New censorship on weibo

Back in October, we mentioned that weibo rolled out new semi-censorship. Apparently this is not enough. Now weibo has four different ways to censor keywords.

A. Explicit complete censorship

根据相关法律法规和政策,“[the blocked keyword]”搜索结果未予显示。

This translates into:

According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results for [the blocked keyword] can not be displayed.

Keyword example: 六四

Note: This is the good old way of censorship since the beginning of weibo.

B. Implicit complete censorship

抱歉,未找到“[the blocked keyword]”相关结果。

This translates into:

Sorry, no relevant results could be found for [the blocked keyword].

Keyword example: 江泽民

Note: This is a brand new form of censorship. Sina weibo used to admit what they censored. Now this message will also be shown to b keywords which actually have no results such as "dsfhadslfhadsljk".

C. Explicit semi-censorship

根据相关法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。

This translates into:

According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, some of the search results can not be displayed.

Note: This method is employed around October as mentioned in the blog post.

D. Implicit semi-censorship

When you search for the keywords, only some selected results are returned. With a message at the button, stating

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.。

This translates into:

In order to provide a diversity of results, we omitted some similar results. You could click here to view all results.

However, this message is shown to every keyword(except complete censored ones and those actually without any results). So you cannot determine the keyword is semi-censored from this message alone. When you click to view all results, sina weibo will append "&nodup=1" to the end of the search url. Now it will show the exact same message as b. Implicit complete censorship.

抱歉,未找到“[the blocked keyword]”相关结果。

This translates into:

Sorry, no relevant results could be found for [the blocked keyword].

Keyword example: 习近平

Note: This is a brand new way of censorship. It's really interesting to see how keywords are censored. For example, the censorship status of "习近平" went from a->not censored(?)->c->d->c. As I started to write this post, it was d, as I used web-archive to record it. When I'm writing this sentence 28 minutes later, however, it switched back to c. Another keyword "江泽民" went from a->b->a->b and stays at b. Our system could now detect censorship a, b(false positive of "dsfhadslfhadsljk" is inevitable), c. We might update our system to detect d if more keywords are censored this way in a prolonged time. Last but not least, this is merely censorship of searching on weibo. Much emphasis is also put on preventing users from posting sensitive weibo. Some keywords couldn't be posted on weibo in the first place, others will trigger a manual review by censors. Unfortunately, we haven't monitored that kind of censorship yet. But you could visit https://freeweibo.com/en to view recently censored posts on weibo.

Update: Now Sina has the 5th way of censoring keywords-7 day delay, please read Sina Weibo Enacts New "7 Day Delay" Function for Sensitive Terms Following 18th Party Congress for detail.

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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.

Thu, Nov 30, 2017

About those 674 apps that Apple censored in China

Apple opened the door on its censorship practices in China - but just a crack.

Tue, May 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (https://twitter.com/KwokMiles), the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.

via https://twitter.com/KwokMiles/status/863689935798374401

Mon, Dec 12, 2016

China is the obstacle to Google’s plan to end internet censorship

It’s been three years since Eric Schmidt proclaimed that Google would chart a course to ending online censorship within ten years. Now is a great time to check on Google’s progress, reassess the landscape, benchmark Google’s efforts against others who share the same goal, postulate on the China strategy and offer suggestions on how they might effectively move forward.

flowers on google china plaque

Flowers left outside Google China’s headquarters after its announcement it might leave the country in 2010. Photo: Wikicommons.

What has Google accomplished since November 2013?

The first thing they have accomplished is an entire rebranding of both Google (now Alphabet) and Google Ideas (now Jigsaw). Throughout this blog post, reference is made to both new and old company names.

Google has started to develop two main tools which they believe can help in the fight against censorship. Jigsaw’s DDoS protection service, Project Shield, is effectively preventing censorship-inspired DDoS attacks and recently helped to repel an attack on Brian Krebs’ blog. The service is similar to other anti-DDoS services developed by internet freedom champions and for-profit services like Cloudflare.

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