News broke this week that the Chinese government is further increasing its control of the Internet in the country, tightening an already-iron grip. China strictly censors and restricts the Internet via a mechanism called the Great Firewall. With newly-proposed regulations, they will increase the Great Firewall’s censorship of websites and expand restrictive practices to mobile and Internet-based applications.
Domain Name Registration
The new legislation greatly increases control over what content websites can display and which sites can operate in the China. The legislation requires websites operating in China to register to a Chinese domain name (.cn) — meaning the government can shut down the website if they want or need to for any reason. This doesn’t only apply to domestic companies and sites, but to overseas websites as well. This type of domain name registration requirement could have serious implications for businesses – even foreign ones – as it would restrict which sites are allowed into the country and what they can display.
The new legislation also addresses mobile app usage within the country, substantially tightening control over mobile apps. It’s being purported in an effort to “further promote the healthy and orderly development of the online app store industry and regulate mobile app-based information services.” The governemnt believes, under the current procedures, many mobile app-based Internet services allow for illegal information to be shown, due in part to the existing “weak” management of app stores. The new regulations are extremely stringent, requiring mobile apps to confirm the real identities of their users by using phone numbers to verify. They also call for creation of an “information security” system that informs the government about why information is collected by the app user, and create a strict censorship system for mobile apps. Additionally, user information is to be tracked and retained for a period of at least two months. App stores may face additional rules to ensure compliance. Similar regulations have gone into effect for mobile games recently, as well.
Implications for VPN Use
This new legislation has implications for VPN use, and could impact those who turn to tools like VPNs to circumvent the Great Firewall’s censorship. The current method being used to block websites is blacklisting, or blocking and filtering of sites deemed unfit by the Chinese government. If this new domain registration approach is implemented, however, it means that a VPN would be useless – the website content wouldn’t be allowed/exist in China to begin with, so circumventing a block wouldn’t enable users to access it. As outlined in Radio in Asia Radio in Asia “any overseas connections that are not approved will be blocked.”
This latest news out of China is highly concerning, albeit unsurprising. The Great Firewall has been imparting extreme censorship on the country’s Internet users for quite some time. The requirement for domain name registration is alarming, and would have large implications for those reliant on access outside information and tools – as well as result in a gross violation of Internet freedoms. The focus on mobile apps is also perturbing, as increased censorship on these platforms could have far-reaching effects for development of new technology and applications, as well as the obvious censorious results. These rules will likely have wide-reaching effects beyond China’s borders as in theory, all online content displaying to Chinese Internet users would be approved and curated by the government.