China begins monitoring billions of text messages as censorship increases
By Malcolm Moore and Peter Foster
China has started scanning text messages for inappropriate content representing the latest move in the country’s increasing censorship.
Customers of China’s two largest mobile phone networks, China Mobile and China Unicom, have had their text-messaging service blocked after sending risqué texts, according to the state media.
It comes as the country is embroiled in a row with Google over cyber attacks. On Tuesday the internet giant, said it may quit China because of concerns about the country’s recent increase in censorship.
The Global Times, a government-run newspaper, said “everyone seems to be under watch”. Last year, the government vowed to suppress pornography on the internet and has now extended its campaign to mobile phones.
China Mobile is the world’s biggest mobile phone company, with over 508 million customers. Its network handles 1.7 billion text messages a day.
The latest development implies that Chinese censors have moved beyond monitoring of the internet and are now also spying on the country’s vast network of phones.
The newspaper interviewed a civil servant, who expressed reservations over the policy. “We have a lot of private things in our mobile phones. If they monitor the messages, a lot of private things would be leaked,” said the man, who was named only as Mr Cao.
The Southern Metropolis newspaper said a man from the Southern city of Dongguan recently had his phone blocked. China Mobile’s customer service informed the man that their computers had detected lewd words in his messages and that he would have to take his identity card to the local police station to reactivate the phone. He also had to furnish a letter guaranteeing that he would no longer disseminate inappropriate messages.
China Mobile said that the company was complying with demands from the police to report “illegal” text messages with content that included pornography, violence, fraud, suggestions of terrorism, instigations to crime and gambling.
The company said a single message that breached any of its filters would result in the blocking of the mobile phone involved.
China has so far shown no signs of giving ground over Google’s demand to be allowed to operate in China uncensored, insisting that web controls are essential to maintain the “stability and harmony” of the Chinese nation.
Yesterday some of China’s most prominent human rights activists claimed that they had had their Google email accounts hacked.