comes to the communication tools used by Iranian citizens for organizing and publicizing protests.

Here are some of the main changes:

1. The rise of smartphones has brought more Iranians on to the internet

In 2009, fewer than 15 percent of Iranians had internet access, according to the World Bank.

While Twitter was used to get news of the protests out to the world, it is unclear how much of a role it or any service played to help organize political actions. Word of mouth, in some accounts, as well as SMS messaging over cellphones (and just 30 percent of Iranians owned a cell phone) played a larger role than internet services.

Now, with the advent of smartphones in Iran – about half of Iranians, or 48 million people, have smartphones. More than 50 percent of Iranians are online.

2. An explosion in messaging options

In 2009, Facebook and Twitter were relatively new with Iranians accessing the services mostly on their desktop computers.

As the 2009 protests unfolded, the Obama administration asked Twitter to delay an update that would have taken the service offline to allow Iranians to continue to use it.

Now, Iranian citizens have a number of ways of receiving and sending messages – straight from the device they carry in their pockets.

Of these newer services, the most popular in Iran is Telegram, an instant messaging service that offers encrypted secret chats and channels, where people discuss news and current events. By one count, more than 100,000 Iranian channels are on Telegram. Facebook’s Instagram is the second most popular service.

“Telegram channels are frequently used for organizing protests and for sharing political opinion,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

As the protests continued, the Iranian government shut down Telegram and Instagram. But other messaging apps give users options.

“Regime in Iran can shut down signal, telegram, etc., but differently from 2009, the whole country is connected and they have a long list of other messaging apps to use,” tweeted Jared Cohen, founder and chief executive of Jigsaw, an Alphabet company, and a senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations. “This time around, it’s much harder to win a game of technology wack-a-mole.”

And indeed, the head of Telegram took to Twitter on Tuesday to suggest users go to Whatsapp, which “remains fully accessible in Iran.”

3. Wider adoption of anti-filtering tools

Since the 2009 Green Movement, more Iranians have access to anti-censorship technology, such as VPNs and proxies, servers that transmit content that can evade government controls.

“Iranian internet users are making use of a wider variety of circumvention tools that allow for selective access to blocked resources,” said Alp Toker, founder of NetBlocks.org, a digital rights group.

“This could be down to a more mature understanding of internet filtering that has developed since the Green Movement protests after 2009, supported by domestic technical expertise and earlier initiatives to develop tools for Iran,” Toker said. “This suggests that workarounds for Iran’s internet filters have become a way of life for many mobile and desktop internet users.”

4. Dangers exist for Iranians using mobile technology

With more communication technologies available to Iranians, they are more regulated and less open than they were in 2009, says Toker. Mobile devices are more restricted than computers, making it more difficult to circumvent Iran’s internet filters, he added.

In addition, many Iranians are using outdated iPhone devices and skipping software security updates, which means they may be more vulnerable to state-sponsored hacking and surveillance, Toker said.

Since 2009, the Iranian government has worked to create its own internet service and restricted content it considers objectionable on commercial services.

“Iran’s own strict regime of internet filters, but also U.S. sanctions limiting the transfer and sale of technology and security products, are likely contributing factors that mean the choke points are still an effective mechanism for mass control,” Toker said.

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Spotify Hit With New Copyright Lawsuit in US

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A music publisher is seeking at least $1.6 billion from Spotify for alleged copyright violations, the latest lawsuit to hit the fast-growing streaming company.

Wixen Music Publishing Inc., which holds rights to songs of major artists including Neil Young, the Doors, Tom Petty and Santana, charged in a lawsuit that Spotify failed to seek licenses for significant parts of its 30 million-song catalog.

“While Spotify has become a multibillion-dollar company, songwriters and their publishers, such as Wixen, have not been able to fairly and rightfully share in Spotify’s success, as Spotify has in many cases used their music without a license and without compensation,” said the lawsuit filed last week in a federal court in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit said that Spotify initially tried to work with record labels but, “in a race to be first to market, made insufficient efforts to collect the required musical composition information.”

