Information Control

  • Sina Weibo and Two Other Major Website Barred From Video Streaming

The unexpected punishment from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television 广电总局, China’s main propaganda department, to bar Sina Weibo 新浪微博, China’s largest Twitter-like service, the popular video site AcFun, and iFeng (one of the most popular news portal)’s video- and audio- streaming services grabbed international headlines this week.

The news broke on June 22, 2017 with SAPPRFT released a statement saying that the three companies don’t have proper licenses for Internet video and audio services and there were lots of contents on political and social issues and commentaries that “violated rules” and “advocated negative voices.” SAPPRFT did not specify which rules those videos broke or how long the ban would last. The shares of Nasdaq-listed Weibo Corp. slumped as much as 10% to $69 a share in early trading in New York on the same day. 

SAPPRFT’s decision is based on a regulation that took effect in 2008. According to the Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-Visual Program Service 互联网视听节目服务管理规定, no entity or individual shall provide internet audio-visual program services without obtaining the Permit for Spreading Audio-Visual Programs via Information Network 信息网络传播视听节目许可证.

Note that the ban on “Internet audio-visual programs” does not equate to shutting down all live-streaming activities, though it certainly includes most of it. According to a catalogue issued by SAPPRFT in April this year, Internet audio-visual programs mainly include:

  • original or reposted current affairs-oriented news programs, talk shows or commentaries;
  • live-streaming of important political, military, economic, social, cultural and sports events;
  • original or re-broadcast hosting, talk shows, reporting or commentaries on culture; entertainment, technology, economy, sports, education and other specialized programs
  • online dramas;
  • rebroadcast programs produced by traditional or online TV channels. 

In response to the ban, Sina Weibo issued a statement on the same day, saying that “only Weibo users who have obtained the Permit for Spreading Audio-Visual Programs via Information Network 信息网络传播视听节目许可证 may upload audio-visual programs to the platform.” Meanwhile, the ban “will not affect videos that are not relevant to audio-visual programs.”

It seems ridiculous that individual users would have to obtain the Permit by themselves. Under current regulations, users may upload and stream video- and audio-programs on online platforms as long as the companies have acquired the Permit as an legal entity. Weibo’s weird statement is due to a forgotten fact that Sina, Weibo’s parent company, does not have the Permit itself — not any more. In April 2014, Sina’s Permit for Spreading Audio-Visual Programs was revoked by the Office of the National Work Group for “Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications” 全国“扫黄打非”办公室 due to “massive reporting from the general public”.

SAPPRFT’s announcement is considered another move to tighten controls over online content, especially those related to news and politics. It does not come as a surprise as China is known to increase censorship around major events and in the next few months, the CCP will host the 19th Party Congress, arguably the most important meeting that will determine China’s political landscape in the next five years and more.

Business & Tech

It is tempting to jump on the bandwagon of China’s sharing economy as we witness how bike-sharing programs sprung up in the country. But the market has seen its first major failure.

Wukong Bicycle 悟空 became the first among China’s more than 30 bike-sharing apps to close business. In a statement last week, Wukong, a name inspired by Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in China’s well-known classics Journey to the West, said that the decision is based on “strategic company restructuring.”

Before closing down, Wukong operated its 1,200 bikes in Chongqing city, southwestern China. But most of the bikes were lost because the company didn’t instal GPS devices in the vehicles.

Privacy & Security

Chinese state media reports on a $28/RMB188 app that browses webcams whose default passwords haven’t been changed, allowing subscribers to watch the goings-on in stores, living rooms, bedrooms, children’s rooms, and anywhere a CCTV might be installed.

More than 45,000 Chinese apps, most of which were mobile games, were booted from Apple’s App Store from June 13 to June 22. Analysts said that the cleanup probably target apps using hot patching, a solution that can enable developers to bypass the time consuming vetting process to deploy patches to users’ devices immediately.

And some quick thoughts…

Many people warmly welcome sharing economy services and smartphone-based cashless services in general. But few realize the privacy and security risks that come with it. Be careful what you wish for.