Sina Weibo Enacts New "7 Day Delay" Function for Sensitive Terms Following 18th Party Congress

On November 10, 2012, Reuters published a report entitled "China Party Chief Stresses Reform, Censors Relax Grasp on Internet." An excerpt:

China's largest microblog service unblocked searches for the names of many top political leaders in a possible sign of looser controls a month after new senior officials were named to head the ruling party. 
Searches on the popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog for party chief Xi Jinping, Vice Premier Li Keqiang and other leaders - terms that have long been barred under strict censorship rules - revealed detailed lists of news reports and user comments.

What's actually happened is that Sina Weibo is now imposing a seven day delay on search results for these names, as well as other "sensitive terms" (such as the name of lawyer Xu Zhiyong (许志永)).  Sina Weibo does not notify users when it does this. Read on for more details and examples. The Standing Committee of Political Bureau of the 17th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party ("PBSC") comprised the following nine members: Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), Wen Jiabao (温家宝),  Jia Qinglin (贾庆林), Li Changchun (李长春), Xi Jinping (习近平), Li Keqiang (李克强), He Guoqiang (贺国强), Zhou Yongkang (周永康). It is worth noting that Sina Weibo did not always censor searches for the names of all members of the PBSC. For example, this screenshot, taken in February 2012, shows that a search on Sina Weibo for "Xi Jinping" returned hundreds of thousands of results, including posts made just minutes before.

These screenshots were taken on October 27, 2012, and show that by then searches on Sina Weibo for the names of all of the members of the Political Bureau 17th CPC Central Committee always returned the same result - a censorship notice informing the user that "In accordance with relevant laws,  regulations, and policies, search results for 'XXX' have not been displayed." (根据相关法律法规和政策,“XXX”搜索结果未予显示。).

As noted previously on this blog, during the 18th Party Congress (November 8 - 14), Sina Weibo began tweaking its censorship mechanisms, at first eliminating the censorship notice in favor of saying it could find no results. Then it restored the censorship notice in some cases, while in other cases it appeared to show complete search results, but attempting to view more than one page of results would eventually result in a censorship notice. See - http://blog.feichangdao.com/2012/11/in-week-before-party-congress-sina.html Sina also adopted implicit censorship as mentioned in our blog post new censorship on weibo. At around noon on November 15, 2012, Xinhua announced the "List of members of Standing Committee of Political Bureau of 18th CPC Central Committee": Xi Jinping (习近平), Li Keqiang (李克强), Zhang Dejiang (张德江), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), Liu Yunshan (刘云山), Wang Qishan (王岐山), and Zhang Gaoli (张高丽). The screenshots below show that, two weeks after the announcement of the new Politburo, Sina Weibo administrators had yet to settle on a consistent approach to censoring information about the Communist Party's new leaders. At first glance, it initially appeared that Sina administrators had decided to not censor searches at all. For example, in the left-hand screenshots below, searches for "Xi Jinping" and "Li Keqiang" apparently returned thousands of results and there is no censorship notice anywhere on the page. A closer look reveals, however, that all of the "Hot Posts" were several days old, and the posts following the "Hot Posts" were actually delayed by almost exactly 48 hours. The right-hand screenshots show that Sina Weibo administrators continued to gradually increase the amount of censorship following the initial relaxation. By November 27, search for "Xi Jinping" was once again returning no results, only a censorship notice, and a search for "Li Keqiang" was returning no results from the previous 48 hours - the most recent result was three days old, and there was only one result from that day.

One month after the announcement of the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, Sina Weibo appears to have settled on a "new normal" - it will impose a one week delay for search results for all PBSC member's names in Chinese, except for "Hot Posts". The screenshots below show that the most recent results for searches for "Xi Jinping" on December 13 and 14 are from December 6 and 7, respectively.

Sina Weibo does not display a censorship notice for these search results. On December 14, 2012, Sina Weibo was showing results but imposing the delay for searches for the names of all members of the Politburo Standing Committee, as well as Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. It was, however, completely censoring searches for "Wen Jiabao."