Wixen, which is seeking a jury trial against the Swedish company, presented a list of 10,784 songs for which it questioned Spotify’s permission to stream.

The publisher said it was seeking the maximum allowed $150,000 in damages for copyright damages for each song, meaning an award of at least $1.6 billion, along with the fees of its lawyers.

Spotify did not immediately comment on the latest suit. In May, it reached an agreement to settle a pair of two similar lawsuits under which Spotify said it would set up a $43.45 million fund to compensate songwriters.

Wixen called the settlement, which still needs final approval from a judge, “grossly insufficient” and said that it would opt out of the deal insofar as possible.

Even if unsuccessful, lawsuits amount to a headache for Spotify as the company considers going public.

Spotify, which has been valued at anywhere from $8 billion to $16 billion, has maintained its dominance as streaming rapidly grows and transforms the recorded music market.

Spotify said in July that it had 60 million users worldwide who pay for subscriptions, with 80 million more using its free tier.

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Brazil Closes Out 2017 with Record Trade Surplus

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Brazil’s road to economic recovery has passed another milestone with official data showing Tuesday that the country finished 2017 with a record trade surplus 40.5 percent higher than in the previous year.

The $67 billion surplus was in line with market projections and within the $65 billion to $70 billion range forecast by the government.

Brazil’s economy is projected to grow 2 percent this year, according to an annual report by the United Nations-backed Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) released last month.

That is unspectacular but solid — and far better than the 0.2 percent expected for 2017, or the two years of its worst-ever recession preceding that.

The government’s own projections are slightly more optimistic: 3 percent in 2018 and 1.1 percent in 2017.

Economy Minister Henrique Meirelles said last month that the improvement was owed to better “fiscal control, the approval of a freeze on public spending and reforms in general.”

The country’s key interest rate is now at a record low of 7 percent, half of what it was in late 2016. Inflation is now considered a minimal risk.

Brazil’s center-right president, Michel Temer, has spearheaded austerity cuts, looser labor laws and a big privatization program to boost the economy, Latin America’s largest.

But Temer remains unpopular with voters, clouding the political outlook ahead of presidential election this year.

The front-runners for the election are leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and rightwing former army officer Jair Bolsonaro. Neither man is much welcomed by investors.

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US Coal Mining Deaths Surge in 2017 After Hitting Record Low

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Coal mining deaths surged in the U.S. in 2017, one year after they hit a record low.

The nation’s coal mines recorded 15 deaths last year, including eight in West Virginia. Kentucky had two deaths, and there were one each in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. In 2016 there were eight U.S. coal mine deaths.

West Virginia has led the nation in coal mining deaths in six of the past eight years. That includes 2010, when 29 miners were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.

In September, President Donald Trump appointed retired coal company executive David Zatezalo as the new chief of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Most of the deaths this year occurred before his appointment. The Wheeling resident retired in 2014 as chairman of Rhino Resources.

Zatezalo was narrowly approved by the Senate in November. His appointment was opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who said he was not convinced Zatezalo was suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.

Last month the Trump administration brought up for review standards implemented by Barack Obama’s administration that lowered the allowable limits for miners’ exposure to coal dust. MSHA indicated it is reconsidering rules meant to protect underground miners from breathing coal and rock dust — the cause of black lung — and diesel exhaust, which can cause cancer.

Eight coal mining deaths this year involved hauling vehicles and two others involved machinery. None were attributed to an explosion of gas or dust, which was to blame for the Upper Big Branch disaster.

The number of coal mining fatalities was under 20 for the fourth straight year after reaching exactly 20 in 2011, 2012 and 2013. By comparison, in 1966, the mining industry counted 233 deaths. A century ago there were 2,226.

MSHA has attributed low numbers in previous years to far fewer coal mining jobs and tougher enforcement of mining safety rules. Zatezalo, who said in October that his first priority was preventing people from getting hurt, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left with MSHA on Tuesday.

There have been 13 fatalities in 2017 in non-coal mines that produce gravel, sand, limestone and mineable metals. There also were 17 such deaths in 2015 and 30 in 2014.

Coal production

Appalachia has been especially hit hard by the closing of dozens of mines in recent years, but there was a turnaround in production in 2017.

