Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 In August 2008, Deer Fang (also known as Lu Fang), a Chinese video artist, blogged that something peculiar was going on with her SMS service through China Mobile. Her friend showed her a political joke involving the current Chinese president and Mao Zedong on his mobile phone, and then tried to forward it to hers. Instead of receiving the joke, her mobile phone simply showed “Missing Text”. They tried sending the joke a few more times, as well as over someone else’s mobile phone, but it failed to work in both cases. They realized that SMS messages might have now fallen under the umbrella of China’s broad Internet censorship practice, acknowledging the existence of sensitive keywords that may have triggered the content filters. MacKinnon believed the joke was censored on China Mobile most likely because it mentioned Hu Jintao, which the authorities had probably entered as a keyword for blocking. Illustrating the overarching weakness of keyword blocking, the system implies an assumption by that any Chinese person who mentions their president through SMS is more likely to have bad things to say than otherwise (MacKinnon, 2008a).

Comment Icon0 A more significant SMS-related event happened on 1 June 2007, when a mass demonstration was organized against the planned construction of a toxic chemical plant close to the south-east China’s seaside city of Xiamen. Around 10,000 people turned up on time and on location thanks to the news disseminated exclusively via SMS, BBS postings and blogs. In order to control the situation, the Chinese authorities went to the extent of shutting down SMS service for several days, but because there were several cellular networks in China, some were still active and demonstrators were able to post their SMS live updates straight onto bloggers ready to share news on the demonstration. One of the blogger collectives, Bullog, became a national exclusive as they related what was happening minute-by-minute on the ground. This drew so much web traffic that it left Bullog’s web-host server grinding to a halt (Kennedy, 2007).

Comment Icon0 In 2003, the Chinese government did acknowledge the viral nature of SMS messages, as seen during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Arrests were made of citizens accused of causing panic by spreading “rumours” about SARS via text messages. All this happened while the authorities were still denying that the SARS epidemic had existed. The following year, USA Today and Reporters Without Borders picked up a press release from a Chinese firm, Venus Info Tech Ltd, which announced that they had received the Ministry of Public Security’s first permit to sell a real-time content-monitoring and filtering system for SMS (Reporters Without Borders, 2004b). The press release stated that SMS had already become a significant channel fusing both Internet technology and mobile communications for the quick dissemination of short messages and indicated that the same real-time filtering technology could be applied to common Internet services. To explain the viability of the service, the press release stated that “[w]hile SMS is convenient for the user, it also poses significant hidden dangers to information security, as every kind of pornographic violence, political dissent and fraud affects social stability. Therefore, a platform for strict and highly effective SMS filters must be established, to guarantee that harmful information is promptly intercepted”. Whether this technology was ever applied was never verified beyond the press release in question, but it did appear that a similar SMS filtering system was already in effect as seen from the “Missing Text” incident.

Comment Icon0 China’s mobile phone subscriber population is nothing short of staggering. According to China’s Ministry of Information Industry, the number of mobile phone subscribers in China reached 601 million, having added 8.63 million new users at the end of June 2008. In September 2008, China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone service provider, added 7.2 million new subscribers, bringing its total to 436.1 million users (Nystedt, 2008). Around the time of the SARS incident, the Beijing Daily Messenger reported that China Mobile would start screening text messages for pornographic content, although there was no mention of how the telecommunication company would screen the 40 billion messages sent by its 153 million customers in 2003 (Kurtenbach, 2004).

Chapter 6.1.4 – Filtering SMS


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