Saturday, September 23, 2023

A million-word novel was censored before it was even shared. Now Chinese users want answers.

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Shreya Christina
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The news exploded on social media on July 11 after a few prominent influencer accounts picked it up too late. It became the hottest topic on Weibo that day, with users wondering whether WPS violates their privacy. Since then, The Economic Observer, a Chinese publication, has has reported that several other online novelists have blocked their concepts in the past for unclear reasons.

Mitu’s complaint sparked a discussion on social media in China about censorship and accountability for tech platforms. It has also highlighted the tension between Chinese users’ growing awareness of privacy and the obligation of tech companies to censor on behalf of the government. “This is a case where we may see that these two things could indeed collide,” said Tom Nunlist, an analyst of China’s cyber and data policy at the Beijing-based research group Trivium China.

Though Mitu’s document has been saved online and shared with an editor earlier in 2021, she says she was the only person editing it this year when it suddenly locked. “The content is completely clean and can even be published on a [literature] website, but WPS decided it should be locked. Who gave it the right to view users’ personal documents and arbitrarily decide what to do with them?” she wrote.

First released in 1989 by Chinese software company Kingsoft, WPS claims to have 310 million monthly users. It has benefited in part from government subsidies and contracts as the Chinese government sought to bolster its own businesses against foreign rivals for security reasons.

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