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China Begins Monitoring Billions of Text Messages 178

Posted by Soulskill
from the that-would-be-a-terrible-job dept.
eldavojohn writes "The Telegraph is reporting that China has begun monitoring 'billions of text messages' in order to increase censorship. However, a People's Daily article claims they only monitor users who have been reported, and only shut down their message service if the complaints are true. Anything considered pornographic will require the user to bring a letter of guarantee to the local public security bureau promising to never again send such messages before service can be reactivated."
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China Begins Monitoring Billions of Text Messages

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  • by Kanel (1105463) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:21PM (#30791870) Journal
    private text messages are being recorded in the US as well, by the government and possibly private enterprises too. Recall the text messages sent on 9/11, which was posted anonymously on wikileaks.org. The only difference between the west and china is that they act upon the monitored data more extensively, the breach of privacy is the same.
    • by maxume (22995) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:26PM (#30791932)

      Those were pager messages, not SMS messages (the way pagers work, any dude with some equipment can listen to *everything*; the way SMS works, only the phone company can listen (well, and anyone who can order the phone company around)).

    • by sakdoctor (1087155) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:33PM (#30791998) Homepage

      Does anyone, in any country use SMS for more than "meet in bar at 7"?
      It's 140 characters. It's expensive per tiny unit of information (UK). It spawned a whole degenerate sub language, and it's just about the lamest way that two humans can communicate.

      In china it's cheap, but I still wouldn't use it for my revolution planning. Encrypted XMPP/self run multi-protocol gateway (MSN, ICQ etc)/VOIP over 3G FTW.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        And then bring a letter of guarantee to the local public security bureau promising to never again use encryption before service can be reactivated.

      • by Kanel (1105463) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:42PM (#30792064) Journal
        The european SMS "culture" appears more widespread and mature than the US one. It has been a killer app since the late 90's, when prices dropped. I recall being surprised around 2002 when talking with US friends and realizing that many of them had cellphones with no SMS capability. "surely your cellphone is broken or something?" I asked.

        As for cheap, in parts of Africa there's almost a whole "language" based on the messages you can send just by calling and hanging up before it answears. the time of day or no. of missed calls forms a code that can be transmitted for free.

        • by siloko (1133863)

          It has been a killer app since the late 90's, when prices dropped.

          When mobile phones first became popular in the UK text messages were free - the phone companies couldn't believe that anyone would find 160 characters of text a useful medium of communication. They couldn't have thought of a better way to embed a new sub-culture, if they had done it on purpose it would almost be worth doffing ones hat to!

      • It's 160 characters if you use 7 bit ascii. and you can send multipart sms which allows up to 39015 7 bit ascii characters.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mdwh2 (535323)

        Does anyone, in any country use SMS for more than "meet in bar at 7"?

        Yes.

        It's 140 characters.

        You still have an ancient phone that limits you to 140 characters? Any phone will automatically split them up for you, and join them at the other end, it's been that way for years.

        It's expensive per tiny unit of information (UK).

        Yes that sucks, but the key words are per unit of information. The absolute cost is not necessarily expensive, depending on your network/contract/etc. E.g., my texts are 10p each, whilst Int

        • by sopssa (1498795) *

          There are many companies and plans now that allow you 2000 sms per month included in the plans price, and those aren't all that expensive (starts at 10e/month i think).

      • Does anyone, in any country use SMS for more than "meet in bar at 7"?
        It's 140 characters.

        Just ask any Twitter user.

      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        At least in the US, most any person who uses them to any real extent buys an unlimited text plan - the cost is only high if you pay per message.

        But yes, I use them to send more complex messsages. Most often it's just to send something to someone who may or may not have time to talk at the moment. Same in reverse - if I'm at work then family and friends know that I might not be able to talk, but if they send a text I'll read it when I get to it.

        • A data point for that:
           
          I'm on a pre-paid plan, since I'm not interested in being raped with a contract. Since I don't text much, I pay per-text. The no-plan rate is $0.20 per text sent or received. Since I only go through 0-20 texts per month, I suck it up, despite the fact that I know damn well that it doesn't cost more than a cent to send those characters.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sznupi (719324)

        It's actually a very appropriate, even polite, method of communication in many circumstances. One that doesn't scream at you "ANSWER NOW! I DEMAND TO TALK TO YOU RIGHT NOW!!!"

        • by genner (694963)

          It's actually a very appropriate, even polite, method of communication in many circumstances. One that doesn't scream at you "ANSWER NOW! I DEMAND TO TALK TO YOU RIGHT NOW!!!"

          If only there was a way to leave a voice message when the other person doesn't want to talk to you right away.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Korin43 (881732)
            If only there was a way to avoid having to going through the voicemail menu and try to understand what someone said when you didn't pick up the phone..
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by sznupi (719324)

            Voicemail still has much larger potential of being abused, of disrespecting time of the recipient. Especially since people too often don't give up with trying to contact you directly, and try another time...and another.