At the bottom of each search result page, Sina Weibo informs users "In order to provide more varied search results, we have excluded some posts that are relatively similar, you can click here to see all results." (为了提供多样性结果,我们省略了部分相似微博,您可以点击查看全部搜索结果) For uncensored results clicking on this link will take users to an up-to-the-second stream of posts. In the case of the names of Politburo Standing Committee members, however, the user is told "Apologies, unable to find results relating to 'XXX'" (抱歉,未找到“习近平”相关结果。). These screenshots, which show what happens when the link was clicked after a search for "Xi Jinping," indicate that sometimes it takes a few minutes for Sina Weibo to remove search results.

In the left-hand screenshot above, Sina Weibo returns a single search result, along with a censorship notice. The right-hand screenshot, taken a few hours later, shows no results and no censorship notice, just a notice saying no results could be found. Sina Weibo also continued to engage in selective censorship for queries related to China's leadership. These screenshots, taken on November 13, show that searches for "XJP" and "Xi Jinping" in Pinyin returned no results, just a censorship notice.

As another example, these screenshots show that, while Sina Weibo was returning delayed results for "Peng Liyuan" (彭丽媛 - Xi Jinping's wife) in Chinese characters, searches for "Peng Liyuan" in Pinyin returned no results, just a censorship notice.

Finally, these screenshots show that Sina Weibo completely censored searches for "Xi Mingze" (习明泽 - Xi Jinping's daughter) in both Chinese characters and Pinyin.

 

The new rule is not only being applied to leaders and their families. These screenshots show that, whereas a search for "Xu Zhiyong" on November 27 returned results from as recently as November 25, the same search on December 18 did not return any results from the preceding seven days (with the exception of "hot posts").

From http://blog.feichangdao.com/2012/12/sina-weibo-enacts-new-7-day-delay.html

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Fri, Mar 18, 2022

Well-intentioned decisions have just made it easier for Putin to control the Russian Internet

This article is in large part inspired by a recent article from Meduza (in Russian).

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian users have had problems accessing government websites and online banking clients. Browsers began to mark these sites as unsafe and drop the connection. The reason is the revocation of digital security certificates by foreign certificate authorities (either as a direct consequence of sanctions or as an independent, good will move); without them, browsers do not trust sites and “protect” their users from them.

However, these actions, caused - or at least triggered by - a desire to punish Russia for their gruesome actions in Ukraine, will have long-lasting consequences for Russian netizens.

Digital certificates are needed to confirm that the site the user wants to visit is not fraudulent. The certificates contain encryption keys to establish a secure connection between the site and the user. It is very easy to understand whether a page on the Internet is protected by a certificate. One need just look at the address bar of the browser. If the address begins with the https:// prefix, and there is a lock symbol next to the address, the page is protected. By clicking on this lock, you can see the status of the connection, the name of the Certification Authority (CA) that issued the certificate, and its validity period.

There are several dozen commercial and non-commercial organizations in the world that have digital root certificates, but 3/4 of all certificates are issued by only five of the largest companies. Four of them are registered in the USA and one is registered in Belgium.

Mon, Aug 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire AppMaker

GreatFire (https://en.greatfire.org/), a China-focused censorship monitoring organization, is proud to announce that we have developed and released a new anti-censorship tool that will enable any blocked media outlet, blogger, human rights group, or civil society organization to evade censors and get their content onto the phones of millions of readers and supporters in China and other countries that censor the Internet.

GreatFire has built an Android mobile app creator, called “GreatFire AppMaker”, that can be used by organizations to unblock their content for users in China and other countries. Organizations can visit a website (https://appmaker.greatfire.org/) which will compile an app that is branded with the organization’s own logo and will feature their own, formerly blocked content. The app will also contain a special, censorship-circumventing web browser so that users can access the uncensored World Wide Web. The apps will use multiple strategies, including machine learning, to evade advanced censorship tactics employed by the Chinese authorities.  This project will work equally well in other countries that have China-like censorship restrictions. For both organizations and end users, the apps will be free, fast, and extremely easy to use.

