Chinese censorware nukes any voicecall that contains the word "protest"

Censors at the Chinese politburo have ramped up their electronic surveillance and censorship efforts; some piece of spyware is now monitoring all voice communications, and will terminate any phone call in which someone speaks the word "protest" in Mandarin or English (and presumably in other languages):
A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude's response to Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." The second time he said the word "protest," her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

The Chinese firewalls are also blocking VPN connections, degrading Gmail connections, and randomly blocking access to sites from LinkedIn to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. One analyst quoted in the NYT claims that the politburo is being deliberately ham-fisted in this crackdown in order to convey the message that they are in total control.

China Tightens Censorship of Electronic Communications (via Beyond the Beyond)

(Image: What's That? (65), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jurvetson's photostream)


    1. 50/50 it was a service provided by a US or western IT firm, it could happen anywhere that the government is willing to pay for it.
      Sci-fi dystopia makes interesting reading, dystopian sci-fi reality fills me with terror.

      1. After considering my comment the intent of this action by the Chinese government is actually to terrorize its population.
        We often forget that the intent of the Politburo and Communist Party allowing capitalistic practices and associated rapid growth was always to bring China up to the level Marx considered advanced enough for a true Communist revolution/state.
        Once the economic gains begin to roll over, as they must at some point, I fear for our friends in China and surrounding areas.

  1. Considering that various governments and companies get to do all kinds of weird testing in China until they get it down pat, I’m sure we’ll enjoy such services in the near future.

  2. 1$|\|’7 17 $4D 7|-|3 \/\/4’/ 90\/3r|\|/\/\3|\|7$ |<33P 7r’/1|\|9 7|-|3 $4/\/\3 U$3L3$$ 4773/\/\P7$ 70 L1/\/\17 $P33(|-|, ‘/37 |\|3\/3r L34r|\| 7|-|@ 7|-|3 $1/\/\PL3$7 0Ph \/\/0r|<4r0U|\|D$ \/\/1LL r3|\|D3r 7|-|3/\/\ |\|ULL 4|\|D \/01D?

    (Isn’t it sad the way governments keep trying the same useless attempts to limit speech, yet never learn that the simplest of workarounds will render them null and void?)

    ~D. Walker

    1. I think about that every day lately… buy more. buy more now. and… be happy. :(

      Maybe I should just take Hesitation.

  3. Retarded. I’d think this is pretty easy to get around by talking in code or even deforming words a bit eg. “Are you going to the rope test tonight ?”

  4. I hope I don’t sound like an ass, but someone should revive morse code in China. Or heck, just in general. I would love to learn morse code!

    1. Morse code is still very popular in the amateur radio community. It is great for communicating over thousands of miles with a wire antenna and home made transceiver that fits in an altoids tin and is almost impossible to direction find with any accuracy.
      So you are correct morse code is a great way to overcome the limitations of the surveillance society communications infrastructure including land line and especially mobile telephony.

  5. Now what I want to know is who sold it to them.

    If they are running speech recognition on every phone call in china that will require some serious processing power.

    1. I strongly suspect that they aren’t hitting all the lines(at any given time). That would add enormous computational cost, to minimal additional benefit.

      For FUD purposes, all you have to do is hit all of the lines some of the time, so that everybody knows that (without any warning) the call that they are in right now could be one of the lucky winners. Hence the making it obvious. As long as people know that they might be being listened in on, they’ll do most of the censorship themselves.

      Phone lines of particular interest, of course, whiny professors, known discontents, people who work for technologically interesting companies, etc. would, of course, likely be selected for more intense scrutiny; but likely less overt disruption. Those are the people that you want to finish their conversations, just not without telling you as well…

  6. this is a lot of crap. in a country of 1bn people I’m sure people have been cut off during the use of words over one syllable. two instances don’t make a conspiracy, a bunch of paraniod losers do.

  7. Well, this is a new service for all chinese mobile user: they have a new way to end a call. Instead of all this tedious button pressing they should just say the word “protest”.

