24 October 2018
Chinese censors appear to have developed the ability to purge images from group chats and public posts. Photo: Reuters
Chinese censors appear to have developed the ability to purge images from group chats and public posts. Photo: Reuters

China censors show ability to block images in mid-transit: WSJ

China’s internet censors have stepped up their surveillance of the internet following the death of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo last week.

As part of their efforts, the censors can now delete images while these are being sent through private messaging platforms or social media networks, making them disappear before the recipients see them, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing activists and a new research report.

Liu’s death from liver cancer triggered an outpouring of online tributes to the Chinese dissident, prompting the censors to increase their surveillance and try to get ahead of activists and others communicating online, the newspaper said.

Writer Wu Yangwei said he used popular messaging app WeChat to send friends a photo of the dissident embracing his wife. He said the transmissions were successful, but his friends never so the picture.

“Sometimes you can get around censors by rotating the photo, but that doesn’t always work,” Wu, who uses the pen name Ye Du, was quoted as saying.

Similar disruptions were noticed by China-based users of using Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp. They said they were unable to send photos and videos without the use of software that allows them to get around internet controls, according to the Journal. Text messages appeared to be largely unaffected.

Chinese activists had been using WhatsApp to exchange information and images of Liu following his death because it uses encryption that allows users to have secure conversations, the newspaper said.

But a person familiar with the matter said WhatsApp made no technical changes that would limit its service in China.

It is widely known that censors have been using software that screens out messages with politically objectionable content, prompting activists and other internet users to send photos instead to evade cyber controls.

But now censors appear to have developed the ability to purge images from group chats and public posts, the newspaper said.

In a new report, researchers from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said image censorship on WeChat covered private chats for the first time.

Citizen Lab said it is investigating how WeChat could block images in mid-transit, considering that the speed is too fast for human intervention.

The ability suggests the use of algorithm, the newspaper quoted Citizen Lab researcher Lotus Ruan as saying.

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