            SMS tends to be more to the point; and people can read several times faster than somebody can speak.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by sopssa (1498795) *

              Exactly, and with voicemail the recipient still has to turn it on. And I don't always want to talk to everyone even if I'm basically free (playing a game, watching a movie or whatever). Sending a sms on a non-urgent and not-so-important issue is a lot less intrusive and a lot more polite.

      • 140 characters is a lot in Chinese. While most phones are not limited to so few characters anymore, even if they were, you can cram a lot of information into 140 Chinese characters. Easily enough to plan riots; the anti-Japanese riots several years back were orchestrated and planned almost exclusively over SMS.

        • by koxkoxkox (879667)

          For Chinese characters (and some accented letters), the limit is not the same, you can only write 70 characters. Still, it is possible to express a lot of things in 70 characters, I think more than in 140 in English.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        'Does anyone, in any country use SMS for more than "meet in bar at 7"?'

        You mean more important stuff like:
        "Blessent mon coeur d'une langueur monotone"

      • Most young people here in Germany write more SMS than they talk minutes on the phone. (Usually the same price. Yep, this means calling would be cheaper, but... oh well. ^^)

        And from what I heard, vending machines even work with SMS in the Nordic countries (e.g. Finland, Nokia’s home) for a looong time.

        I know from around 2003, that in Danmark, they all just had ICQ or something on their phones, and texted trough that because it was cheapest.

        I wonder what they all are up to, now that it’s 2010!

        • by xaxa (988988)

          Unsurprisingly, it's the same in the UK. Teenagers text because they aren't allowed to make calls in lessons, after "bedtime" at home, or don't want people to listen in.

          Lots of places in the UK now let you pay for on-street parking by text, but I haven't heard of much else, except the usual stuff (ringtones, charity donations etc). In Sweden you can buy (some?) train tickets by text.

          (PS "Denmark" in English. But still "Danish" and "Dane".)

          • by sopssa (1498795) *

            In addition to vending machines and such (those have been around from the time sms was introduced, from what, 1996 or so?), you can also pay your meals in Subway and some other fast food places and like you said train and bus tickets can be paid with sms too.

            Not that it would be in lot use (maybe more with teens, as in our time too), but they are available.

      • by Korin43 (881732)
        Unlimited texting: $5
        Unlimited minutes: $99
        It's not a hard choice. Not to mention that people can get back to you when you're not busy without stupid voicemails and texting is easy to do while doing other things like cooking.
    • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:38PM (#30792022)

      But in the us you don't go to jail for being a part of the religion that is not the one the sate forces you to be in.

      • But in the us you don't go to jail for being a part of the religion that is not the one the sate forces you to be in.

        Give us time. Soon we'll be able to send you to jail for using too much fuel or electricity or driving the wrong type of car or not buying health insurance. The difference between China and the US is that China tells you what religion you can or can't be where the US government is becoming its own religion.

      • You mean unless you’re a muslim, or vaguely belong to religion that some “terrorist” belongs to...

        Hey, you know that the US is having the most active terrorist training camp on the planet?
        It’s called Gitmo, and I heard it’s still not closed yet. ;)
        Or rather: :(

  • Evil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by headkase (533448) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:24PM (#30791908)
    Ok, exactly how Evil is the Chinese government? I'm all for trade with them because it keeps our relationship stable so we don't actually start killing each other but my opinion of their government style is that it has to go. Their government is Evil from my value system and I would love to see the Chinese people do something about that. Hell, I would even provide material support electronically but I wouldn't go there.
    • But of course, you are right, and they are wrong. Funny that, they also think EXACTLY the same thing.

    • The PRC is no farther up the evil scale than many other governments in the world, but they have more power to utilize their evil.

      On the arrogance scale however, China probably holds a 10 out of 10.

    • by brad3378 (155304)

      I wonder how feasible it would be to bypass Chinese filters by posting text in .JPG or .GIF images (or some other format) instead of easily parsed Ascii?

  • It's unfortunate that the Chinese government continues to spy on the population. Many text messages that people send are quite personal.

    Text message technology actually makes it easier to spy on people because you can just filter for words like "democracy" rather than actually having to pay an operator to listen to people's phone conversations. Many human rights activists in China had previously reported having their phones tapped.
  • by SterlingSylver (1122973) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:31PM (#30791978)

    The Chinese government is clearly fixed upon the value of censorship. Censorship is what they're trying to promote, clearly. Cutting naughty or unacceptable words out of daily conversation is their endgame. They're certainly not monitoring billions of texts messages to identify and locate dissidents, increase their understanding of social networks that may work against them, or to increase their control over their citizens. Censorship is totally what they're after.

