These include platforms such as ByteDance (owner of TikTok), Zhihu and Xiaohongshu.
Chinese social media platforms are set to display user locations based on their internet protocol (IP) addresses. Users will not be able to disable the function.
The companies said the move would help to fight the spread of misinformation. Xiaohongshu, China's version of Instagram (banned and recognized as extremist in Russia), said that the feature aims to prevent users from "pretending to be locals" and "spreading rumors."
The world is full of fakes
The BRICS Competition Centre expert Maria Belyaeva emphasizes that current Chinese legislation does not require displaying a user's location, so the measure is "preventive”.
"This is the platforms' own initiative in an effort to comply with general regulatory trends. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) regularly conducts focus campaigns to clean up the Internet space, and in March it announced that in 2022 it would focus, among other things, on fighting fake news (of which there are now many in China amid the conflict in Ukraine and strict lockdowns)".
The country has witnessed an outpouring of frustration expressed on the internet recently with the rise of COVID-19 cases. People have visibly complained about food shortages and supply chains in cities like Changchun and Shanghai. The watchdog informed websites to fight the spreading of rumours to tackle.
Who killed privacy?
Chinese regulation is characterized by a lack of clear wording — the authorities indicate the "right way" or a rather vague goal, and the way to achieve it everyone invents himself to the extent of his abilities and understanding, the expert says. Platforms consider it important and necessary to demonstrate their involvement, while the immediate steps and measures are developed independently.
Against the backdrop of this news, many users have raised reasonable concerns regarding the protection of personal privacy. Platforms have announced that they will not display IP addresses in their entirety, but only the province of China, i.e. the region where the ISP is located, which may serve hundreds of millions of users. However, it is likely that additional security mechanisms may be required. A separate point of dissatisfaction is that the function is forced to be activated, and it is impossible to turn it off.
Don't try to repeat
Maria Belyaeva notes that China's regulatory policy looks enticingly fruitful, but it is important to remember that it is "a complex process that is carried out jointly and in parallel by different agencies in different areas, as well as developed and served "with Chinese specificity," that is, with regard to national characteristics.
"That is why the result is achievable and sustainable for China, not universal. Borrowing or blindly copying point measures that seem to be effective will not help, because they only work as part of a system, and taken separately can only worsen chaos or cause widespread social discontent".