According to the Energy Information Administration’s weekly estimates, U.S. coal production increased 8.9 percent in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 23, the latest available. Production in West Virginia increased 16 percent, including 25 percent in coal-rich southern West Virginia.

Wyoming, the top coal-producing state, saw a 10.7 percent increase and Pennsylvania had an 11.6 percent hike.

There were about 92,000 working miners in the United States in 2011, compared with about 52,000 in 2016, the lowest figure since the Energy Information Administration began collecting data in 1978. The 2017 numbers are not yet available.

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China’s WeChat Denies Storing User Chats

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Tencent Holdings’ WeChat, China’s most popular messenger app, on Tuesday denied storing users’ chat histories, after a top businessman was quoted in media reports as saying he believed Tencent was monitoring everyone’s account.

“WeChat does not store any users’ chat history. That is only stored in users’ mobiles, computers and other terminals,” WeChat said in a post on the social media platform.

“WeChat will not use any content from user chats for big data analysis. Because of WeChat’s technical model that does not store or analyze user chats, the rumor that ‘we are watching your WeChat everyday’ is pure misunderstanding.”

Li Shufu, chairman of Geely Holdings, owner of the Volvo car brand, was quoted in Chinese media on Monday as saying Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng “must be watching all our WeChats every day”.

Like all Chinese social media platforms, WeChat is required to censor public posts deemed “illegal” by the Communist Party.

WeChat’s privacy policy says it may need to retain and disclose users’ information “in response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency or similar body”.

WeChat did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

According to a report by Amnesty International, Tencent ranked at the bottom of 11 tech firms running the world’s most popular messenger apps for how they use encryption to protect user privacy.

China’s cyber watchdog in September announced a new rule making chat group administrators and companies accountable for breaches of content rules.

In the same month it handed down maximum penalties to tech firms including Tencent, Baidu Inc and Weibo Corp for failing to properly censor online content, and asked them to increase content auditing measures.

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2017 Safest Year on Record for Commercial Passenger Air Travel

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Airlines recorded zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets last year, according to a Dutch consulting firm and an aviation safety group that tracks crashes, making 2017 the safest year on record for commercial air travel.

Dutch aviation consulting firm To70 and the Aviation Safety Network both reported Monday there were no commercial passenger jet fatalities in 2017. “2017 was the safest year for aviation ever,” said Adrian Young of To70.

To70 estimated that the fatal accident rate for large commercial passenger flights is 0.06 per million flights, or one fatal accident for every 16 million flights.

The Aviation Safety Network also reported there were no commercial passenger jet deaths in 2017, but 10 fatal airliner accidents resulting in 44 fatalities onboard and 35 persons on the ground, including cargo planes and commercial passenger turbo prop aircraft.

That figure includes 12 people killed on Dec. 31 when a Nature Air Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft crashed minutes after takeoff into a mountainous area off the beach town of Punta Islita, Costa Rica.

In comparison, there were 16 accidents and 303 deaths in 2016 among airliners.

The deadliest incident last year occurred in January when a Turkish cargo jet smashed into a village in Kyrgyzstan as it tried to land at a nearby airport in dense fog, killing 35 on the ground and all four onboard.

The Aviation Safety Network said 2017 was “the safest year ever, both by the number of fatal accidents as well as in terms of fatalities.”

Over the last two decades aviation deaths around the world have been steadily falling. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths aboard commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network said.

The United States last recorded a fatal airline passenger jet crash in February 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed short of the runway in Clarence Center, New York, killing 49 onboard and one person on the ground.

In 2016, 412 people were killed in the United States in aviation accidents — nearly all in general aviation accidents and none on commercial passenger airlines.

The last fatal passenger jet airliner accident worldwide took place in November 2016 near Medellin, Colombia and the last commercial passenger aircraft crash to kill more than 100 people occurred in October 2015 in Egypt.

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Minister: UK May Use Taxes to Get Tech Giants to Do More to Fight Extremism

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Britain may impose new taxes on tech giants like Google and Facebook unless they do more to combat online extremism by taking down material aimed at radicalizing people or helping them to prepare attacks, the

country’s security minister said.