  • The Chinese government requires every Slashdot subscriber to send an official letter of apology, and promise never to read Slashdot again.

  • Even focusing in detecting the pornographic, that is heavily dependant on context, specially when you try to say much in few words, Even if a image worth 1000 words you can still misunderstand it (as this soldier found [suntimes.com])
  • Human rights and the well-being of their population, they probably wouldn't have half the dissent and problems they have now. Which would, in turn, require less effort to police the people and would result in much less of a need to 'control' their population. You cannot completely control a population the size of China's. If you want them to conform you have to win them over.
    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      Human rights and the well-being of their population, they probably wouldn't have half the dissent and problems they have now.

      Yes, but they wouldn't necessarily be the ones in power. And frankly, I'm surprised that they don't have a lot more trouble with dissent.

      Which would, in turn, require less effort to police the people and would result in much less of a need to 'control' their population.

      Yes, but they're not concerned with the most efficient form of governance. They're most concerned with the one that keeps them in power.

      You cannot completely control a population the size of China's. If you want them to conform you have to win them over.

      You win them over by presenting a point of view that's favourable to the ruling party, and one aspect of that is censoring anything that is inconvenient to that.

      I find the above unpleasant, and do not condone it, but nor is pretending ot

  • by DeltaQH (717204) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:46PM (#30792086)
    Here are some examples:

    Down with CCP
    Free Tibet
    Free Xinjiang
    Rule of law
    Down with the Great Firewall
    Human rights
    Multiparty sytem
    Accountability
    Melanine
    Children crushed by crumbling schools
    Forced abortion
    Chapter 08
    You have nice pecks baby.

    Just think of the children!!
  • by Psyborgue (699890) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:47PM (#30792090) Homepage Journal
    before the people revolt and the blood of these assholes runs in the streets. Sadly, i'm leaning towards the believe that the people will probably take it. They know no other way.
  • Logistics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by adbge (1693228) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:47PM (#30792096)

    Ethical concerns aside, it would be extremely interesting to see how censorship on this large of a scale is implemented.

    I wonder how effective automated modern systems will be at filtering, and how much of the censorship will have to rely on human employees. Total cost? Effectiveness? Cultural implications?

  • idk (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rick Zeman (15628) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:53PM (#30792130)

    I think it'd be hard enough for computers to decipher English LOL-speak, much less Chinese.

    Sooo, who is going to offer the first hardware encryption in handsets...and how soon would THAT be forbidden?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mcrbids (148650)

      I guess you haven't received texts from my father - encryption is already here, done in meatspace!

    • With a project of this scale, and with the wallet and determination of the Chinese government, it's more than likely that an advanced Western IT company is going to be helping out with this monitoring task. They helped out with Iran, after all, which is much more taboo than helping out China.

    • by l3prador (700532)
      The use of encryption is already forbidden in China, and could potentially be suspicious enough to warrant further investigation. You'd have to use an encryption scheme that appears to send normal SMS messages.
  • I'm fascinated ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:57PM (#30792164)

    ... by the parallels between the Chinese and American right wingers' war on pornography. I'd think that the Chinese would be more intent on stamping out possible challenges to Communist rule (Falun Gong), independence movements (Tibet) and threats to national security. The American conservative logic is more understandable. The economic conservatives don't care about porn per se (its just another business after all), but in order to assemble a viable voting block, their 'deal with the devil' (the religious right) requires that they adopt their position that every ejaculation must have a name. The Chinese don't suffer from the same political pressures as the GOP does. There's no opposition party espousing sexual freedom that could benefit from the circulation of porn. Sitting at home wanking in front of the computer screen is not an activity around which groups tend to organize.

    Although the battle cry of our right wingers has been "Godless Commies", it seems that these two groups share quite a bit of ideology.

    • by bendodge (998616)

      Have you discovered a method to monitize trolling? Can we subscribe to your newsletter?

    • Porn and freedom are both seen as bad things from outside. The perception is that if you get one you get the other.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Porn and freedom are both seen as bad things from outside.

        Porn is bad?

        The whole "sex is bad" theme is primarily from Judao-Christian-Islamic religions. Eastern religions seem to have a much more open attitude towards sexuality. So, I'd expect a "Godless Communist" government to reject the tenets of western religions as "bad things from outside". To the degree that religious influences of any type would be tolerated in China, I'd expect that they'd promote the domestic ones over ours.

        The perception is that if you get one you get the other.

        They don't seem to have a problem adopting capitalism and numerous other outside

    • As an American conservative who's visits China, I can confirm this. While Shanghai is the most western-liberal as they get, they're still Chinese...err...Shanghainese in fact.

      Everything from social outlook on life to economic, the Chinese are truly conservative. I mean, these people are capitalists at heart and it shows on the streets and within companies when doing business with them. The constant haggling over prices gets old and frustrating however. But you don't get anymore capitalistic in terms of spir

      • by PPH (736903)

        At least in America, that's why we love/d Ronald Reagan.

