Meanwhile in China: Surveillance required on public Wi-Fi

Dystopian reality in China: Surveillance required on public Wi-Fi

Meanwhile in China: Surveillance required on public Wi-Fi
Credit: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

Every once in a while, something in China that sounds like it came out of a dystopian movie catches my attention.

China’s great surveillance machine seems to know no bounds. China has already cracked down on unauthorized VPN use. Last month, we learned that if you want toilet paper at one UNESCO World Heritage Site in China, then you must submit to facial recognition in order to be issued a strip of toilet paper. This time, we are looking at China requiring surveillance technology on public Wi-Fi and Chinese loan startups determining credit-worthiness by the model of smartphones used and if the battery runs low.

Surveillance required on public Wi-Fi

Chinese authorities in the province of Hebei are forcing businesses and places that offer public Wi-Fi to install surveillance tech to record all users’ online activity or else face fines and other sanctions. Local police described the new requirements as “online safety protection measures.”

According to Radio Free Asia, the new rules require government-approved equipment be purchased and installed on all non-residential Wi-Fi networks in the province. The same regulations rolled out in other parts of China, “suggesting they are part of a nationwide initiative.”

Under the rules, companies must “record and retain user registration information ... user login and exit time, caller ID, port number, account number, IP address, domain name, and system maintenance log.”

They must also record and retain internet sites visited by users, using “special safety equipment,” holding onto records for more than 60 days.

The measures “will prevent lawbreakers from using the internet to carry out terrorist activities, spread rumors, or spread pornographic and other illegal content,” the notice said.

Politically sensitive keywords and images blocked on WeChat

China’s great firewall is constantly blocking internet users from accessing sites that the government considers to be a potential threat, even the innocuous Pinterest. Citizen Lab recently reported that China blocks politically sensitive content on the social media app WeChat. Keyword censorship on WeChat is not new, but the list of what is being blocked is constantly being updated.

Citizen Lab honed in on words and images that are related to the “709 Crackdown,” an event in which activists and their relatives, Chinese rights lawyers and law firm employees were detained by Chinese authorities. WeChat censorship on the server-side blocks keywords and even images related to the 709 Crackdown. The receiver gets no warning about a message being blocked; it just doesn’t appear on the receiver’s end. Citizen Lab has screenshots showing the censorship, showing what the sender sent and the receiver received.

Citizen Lab concluded, “Chinese social media platforms routinely and systematically enforce information controls on politically sensitive content. The blocking of the 709 Crackdown-related keyword combinations showcases that censorship on Chinese social media such as WeChat and Weibo is dynamic and reactive to current events. The keyword blacklists are often updated in response to the development of the events.”

Want a loan? In China, that depends on your phone

In China, where there are no reliable credit-history systems, very little data-privacy expectations and roughly four times as many online loans taken out than in the U.S., Chinese financial technology startups have rolled out unconventional methods to determine if a person should be given a loan.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the lending app Yongqianbao, which collects over 1,200 non-traditional data points to determine credit scoring, generates over 100,000 risk scenarios in a few seconds on each loan applicant. Yongqianbao founder Jiao Ke said, “While banks only focus on the tip of the iceberg above the sea, we build algorithms to make sense of the vast amount of data under the sea.”

Part of that scoring is based on what smartphone a person uses and how many calls they fail to answer.

After running hundreds of millions of loan applications, Yongqianbao and competing platform Dumiao determined:

iPhone users tend to have lower late-payment rates than Android phone users, and people who don’t answer calls or whose outgoing calls go unanswered represent a higher default and fraud risk.

Other red flags: making many changes when filling in the application, letting batteries run down and changing phones frequently. Multiple applications from a single Wi-Fi hot spot is a danger sign. And users who borrow in one city but spend in another are poorer risks.

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