Ben Wallace accused tech firms of being happy to sell people’s data but not to give it to the government which was being forced to spend vast sums on de-radicalization programs, surveillance and other counter-terrorism measures.

“If they continue to be less than co-operative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivizing them or compen­sating for their inaction,” Wallace told the Sunday Times newspaper in an interview.

His quotes did not give further details on tax plans. The newspaper said that any demand would take the form of a windfall tax similar to that imposed on privatized utilities by former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government in 1997.

Wallace accused the tech giants of putting private profit before public safety.

“We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers,” he said. “They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected

government.”

Facebook executive Simon Milner rejected the criticisms.

“Mr. Wallace is wrong to say that we put profit before safety, especially in the fight against terrorism,” he said in an emailed statement. “We’ve invested millions of pounds in people and technology to identify and remove terrorist content.”

YouTube, which is owned by Google, said it was doing more every day to tackle violent extremism.

“Over the course of 2017 we have made significant progress through investing in machine learning technology, recruiting more reviewers, building partnerships with experts and collaboration with other companies,” a YouTube spokeswoman said.

Deadly attacks

Britain suffered a series of attacks by Islamic extremists between March and June this year that killed a total of 36 people, excluding the attackers.

Two involved vehicles ramming people on bridges in London, followed by attackers stabbing people. The deadliest, a bombing at a concert in the northern city of Manchester, killed 22 people.

Following the second bridge attack, Prime Minister Theresa May proposed beefing up regulations on cyberspace, and weeks later interior minister Amber Rudd traveled to California to ask Silicon Valley to step up efforts against extremism.

“We are more vulnerable than at any point in the last 100 years,” said Wallace, citing extremist material on social media and encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp as tools that made life too easy for attackers.

“Because content is not being taken down as quickly as they could do, we’re having to de-radicalize people who have been radicalized. That’s costing millions. They can’t get away with that and we should look at all the options, including tax.”

Facebook said it removed 83 percent of uploaded copies of terrorist content within one hour of its being found on the social media network.

It also highlighted plans to double the number of people working in its safety and security teams to 20,000 by the end of 2018.

YouTube said that progress in machine learning meant that 83 percent of violent extremist content was removed without the need for users to flag it.

 

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California Begins Recreational Marijuana Sales

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More than two decades after California became the first U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana use, on January first it becomes the final West Coast state to legalize pot for recreational purposes — a move approved by California voters in November 2016, in a referendum known as Prop 64.

While this is good news for cannabis enthusiasts, those with visions of unencumbered marijuana use in the California sunshine will find that reality is not quite so cut-and-dried — meaning, simple — referring to the processing of tobacco leaves.

Most importantly, while seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, the U.S. federal government still considers it a controlled substance, classified with heroin and LSD as illegal drugs. Elsewhere, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, and Maine and Massachusetts are set to legalize recreational pot in 2018.

Federal versus state law

Former White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in February 2017 that the Department of Justice may be looking into legal marijuana use in the future.

“When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming around so many states… the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an opponent of legalized pot, said in November that he is taking a close look at federal enforcement of anti-drug laws that include marijuana. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” he said at a Senate hearing in 2016.

Federal and state laws come more into play in California, which has several U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints, at which federal agents, mainly searching for illegal immigrants, are also empowered to seize pot stashes and prosecute the owners.

The Associated Press quotes Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of the federal Customs and Border Protection agency, as calling drug seizures at border checkpoints an “ancillary effect”of enforcing immigration laws.

In addition to 34 permanent checkpoints along the U.S. border with Mexico, Border Patrol operates more than 100 “tactical” stops that may appear or disappear as needed, as far as 161 kilometers inside the U.S. border.

AP reports that people found with pot at those checkpoints are typically photographed and fingerprinted, and their stashes seized. The report says those people often aren’t charged with a crime, however, because pot possession in small amounts is considered a low-priority offense.

