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China demands real names online, bans parody accounts and news article comments

One out of three ain't bad

By Iain Thomson, 4 Feb 2015

From March 1, people in China must reveal their real names before they can join social networks and use other websites – or face cyber-exile.

The ban on pseudonyms, plus the removal of reader comments from web articles, is a further crackdown on privacy and freedom of speech in the Middle Kingdom.

According to the Cyberspace Administration of China, ISPs must enforce the new rules by demanding and collecting the real identities of anyone using blogs, instant-messaging services, web discussion forums, or news comment sections.

Failure to comply will allow the authorities to pull the plug on an ISP; presumably, internet providers will block anyone who wants to remain anonymous rather than face a shutdown at the hands of g-men.

ISPs are also required to delete some comments from social networks, including those "subverting state power, undermining national unity," spreading rumors, criticizing the state's religious policies, "promoting cults and feudal superstition," or encouraging the use of pornography by China's horny-handed sons and daughters of toil.

And certain names are now off limits. There's a ban on posing as "counterfeit celebrities including foreign heads of state such as Putin or Obama," and on pretending to be a media outlet or public organization.

The proliferation of such parody accounts was "a serious violation of socialist core values," the regulator said, adding that it was "against the public interest," and that the majority of Chinese citizens will applaud the new rules.

This is the Chinese government once again strengthening its grip on the internet. In January the Great Firewall got an upgrade that slammed the door on VPN-related traffic crossing its borders and inadvertently borked some unrelated servers.

"It appears that China is using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to analyze plain-text web traffic through the Great Firewall," reported VPN provider Golden Frog.

"When the Chinese DPI equipment sees requests for Golden Frog websites, they block them. Blocking via DPI is different than a DNS block or network traffic block, because it inspects the underlying web content. Even if the website moves to another server or network, China’s DPI gear still reads the packets going to the new location and blocks the traffic."

A few days later it emerged that the government was also planning to insist that Western companies operating in China would have to include backdoors in their encryption algorithms for official government use, and allow security audits to be carried out on their source code.

The UK and US are using China's policies as a textbook. Both the FBI and the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron want the same thing.

The justification for China's the new social media controls is a familiar one – the changes will prevent fraud, cut crime, and be for the public good. But it's clear the Chinese government recognizes that the internet could be a serious disruptive force and needs to be tightly controlled. ®

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing