While strict censorship is nothing new in one-party China, under President Xi Jinping, online restraints have grown tighter, particularly around the time of politically sensitive events like the death of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in July. Ahead of the Communist Party Congress in October, China began blocking the WhatsApp messaging service and extended a clampdown on virtual private networks, a commonly used method to circumvent the Great Firewall. Securing China’s “cyber sovereignty,” or protecting the country’s internet from undue foreign influence, is one of Xi’s avowed goals. Recent moves to restrict online freedoms include measures that all but eliminate the ability to post social media anonymously, make app store owners responsible for how customers use their purchases and require online portals to stop news reporting. In November, Microsoft Corp.’s Skype phone and video service became the latest victim of the crackdown when its app was removed from several popular platforms including Apple Inc.’s App Store. Pooh’s temporary banishment came after bloggers depicted Xi as the cartoon bear. Meantime, foreign companies that want to operate on the mainland are forced to adopt practices often seen as invasive elsewhere. Apple, which publicly fought requests by the U.S. government to create backdoors into its password-protected products, has quietly deleted apps and built local data centres in line with Chinese government requirements. All this contributes to China having the least online freedom on the planet, according to rights group Freedom House. Credit: Bloomberg.
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