A few months ago we spotted that Tencent’s WeChat app was censoring certain ‘sensitive’ political words. That turned out to be temporary, but the company was clearly capable and ready to implement such blocking. Today it emerges that Japan-made Line app is primed and ready to censor users of its social messaging service as well.
Line app contains a string of code that looks for “bad words” and connects back to a server to cross-check those terms with a list of politically sensitive words. That directory contains a lot of inconvenient truths that Chinese authorities would like air-brushed from history, such as recent revelations about the personal wealth of Party leaders, and historical incidents such as a certain something that happened at Tian’anmen Square.
The Line censorship machine was found by Twitter user @hirakujira and detailed by TheNextWeb this morning. The word filter is currently not activated, but as with WeChat’s it seems all ready to be turned on at any moment. If it were turned on and a sensitive word were to be sent via the app, it would be blocked and the user would see an error message saying “Your message contains sensitive words, please adjust and send again.” @hirakujira was able to hack the app to replicate that scenario:
This is what the code looks like within the app (and here’s the current list of banned words):
Watching you chat
Made by NHN (KRX:035420) by teams in both Japan and South Korea, Line currently has just over 150 million users worldwide. Line launched officially in China in December last year with the Chinese name ‘Lian Wo’, but there are no statistics available for its progress in the country. On the plus side, this bit of censorship shows that NHN Line is serious about succeeding in China, because that kind of suppression is a fact of being an online or offline media business in the country.
The findings seem to suggest that Line app is monitoring all of its users around the globe despite the filter not being turned on. That’s likely the case with WeChat as well. So while WeChat and Line are not technically censored at present - not even in China - it’s clearly ready to do so. Note that in both apps it applies to Chinese text only.
For users in China who have signed up for either Line or WeChat via SMS, it means that authorities can easily piece together your full identity. That’s because purchasing a SIM card in the country can only be done (in theory) by showing your national ID card or passport, which is then recorded.
China’s most heavily censored social network is undoubtedly Sina Weibo, which is hit with directives from authorities almost daily on what it should erase from the Twitter-like service.
The post Line App is Primed and Ready to Censor Politically Sensitive Chinese Words appeared first on Tech in Asia.
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