        Remember, before Reagan the religious were largely Democrats. Particularly in the South. Economic conservatives (those damned Yankees, northerners, the 'social elites', etc.) didn't have enough power to get into office. So the idea of "social conservatives" was invented. And Reagan got elected.

        Don't confuse social conservatism and morality with economic conservatism and law and order. The two are a poor fit. The demands that social conservatives place upon the legal system to include their agenda into the

    • by eulernet (1132389)

      Sitting at home wanking in front of the computer screen is not an activity around which groups tend to organize.

      Do not forget that:
      1) prostitution is illegal in China
      2) pornography is illegal in China, so it's not possible to get porn videos easily
      3) in the current generation, there are more men than women (because of the unique child policy, the chinese preferred to get guys than girls), so it's not easy to get married

      Add to this the fact that they can't use Internet for pornography, and we can just imagine the level of frustration.
      Such an amount of frustration will only lead to increased violence (and the women are

      • by PPH (736903)

        Do not forget that:

        1) prostitution is illegal in China

        2) pornography is illegal in China, so it's not possible to get porn videos easily

        My question is why this situation exists. Not having access to something because its illegal is circular logic.

        3) in the current generation, there are more men than women (because of the unique child policy, the chinese preferred to get guys than girls), so it's not easy to get married.

        This is the best argument yet for opening up some brothels. Give the single guys something to do. Instead of the (unwilling?) girl next door.

        Add to this the fact that they can't use Internet for pornography, and we can just imagine the level of frustration.
        Such an amount of frustration will only lead to increased violence (and the women are the first targets with rapes).

        Better to release some of that frustration with a few JPEGs than the girl next door.

    • they are all control freaks. every society has control freaks. its psychologically inevitable that a regular dribble in any society will consist of zealous control freaks absolutely fearful of losing control over... who knows what. their bowels i guess. its the trailing end of the bell curve, what can you do? just look at all these low iq tea bagger morons in the usa. too bad their so goddamn loud

      they all rally around a banner, and the banner is always the magical past. the real past was full of just as muc

  • Here's the deal. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eddy (18759) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @03:08PM (#30792228) Homepage Journal

    Anyone who doesn't think every SMS in the US (for example) is passed into the NSA is naive beyond belief. The difference is that in the west doing this snooping is still a 'dirty secret', while in china they see value in the people knowing they're monitored. Keeps everything calm. In the west being open about this would have the opposite effect, and we all want everything to remain calm, right? They all do it "for the people" of course.

    The EU as a whole isn't there yet, but the infrastructure is coming up as fast as the laws can be pushed through.

    Even if your local government quite dislike the idea of Total Interception, they'll still do it because information is the currency in the global military industrial information complex. If moscow will trade you information about Al-Qaeda for information about some chinesee dissident in your country...

    Sheesh, nowadays you can't talk about the world we live in without sounding like a friggin nutcase.

    • to compare what a western government does to its citizens to what a country like china does to its citizens?

      western governments are democracies, they rule by consent. therefore, there is a natural limit on what their citizens will tolerate before the government is voted out. china is an autocracy. a small select class of elites rule by fiat. fear and force is therefore how they rule. it doesn't matter what the citizens think, it matters only what a few grumpy technocrats in beijing think. furthermore, china

      • I find your argumentation to be borderline strawmanish and succumbent to the very intellectual dishonesty you accuse me of.

        >fact: no government, historical, present day, or hypothetical, will not snoop for one reason or another, good or bad therefore, that you can find some snooping a government does is therefore without probative value.

        So you're saying it's the will of the people to be under mass-surveillance, because you just said:

        >western governments are democracies, they rule by consent. therefor

        • say the dutch or the swedes

          right now, the dutch and swedish government are monitoring information and any chatter within its borders. terrorist cells, mafia organizations, pedophiles, and other possible criminals they have leads on. this is normal, this is status quo, and this will always be the case. why do you have a problem with this?

          right now the chinese are monitoring chatter as well. the scale of the monitoring is many orders of magnitude larger than the liberal governments (adjusted for population ev

    • Anyone who doesn't think every SMS in the US (for example) is passed into the NSA is naive beyond belief.

      Uh-huh. I want to know who has the thankless job of reading all that crap. Page after page after page of "c u l8r" "u r hawt" "wot u meen?" "lol wtf kthxbi"

  • I can't believe it! I'm so ticked off about this I could... oh, wait... only people that have "been reported?" Okay, then.
  • There is a good side, now the hackers that attacked google will be busy sifting through billions of texts saying,
    "DOOD, too much rice-wine! just had sex with a goat! gonna hurl..."

  • by Trip6 (1184883)

    Sent from Longh Whang...

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