Last week’s decision by the Chinese government to turn the screws on its already tight rules surrounding internet usage weren’t exactly, how can we put it… ‘warmly received’ by human rights activists and hacktivists.
You can read about the changes in our report here, but essentially the big concern is that the Chinese will be able to clamp down on anyone voicing their dissatisfaction with the government online, as all netizens are now required to give up their ID before signing on with any kind of service provider.
The point is that the Chinese government will now have a vast amount of data up its sleeve – it’ll know the name and address (and a whole bunch of other stuff no doubt) of the person behind every single IP address in the country. Naturally for a country with such a ‘checkered’ political scene as China, most people would assume that this knowledge would be used for repression. But could there be another reason why China is acting in this way? Could it be that China actually just wants to make a quick buck at the expense of its citizens?
We’re talking targeted advertising here, and lots of it. China does have 512 million internet users after all.
As Brian Proffitt points out over on ReadWriteWeb, China’s new policy seems eerily similar to Google’s or Facebook’s own identity policies, both of whom DEMAND that you use your real name.
Why is this so? Google gives the vague reason that using real names helps to ‘avoid problems’ that crop up online. Naturally it doesn’t elaborate on what those problems might be. Problems with their ability to sell targeted advertising perhaps?
In any case, it insists on real names and makes it quite difficult for those who try to sign up for Google+ or Gmail using a fake name – I’ve tried this myself (don’t ask why) and found that after making two Gmail accounts it will only let me make a third if I verify my identity by providing my phone number – of course, it only lets you use the same number for three accounts before blocking you.
It’s pretty obvious that where advertisers are concerned, real identities are far better than soulless IP numbers.
Naturally then, one has to wonder whether or not China will be able to resist selling the 500 million plus identities it will soon have in its possession – after all, the Chinese are as fanatical as anyone else about making money.
It’s worth considering that China also made moves to pre-empt any independent service providers from doing the same thing. At the time it announced the new rules, it made it quite clear that selling user ID’s would not be tolerated, warning of severe punishments for those that flout the rules.
But is that measure to protect its citizens, or is it to protect what China’s leaders see as their own investment? Only time will tell, but the value of all those identities to advertisers, while hard to put a finger on, is surely going to be astronomical. And there are plenty of big businesses out there that would be willing to pay top dollar for it.
Moreover, China’s netizens wouldn’t be able to do a thing to stop it. After all, it’s not like they can complain about it online anymore…