China Wants To End Online Anonymity

China Wants To End Online Anonymity
ElisaRiva / Pixabay

China’s internet regulator says that people will need to register online accounts with their real names starting March 1

China will ban internet accounts that impersonate people or organizations and step up enforcement of rules that Chinese internet users use their real names online starting March 1, reports Paul Carsten for Reuters. The Cyberspace Administration of China cited rumors and pornography as the reason for tighter rules, though clamping down on criticism of the Communist Party is obviously part of the story as well. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since China has a history of internet and mobile app censorship. But the reality is that online anonymity is under attack in the West just as much as it is in China, if for different reasons.

Western companies struggle with Chinese censorship

The popular Chinese microblogging company Weibo has come out in favor of the regulations, saying that it would tighten up its own policies to enforce real-name registration, but in fairness it doesn’t have much choice but to comply. Western internet companies doing business in China regularly have to weigh their own privacy policies (which are hardly sterling in the first place) with the demands placed on them.

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Google has had a tense relationship with the Chinese government for years, and LinkedIn CEO has openly talked about ‘gut-wrenching’ decisions that are necessary to do business in China, but ultimately he isn’t willing to turn his back on such a large market, and his shareholders would probably be furious if he did.

UK also clamping down on anonymous communication

For what it’s worth, most Americans don’t actually believe in online anonymity (in the sense that they don’t think it exists, not that they wouldn’t support it) and with everything we’ve learned about NSA surveillance anonymity (even for people who really work at it) isn’t a given. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to take it even further, banning services like SnapChat and WhatsApp specifically because the police can’t snoop on what’s being said. If Cameron’s proposal becomes law, which depends mostly on whether he wins re-election in May, it could force these companies to enable government wiretaps (an increasingly inapt term) so that they don’t get pushed out of an important market, affecting users outside the UK as well.

Cameron’s proposal is about surveillance instead of censorship, an important distinction, but neither country likes the idea of citizens that it can’t keep track of.

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Michael has a Bachelor's Degree in mathematics and physics from Boston University and Master's Degree in physics from University of California, San Diego. He has worked as an editor and writer for several magazines. Prior to his career in journalism, Michael Worked in the Peace Corps teaching math and science in South Africa.
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