We found that keyword filtering is enabled on We Chat for users with accounts registered to mainland China phone numbers.
Filtering remains enabled even if users later link their account with a non-mainland China number, which means that users with accounts registered to mainland China will remain under censorship regardless if they travel or unlink their Chinese phone number from the account.
Some commentators speculate that We Chat has not enjoyed the same success internationally because outside of China the application does not have the same rich set of features, such as mobile payments and taxi hailing, that make it a compelling platform for users within China.
Market growth outside of China has also been hampered by incidents that remind international users of the restrictions We Chat faces at home.
Differentiating content access based on user registration seemingly creates a “one app, two systems” model of censorship. When you send a message it passes through a remote server that contains rules for implementing censorship.
If the message includes a keyword that has been targeted for blocking, the message will not be sent.
Any Internet company operating in China is subject to laws and regulations that hold companies legally responsible for content on their platforms.We found a greater number of keywords blocked on group chat compared to one-to-one chat, which suggests that communications on group chat are specifically targeted, potentially because group chats can reach a larger number of users.In both chat modes, users are no longer presented with a warning message when they enter blocked keywords, as indicated by previous reports.In 2010, China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) published a major government-issued document on its Internet policy.It includes a list of prohibited topics that are vaguely defined, including “disrupting social order and stability” and “damaging state honor and interests.” In late-May 2014, China’s State Internet Information Office (SIIO), Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) jointly launched a month-long campaign targeting Chinese instant messaging (IM) services in a bid to clean up “illegal and harmful information” and to fend off “hostile forces at home and abroad.” In recent years, We Chat has faced increased regulatory pressures.
This change means there is no feedback to users that censorship has occured making the restrictions on We Chat less transparent.