Farewell Online Anonymity as China Scales Up Great Firewall

August 29, 2017 - 2 minutes read

Last month, we wrote about Apple’s troubling compliance with the Chinese government’s rules about VPNs. Many Toronto iOS app developers saw Apple’s decision to remove VPNs from the Chinese App Store as a sign that the company is putting its business relationship with China above its so-called principles. On a practical level, this makes sense; after all, Apple is the largest company in the world by market valuation, thanks in large part to its willingness to play ball with the Chinese government. But as the Great Firewall ramps up in preparation for this year’s Chinese Communist Party congress, iOS app developers and human rights activists are worried about what the future holds for the citizens of China.

Now the Chinese government’s crackdown on open internet access and the privacy rights of its citizens is intensifying yet again. The regime is demanding that the people of China register with their real names to comment online. Citizens can still use an alias, but it must be linked to their actual name — there is to be no more anonymity online. For the past few years, the government has attempted to enforce similar policies, but now ISPs and telecommunications companies are responsible for tying online pseudonyms to their real-world identities. These companies are also being asked to rat out any illegal activity they see. Is it any wonder why iOS app developers are worried about Chinese dissidents?

Americans recently experienced a small taste of this kind of challenge to internet freedom. Earlier this month, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice requested the IP addresses and other personal information from a website used to organize anti-Trump protests on Inauguration Day. DreamHost, the company hosting the site, pushed back and the Department of Justice scaled the warrant back somewhat. But unfortunately a Superior Court judge ordered DreamHost to turn over the requested information last week. Even this whiff of privacy crackdown outraged iOS app developers who don’t want to see the American government start building its own Great Firewall. We still have a long while to fall, but sadly the citizens of China are finding it harder and harder to make their voices heard.

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