China’s internet is getting creepier and creepier

chinese man china iphone face maskReuters

There has always been a great paradox in China’s internet.

Here you have a country that suppresses free speech and censors information allowing use of what the rest of the world knows as the information superhighway.

Naturally, a great number of the exits in China are blocked.

But there are levels to this stuff. Censorship on China’s internet can move forward, and get more open, or it can move back and close up, cutting off the country from the rest of the world.

We now know the latter is happening. China is closing off.

Xi is totally cute

A recent communique from Yang Zhenwu, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece The People’s Daily, says it all.

He believes the Communist Party is losing ground on the internet, especially through social media, censored though it may be. In other words, the party should be pushing out more propaganda.

“To lose speech is to lose power,” he wrote.

mark zuckerbergFacebookMark Zuckerberg jogging with his time through Tiananmen Square.

This essay coincided with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to China, when he ran through Beijing’s smoggy streets without a face mask.

Needless to say, Yang’s essay did not reflect a Silicon Valley open ethos.

Here’s a bit more from Xinhua English:

Media run by the Party and the government must serve as mouthpieces and be subject to the Party’s absolute leadership and management, Yang stressed in the article. The article is part of the newspaper’s efforts to adopt ideas from a speech delivered by President Xi Jinping in February about news reporting and public opinion.

He acknowledged that the government was not as good at creating viral content as “vulgar” netizens, but he also offered that it was getting better. Indeed, the government has been making some hits lately — including a viral video about a bunch of foreigners who think President Xi Jinping is super cute(h/t Wall Street Journal).

This echoes what Xi said about the media in general while he was visiting party newspapers (remember, this is China, so basically all media is party media) last month. That’s when he laid out a bunch of creepy new measures for media outlets to remind them who is boss.

“They should enhance their awareness to align their ideology, political thinking, and deeds to those of the CPC Central Committee and help fashion the Party’s theories and policies into conscious action by the general public while providing spiritual enrichment to the people,” he said, according to Xinhua.

You know about The Great Firewall, right?

Chinese leaders met last month for their annual legislative session, and they passed new laws to increase censorship of foreign websites. One proposal would block all domain names housed outside the country.

Another could stop foreign media outlets from publishing anything without approval from China’s media regulator.

“The new rules apply to words, pictures, maps, games, animation, and sound of an ‘informational and thoughtful nature,'” the Financial Times reported.

Internet regulations have previously been passed in China, and they don’t do much. People find ways around them. But analysts see something different about what Xi is doing here. Instead of just creating censors and not talking about them, the government is acting with open hostility.

xi jinpingREUTERS/StringerChinese President Xi Jinping, seen in 2007 while he was Shanghai’s Communist Party secretary.

Somebody’s watching you

And of course, this isn’t just about what China’s internet users can see — it’s about what the government can as well. On Monday the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab published a report about China’s widely used browser QQ (h/t Washington Post).

Millions of people use it, it was created by one of China’s biggest tech companies, Tencent, and it’s collecting its users’ information and transmitting it unsafely. Previous reports found that browsers by Alibaba and Baidu did the same thing.

From the report:

This insecure data transmission means that any in-path actor (such as a user’s ISP, a coffee shop WiFi network, or a malicious actor with network visibility across any of these type of access points) would be able to acquire this personal data by collecting traffic and performing any necessary decryption.

In addition to this insecure data transmission, both tested versions of the application perform software updates in a manner that is vulnerable to execution of arbitrary code by an attacker. This means that a malicious actor would be able to spoof a software update in order to install malicious code on a user’s device.

The director of Citizen Lab doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that all of these portals to the internet are so leaky.

He told The Washington Post that is was beginning to look like a “pattern.”

Imagine that.

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