This project was inspired by China-based GreatFire’s first-hand experience with our own FreeBrowser app (https://freebrowser.org/en) and desire to help small NGOs who may not have the in-house expertise to circumvent Chinese censorship. GreatFire’s anti-censorship tools have worked in China when others do not. FreeBrowser directs Chinese internet users to normally censored stories from the app’s start page (http://manyvoices.news/).

Fri, Jul 24, 2020

Apple, anticompetition, and censorship

On July 20, 2020, GreatFire wrote to all 13 members of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, requesting a thorough examination into Apple’s practice of censorship of its App Store, and an investigation into how the company collaborates with the Chinese authorities to maintain its unique position as one of the few foreign tech companies operating profitably in the Chinese digital market.  

This letter was sent a week before Apple CEO TIm Cook will be called for questioning in front of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. The CEOs of Amazon, Google and Facebook will also be questioned on July 27, as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into competition in the digital marketplace.

This hearing offers an opportunity to detail to the Subcommittee how Apple uses its closed operating ecosystem to not only abuse its market position but also to deprive certain users, most notably those in China, of their right to download and use apps related to privacy, secure communication, and censorship circumvention.

We hope that U.S. House representatives agree with our view that Apple should not be allowed to do elsewhere what would be considered as unacceptable in the U.S. Chinese citizens are not second class citizens. Private companies such as Apple compromise themselves and their self-proclaimed values of freedom and privacy when they collaborate with the Chinese government and its censors.

Mon, Jun 10, 2019

Apple Censoring Tibetan Information in China

Apple has a long history of censorship when it comes to information about Tibet. In 2009, it was revealed that several apps related to the Dalai Lama were not available in the China App Store. The developers of these apps were not notified that their apps were removed. When confronted with these instances of censorship, an Apple spokesperson simply said that the company “continues to comply with local laws”.

In December, 2017, at a conference in China, when asked about working with the Chinese authorities to censor the Apple App Store, Tim Cook proclaimed:

"Your choice is: do you participate, or do you stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be. And my own view very strongly is you show up and you participate, you get in the arena because nothing ever changes from the sideline."

In the ten years since Apple was first criticized for working with the Chinese authorities to silence already marginalized voices, what has changed? Apple continues to strictly follow the censorship orders of the Chinese authorities. When does Tim Cook expect that his company will help to bring about positive change in China?

Based on data generated from https://applecensorship.com, Apple has now censored 29 popular Tibetan mobile applications in the China App Store. Tibetan-themed apps dealing with news, religious study, tourism, and even games are being censored by Apple. A full list of the censored apps appear below.

Thu, Jun 06, 2019

Report Shines Spotlight on Apple’s Censorship Practices in China

The newest Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index makes recommendations on what companies and governments need to do in order to improve the protection of internet users’ human rights around the world. Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) works to promote freedom of expression and privacy on the internet by creating global standards and incentives for companies to respect and protect users’ rights.

In their 2019 Accountability Index, RDR looks at the policies of 24 of the world’s most important internet companies in respect to freedom of expression and privacy and highlights the companies that have made improvements and those companies that need to do more. RDR notes that:

Insufficient transparency makes it easier for private parties, governments, and companies themselves to abuse their power over online speech and avoid accountability.

In particular, the report highlights how Apple has abused their power over online speech, and notes instances of this in China. According to the report, Apple has not disclosed data around the content that it removes from its App Store when faced with requests from the government authorities.

While [Apple] disclosed data about government requests to restrict accounts, it disclosed no data about content removal requests, such as requests to remove apps from its App Store. Apple revealed little about policies and practices affecting freedom of expression, scoring below all other U.S. companies in this category.

The report makes intelligent and sensible recommendations for governments. However, the recommendations also highlight how difficult it is to have these discussions with governments like China’s.

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