Rules are tightened on instant messaging

Updated: 2014-08-08 08:14

By Cao Yin (China Daily)

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Users must register under real names, provide mobile numbers

China's Internet watchdog targeted instant messaging tools on Thursday, ruling that users must register with their real identities, and tightening access to public accounts.

The move follows the increasing popularity of the tools that has led to problems including the spreading of rumors and information relating to terrorism, pornography and violence.

Under the State Internet Information Office ruling, for example, people must provide their real names and their mobile phone numbers if they apply for an account on WeChat, China's most popular instant messaging tool, designed by Internet giant Tencent.

By July, there were nearly 460 million users of instant messaging tools in China, an increase of 28.42 million since last year, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

A Tencent report in May said that about 400 million are WeChat users. It also said that the number of WeChat foreign users had reached 70 million last year.

Tencent will tell applicants their registrations will only be effective under a contract using the real-name system. Under the new rule, they can open accounts only after the identities they provide are verified.

But people whose registrations are approved can still use nicknames in messaging and posting.

Guo Kaitian, vice-president of Tencent, said most WeChat users already registered accounts via mobile phone numbers and would not be affected in using the application.

Foreigners can also download overseas versions of WeChat on app stores in their own countries, the company said, adding that they should also register mobile phone numbers during registration.

Longtime users who registered using QQ numbers will be encouraged to use the real-name system gradually, Guo said, but did not give specific measures. QQ, another popular Tencent messaging tool, is used widely on personal computers.

Shi Shusi, a popular micro-blogger and WeChat user, hailed the new rule on real-name registrations, saying it is necessary to provide a genuine identity when opening a bank account, or when shopping online.

But WeChat's Friend Circle, a function that allows users to share their information, pictures and videos, has sometimes triggered rumors.

After Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, several rumors appeared on WeChat, while some individual and public accounts also posted false information that resulted in panic.

Authorities also found and cleaned up part of a message saying that the Ebola virus had appeared in Shanghai in recent weeks.

Li Yuxiao, director of the Institute of Internet Governance and Law under Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said, "Such rumors must be eliminated and they will be reduced under the real-name system.

"Every operator should shoulder the responsibility of protecting users' information, as this will also enable them to build their reputation and image," Li said.

He said that in countries such as Japan and South Korea, people and government departments are asked to provide real identities when registering an instant messaging tool, adding that those who breach this rule and related ones will be punished.

Under a judicial interpretation issued by China's top court last year, people registering micro-blogging accounts must provide real identities, while those spreading rumors and false information that is forwarded more than 500 times are liable for criminal punishment.

(China Daily 08/08/2014 page1)