    Probably this way protest (used in English) will become the chinese way of saying goodbye on the phone.

    In the mean time it would make such technique utterly uninteresting for those who monitor.

  8. Will you be at the you-know-what on Thursday? Maybe, I’ll call you on the dog-and-bone later.

  9. I am an American living in Beijing. I just sent a test email with the word “protest” in it, no problem. There maybe something going on, but I haven’t experienced it. I also have a VPN & Gmail accounts and have not experienced problems with either.

    I saw this unsubstantiated rumor in the NYT Asia yesterday. Bear in mind that the NYT is a US government propaganda outlet and Google works hand in glove with CIA, NSA & DHS, so I doubt anything either has to say about China.

    I’ sure Google would rollover for any request from a US.Gov info request, as they have in the past. (Think DHS isn’t reading your Gmail? Think again.)

    You may recall that Google said they were pulling out of China because of censorship issues. They never did pull out despite their less than 30% market-share. But they continue to censor YouTube content for big, multinational corporations. Seems like Google thinks its OK to censor for corporations but not for China.

  10. New Headline:
    Chinese phone system fails 2 voicecalls that contain the word “protest” – Internet service flaky. Run for the hills!

  11. And I expect that the Chinese people have already come up with a simple word substitution code, probably using alternate pronunciation of the characters used in ‘protest’.

    BTW, BuzzCoastin, you’d sound a little less obviously like a Chinese government astroturfer if you didn’t try to encapsulate so many propaganda points into one post.

    1. Right.. and the whole article wasn’t an encapsulation of “propaganda points”. Righto – 2 dropped calls, alarmist article while many references to previous “trangressions” to demonize a country (previously it was the Germans, then Japanese, then Russians, even aliens, now China).

      All while ignoring the common sense that the real-time, every call voice recognition thing is just complete moose kaka, to anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with the limitations of voice recognition. Esp with 1+ billion people making calls. Every second, every minutes.

      1. Your points are perfectly cogent, though I question at what point reporting on China becomes demonization. Buzzcoastin’, on the other hand, spent over half of his post talking about Google, which is related how? Not to mention that calling the NYT a “government propaganda outlet” is a bit rich coming from someone living in China.

  12. Beijing expat here:

    Just sent text message to my friend. With ‘protest’ mentioned twice.
    Then called. Mentioned ‘protest’ various times.
    No cut offs.

    My company as well as my private VPN still works fine.
    At least for ‘Porn’ and the ‘Teachings of the Dalai Lama’

    If only the internet speed wasnt so damn bad all would be good.

  13. So crude. More sophisticated aparatuses simply use professional sports, and sports news. Much more effective.

  14. Guess what folks? This is the same technology being used to listen in on our calls. The NSA (Or whatever government agency that is doing it) does not cut the call. Legality? Well first off it’s secret, secondly no people are listening in, text logs are taken, but not looked at without a warrant. Because you are being monitored by a CPU and not a person, and because your logs are sat on and not looked at by a person, then because it’s secret. There’s no lawsuit. There’s not one government that would turn this technology down.

  15. I’m loading this article in Guangdong w/o VPN. Haven’t tried to use the word “protest” on the phone yet.

    I’d blame the infrastructure before blaming sophisticated software.

  16. People seem to be assuming that this is ubiquitous and persistent. If I was running a system like this I’d only be hitting hot spots. You see an area with a spike in doubleplus ungood words you start auto-killing connections to disrupt the spread of thoughtcrime. The rest of the time you are just monitoring trends.

  17. I live in Shanghai and have bemoaned the state of the Internet since I arrived here to teach at an international school. It’s really bad here and it’s getting worse. Gmail and VPNs are much slower than a few weeks ago.

    Media outlets need to do some fact checking before they report on China. Repeating the words of the bard does not cause a phonecall to end. I tried it. So did Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap. Link

Comments are closed.