Update, 9 am, 18 Oct: On the eve of the Congress, WeChat stopped users from changing their profile picture, alias, or status until the end of the month, citing maintenance. Weibo users are experiencing similar issues.
Beijing is likely to see bluer skies and quieter streets this week as the Communist Party’s 19th Congress is due to take place on October 18th. To ensure the twice-a-decade party reshuffle goes without a hitch, China has ordered security measures across a wide spectrum. Here’s a roundup of the latest policies that are sending shockwaves across China’s tech industry ahead of the key meeting.
Beijing residents are reporting widespread interruptions in courier express services via China’s Twitter-like Weibo. Some packages are delayed, others completely suspended. A staff from SF Express, one of the country’s biggest express services, told TechNode that packages going to the capital from Henan and Hainan Provinces have already been suspended, and vice versa.
“Express services in Beijing are still operating, but it’s hard to say when your package will arrive because security check has tightened up. I suggest that you wait till the Congress ends to ship your parcel,” SF Express staff told us.
Delivery service companies have also stepped up in real-name registration following the close-down of 30 delivery service points (in Chinese) that failed to carry out the policy. According to Postal Law of the People’s Republic of China and Counter-terrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China, express services must adopt real-name shipping registration from November 1, 2015, to “realize traceability of shipment delivery.” Enforcement has been deliberately loose, however, for real-name validation increases costs and slows down efficiency for the service providers. Customers also feel reluctant to use their real names for privacy reasons.
Social Media and Data Storage
A series of new strict rules over the Chinese cyberspace went into effect in June. Group chat owners on Chinese messaging apps are now responsible for what is said in their group, and users on Weibo and Baidu’s discussion forum are given a final call to link their accounts to a real name.
WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned app that provides message encryption technology—not the most friendly to China’s Great Firewall—appeared to be widely disrupted inside mainland China ahead of the Congress. To ensure service runs seamlessly for Chinese users, a number of foreign tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM, have set up China-based data centers following a new law in June requiring all companies to store user data in the country.
The new wave of cyberspace regulations dictate not only where data is stored but also what content is permissible. Both Weibo and search giant Baidu have stepped up regulation over user-generated content. On September 27, Weibo put up a job posting to “openly seek one thousand Weibo inspectors” (in Chinese), and Baidu has invited cyber police (in Chinese) across the country to help dispel bogus information.
Toutiao, the $22 billion-valued news aggregator who was slashed last month by the Communist Party’s official newspaper for creating an online echo chamber, introduced a section dedicated to coverage of the Congress.
For security reasons, Beijing is banning the use of small aircrafts including drones and fire balloons during the Congress, says a notice released by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. Parts and components of small aircrafts are restricted items for delivery to Beijing this week, according to SF Express.
Airbnb, along with its Chinese short rental rivals including Xiaozhu.com, has shuttered listings in Beijing’s city center for the rest of October.
Other measures that are not publicly made related to the key meeting include the latest ban of cryptocurrencies. The crackdown, SCMP is reporting, is an attempt to rein in all financial volatility ahead of the meeting. The Chinese government might also soon have a stake in China’s tech giants, an unnamed source told Wall Street Journal recently.