A word processor vendor blocked a writer in China from her 1.3 million word document stored online.
A Chinese novel Author, who publishes under the pseudonym Mitu, wrote her text in WPS. This is a cloud-based office suite widely used in China by Kingsoft Office Software. WPS Office has established itself in China as an alternative to the local Microsoft Office Suite.
At the 25. On June 1, the author denounced the WPS’s approach in the Chinese literature forum Lkong. She raised the accusation of censorship. Because of illegal content, WPS would have denied her access to her already voluminous 1.3 million word draft. The topic went viral on Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website, and caused outrage. This was reported by the South China Morning Post.
Writer denounces forced surveillance in China on
Early last month, a Chinese writer raised concerns about a data breach regarding WPS Office, word processing software that stores files in the cloud. The author accused the China-based company of “spying on and blocking” locally stored content .
As she reported, she was excluded from a draft of her novel because of allegedly illegal content. As Mitu assures, the document content is clean. You can even publish it on a website. Only WPS decided that he should be banned. Mitu criticizes: “Who gave the company the right to look into users’ private documents and decide arbitrarily what to do with them”.
Kingsoft company relies on applicable law in China
After Kingsoft initially denied the allegations, later issued another statement, invoking China’s cybersecurity law and defending the company’s decision to censor content in the document. In its recent announcements, Kingsoft admitted that it is able to access documents and block sensitive content.
However, the company refused to give further details on their censorship activities. On the same day, Kingsoft announced that it would permanently remove ads from the free version of its WPS suite by the end of 2023. With this step, the company is doing damage limitation and obviously wants to win back the trust of users.
However, intrusions into the privacy of users are already commonplace among companies operating in China. WeChat must also monitor, censor and, if necessary, delete content on its social media platforms. Failure to comply with government regulations will result in severe penalties and sanctions. In addition, a study by Citizen Lab indicated that the Microsoft search engine Bing would censor terms that are considered sensitive in China.
Document blocking as a new layer of surveillance
As The Register summarizes, the “Viewing and blocking of documents created with Chinese software and stored in the cloud represents a new level of surveillance and censorship”. After Mitu had described the problem to WPS, she was then able to, on 28. June, access it again. According to The Economic Observer, there have also been cases similar to this one. Here, too, documents by authors were blocked for reasons of China censorship.
Data protection and censorship obligations are mutually exclusive
MIT Technology Review noted that the issue exposed “the tension between increasing privacy awareness among Chinese users and the obligation of technology companies to censor on behalf of the government.” Tom Nunlist, analyst on China’s cyber and data policy at the Beijing-based research group Trivium China stressed:
“This is a case where we might see that these two things could actually collide”.