The checkpoints are legal. Border Patrol agents say they help catch illegal immigrants who have made it past the U.S. border and might disappear into a large city; and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that agents can question people at checkpoints even if they have no reason to believe anyone inside the car is in the country illegally.

Bureau of Cannabis Control

Meanwhile, California has created its own Bureau of Cannabis Control to regulate the growing and sale of cannabis.

Bureau spokesman Alex Traverso told the Los Angeles Times that about eight enforcement officers will be in place by January 1.

The bureau has issued fewer than 200 temporary business licenses so far, although cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco are expected later to issue their own local licenses, which will be required to get a state permit. Only a few dozen retail outlets are expected to be up and running by January 1.

Many localities inside California have not yet approved recreational pot use — and some may choose not to do so at all. Cannabis Control did not start issuing licenses to sell recreational cannabis until mid-December, so many applications are still in the works.

San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley and Eureka are among the towns where pot stores can open on January 1.

Still proponents of legalized pot say bringing the drug out into the open makes it possible to tax sales of cannabis — which lawmakers hope will result in $1 billion a year in new tax revenue for the state. The money will come from a 15 percent state excise tax on every cannabis purchase. Local governments can place additional taxes on top of that — or they can ban pot shops entirely, if they choose.

Daniel Yi, a spokesman for the L.A.-area dispensary Med Men, says he expects an eighth of an ounce of pot to go for about $35 when two Med Men shops begin selling to recreational users on January 2. He told Reuters news agency that three other locations will probably not begin selling to recreational users for a few more weeks.

Keeping out of trouble

Further moves to keep control on the industry include guidelines for retailers, and age and use limits for consumers.

Pot sales will be restricted to people who are age 21 or older, but anyone visiting the state who is of age may buy and consume marijuana at legal outlets. Prop 64 specifically prohibits marketing of pot products to minors.

Pot shops cannot be within 180 meters (600 feet) of a school and they must maintain 24-hour surveillance. They also cannot open before 6 a.m. and must close by 10 p.m.

California anti-smoking laws make it illegal to smoke pot in places where regular tobacco smoking is banned. Employers may still subject employees to drug tests to ensure a drug-free workplace.

Drivers are being warned not to drive after using pot. While it is harder to measure a person’s intoxication level after smoking pot than it is after alcohol consumption, Hound Labs of Oakland is developing what it says is a “marijuana breathalyzer” for cops and employers to gauge whether a person has been using while driving or on the job.

L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he worries about people getting behind the wheel while high.

“The public’s perception is that weed is innocuous, that this is something they did 40 years ago and it is no big deal,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Well, today’s marijuana is not yesterday’s marijuana. The active ingredient, THC, is so much higher today than back 40 years ago.”

As for food products containing THC, Californians will be able to consume them in any public place where food is normally consumed. The publishers of Mother Jones magazine say at least one of their readers wrote in to ask if there will be cannabis ice cream — and the answer, they say, is yes. Medical marijuana users have been consuming it for years. But there’s a catch: the amount of THC allowable in such items is limited to 10 milligrams per serving.

One other effect of the new pot law is that it will reduce penalties on people who have been convicted for pot crimes in the past. In addition to making pot more available, the law that legalized it, known as Prop 64, also makes pot crimes once viewed as felonies into lower-level misdemeanors. That means some people currently in California jails for selling or possessing pot could see their sentences reduced.

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China’s 2017 Movie Ticket Sales Rise 13.5 Percent

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China’s total domestic movie ticket sales rose 13.5 percent in 2017 to 55.9 billion yuan ($8.6 billion), a state news agency said Monday.

The top-grossing title was the mainland-made action picture “Wolf Warrior 2,” which took in 5.7 billion yuan ($875 million), the Xinhua News Agency said, citing data from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

China is the second-largest global film market and is narrowing the gap with the United States, where last year’s domestic box office is estimated to have declined 2.6 percent from 2016 to $11.1 billion.

Mainland-made movies accounted for 54 percent of 2017 ticket sales, or 30.1 billion yuan ($4.6 billion), according to Xinhua.

The No. 2-grossing title was the Hollywood action movie “The Fate of the Furious,” which earned 2.7 billion yuan.

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