Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website similar to Quora, released a statement on Tuesday requiring its users to verify their accounts with cellphone numbers, otherwise, they may be prevented from posting any content.
China has required individuals to use a SIM card registered with a real name in their mobile phones by June 30. Therefore, verifying accounts with cellphone numbers amounts to rea-name registration.
Zhihu vowed to provide high-level protection to users' privacy. "We encourage our users to share their knowledge and experiences and respect different opinions, but do not want our product to be abused as a platform for spreading rumors, defamation or publishing infringed material." If any disputes occur due to infringed content, Zhihu will provide personal information to the judicial organs.
Zhihu said that in accordance with China's Cyber Security Law, the requirements stipulates that an Internet operator should require its users to provide real identities before publishing content and using instant messaging.
Besides Zhihu, China's leading search engine Baidu has also required users of the company's services, including popular online forum Baidu Tieba and cloud storage service, to register their real identities before June, otherwise they may be prevented from accessing the services.
Meanwhile, China's online gamers are also required to register their real identities starting in May. Online game operators are banned from allowing non-registered users to make in-game purchases.
The widespread real-name requirement has raised concerns among some Internet users about information security.
Security insiders said that the real-name system can be taken advantage by hackers who steal registration information from Internet platforms and sell them for profit.
A report published by the Internet security monitoring platform butian.360.cn in March showed that 58.5 percent of websites had loopholes that carry the risk of personal data leakage in 2016, accounting for 4.2 billion pieces.
Some Net users have also lodged protests against the real-name system as it may restrain their freedom of speech on the Internet.
Wang Sixin, a professor specializing in media law and regulations at the Communication University of China, pointed out that the move is the latest effort by the cyberspace authorities to tighten the regulation of online platforms, and the purpose is not to control Internet users but to better regulate Internet operators to manage online information.
Qin An, a cyber security expert at the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, said that the real-name system aims at regulating the Internet. It may have the risk of information leakage, but the government has also required operators to fulfill their responsibilities, otherwise they will be severely punished.
The law states that network operators are not allowed to leak, change or damage the personal information they gather, and are not permitted to offer personal information to others without the consent of the persons involved.
This article was written by Cao Siqi and was originally published in the Global Times.