Line makes censorship more sophisticated in China

Users in China will seemingly be allowed to talk about more sensitive topics, but will be less aware of the censorship system.
Written by Liu Jiayi, Contributor

Messaging app Line started to beef up censorship in China two weeks ago by adding more keywords to its region-based block list, making the system more sophisticated and less noticeable by users, as edgecastcdn.net reported on October 17.

According to recent research conducted by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Line added another 50 words to its 150-block-words list, while allowing users to use these words separately but not in phrases. Similar techniques have also been implemented in social media sites such as Weibo.

"Censorship becomes more meticulous and does not block everything completely," said Wu Qianhua, researcher at the university. He said he thinks the new tactic is helping the regime. For example, under the new system, users could send messages that include "Xinjiang" or "independence", but not two at the same time.

"If you only hide a small part, instead of everything that is relative to a certain topic, then fewer people would be affected by censorship and more will be interested to talk about topics such as Xinjiang in a 'legal' way," Wu said. "But when you hide everything, people will be more curious about how the censorship works and why it exists."

Researchers at the Citizen Lab, who have been studying on the censorship mechanism on Line for nearly one year, were able to reverse engineer the app, and found out that if users set China as their country, the app's censorship functionality will be triggered and automatically download a "bad words" list from a website named "Naver".

The new list shows that Line keeps its promise to censor keywords among Chinese users and continues to update its censorship techniques, said a report issued by the Lab.

However, users could also learn from a post on the lab's website on how to change their location settings and bypass the region-focused system that applies to China.

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