Okay, so soon after we’d found out that China Mobile was denying working with the government on trawling through your SMSes and then cancelling your service if you send “bad” ones, it seems like they’ve got an addenum: Yes they are, but the original details weren’t completely right. Basically here’s what’s gonna happen according to Xinhua (which, we suppose, makes it official):
- Your text messages will be rated automatically based on “key words” provided by the police.
- Someone can also rat you out for sending unhealthy messages.
- Also not allowed: “a large amount” of illegal information. We’re guessing this is like spam or something.
- Whether these messages are “unhealthy” will be determined on 13 criteria. Details of that criteria were not given.
- If a suspected unhealthy message is detected, China Mobile will temporarily suspend the message function and wait for an evaluation from police authorities.
- If the police confirm “unhealthy” content, the user’s phone number will be temporarily banned from sending messages.
- If not, the user will get a certificate to seek resumption of service.
- Your phone number will not be revoked no matter what you end up sending.
China Telecom and China Unicom have joined China Mobile in saying they will also follow the actions. Well, that sucks – we’d like to think something this ludicrous sounding would have never made it past the rumor mill. Still, we have high hopes this will go the way of the Green Dam. Here’s what we think:
- In China, 700 billion messages were sent in 2007 here alone. And this was before cellphone penetration topped 50% in the country. Chinese people love texting… for everything.
- As is the way with language, there are too many ways to get around “keywords” for this to be effective even if the Chinese government was blocking specific terms. Chinese is especially good for this because the amount of homophones makes it possible to throw up endless combinations. This is already apparent in internet forum slang.
- The Chinese mobile companies, which earn a crapton of money from people sending texts, stand to lose a lot if even just “spam” is blocked. While we know this has never stopped the Chinese government from restricting things before, the telecommunications industry is one of the most consistent revenue generating sectors (adding to that all important GDP number) and this should give them a little more clout in coming up with a more sane solution to “dirty messages.”
- Which brings us to the biggest flaw in this plan: it relies too heavily on people power for something that’s too huge to be solved by that. Unlike the internet, which can be controlled by blocking access of many to one thing, you’re essentially trying to block access of many one things to many one other things. One day, the world might come across the right algorithm to figure that one out, but we’re pretty sure China doesn’t have it now.
In fact, the only way they HAVE figured out how to stop mass text messages they don’t want is to cut off SMSes in an entire region (ala Xinjiang) – something we’re pretty sure they’re not willing to do unless actually threatened. For hubs like Shanghai and Beijing, we get the feeling text messages are too useful for the government to turn off completely.
Granted, this doesn’t mean the CCP won’t find SOME way to look at your text messages in the near future and censor them. We just don’t think it’ll be through this half-baked plan.
Then again, we have been surprised by just how much the government’s willing to give up in its paranoia about “threats to stability.” In the meantime, this regulation seems to have yet to take effect and it’s doubtful it’ll filter that much English anyhow. We say, text away for now, lovers. Text away.