In this report, we provide the first systematic analysis of keyword censorship and URL filtering on We Chat to determine how the app filters content and the type of content that is blocked.
To sample which URLs We Chat censors, we used a script to automatically test the Alexa Top One Million list of websites using both China and International accounts.
We found that 41 of the websites we tested blocked only on accounts registered with mainland Chinese phone numbers.
Pursuing prostitution may simply be the best way to rein in the most successful social media giants.
Prostitution, which is technically illegal but largely condoned and rampant in China, has been increasingly moving from red-light districts on to the internet and mobile phones, as it has around the world.
Censored keywords spanned a range of content, including current events, politics, and social issues.
In addition to keyword censorship, We Chat implements a URL filtering system in its built-in browser, which uses different lists of blacklisted and whitelisted websites for China and International accounts.Moreover, every site that is uniquely blocked on China accounts is fully accessible on International accounts, meaning that international users can successfully access the same URLs with We Chat’s internal browser.However, we did find intermittent blocking of other gambling and pornography websites on International accounts.We Chat encompasses more than just text, voice, and video chat; it includes a rich set of features such as gaming, mobile payments, and ride hailing, which make it more of a lifestyle platform than a mere chat app.It is estimated that Chinese users spend a third of their mobile online time on We Chat and typically return to the app ten times a day or more.We proceed by providing an overview of the legal and regulatory system in China, past work on censorship on We Chat, report our new results, and conclude with a discussion on the implications of our findings.We Chat thrives on the huge user base it has amassed in China, but the Chinese market carries unique challenges.We used a sample of keywords found blocked on other apps used in China and systematically tested that sample in two modes: one-to-one chat and group chat.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.Any Internet company operating in China is subject to laws and regulations that hold companies legally responsible for content on their platforms.Companies are expected to invest in staff and filtering technologies to moderate content and stay in compliance with government regulations.