Chinese Websites
Concerned about Real-Name System

Youth Daily, 1/20/12

At the first annual Internet Communities Summit in Sanya,
hosted by People’s Daily Online and Tianya, representatives of some of China’s
leading online communities and portals expressed concern that conditions were
not yet ripe for a full-scale nationwide introduction of real-name registration

Wang Jiang, Sina (Nasdaq: SINA) deputy chief editor, said
that at present real-name registration exists more as a concept than as an
accomplished reality. Wang noted the difficulties involved in tying internet
users’ actual identities to the national ID numbers used for registration,
considering the ease with which users could register accounts using others’ ID
information — and the potential exploitation of ID data by hackers. Wang also
cited the incompleteness of legal protection for online real-name registration
as a concern.

Li Fang, standing deputy chief editor of Tencent
(0700.HK), predicted that the number of microblog users would increase by up to
80% in 2012, creating an ever greater need for data security. While all major
portals have online security teams numbering in the hundreds of employees, Li
said, it remains impossible to guarantee user data security — meaning that
real-name registration will require great caution on the part of operators.

Zhao Feng, director of online forum site, said
that websites were limited in their ability to address internet security issues
through technology, and that it would remain important to increase user
awareness of security and to ensure legislative provisions for data security.

Chen Yong, deputy chief editor of Tianya, said that a
roadmap for nationwide implementation of real-name registration policies would
be necessary. Real-name registration remains under exploration, Chen said, and
is only feasible at present for backend registration of a small number of
users, to be registered in stages. In the case of Tianya’s forums, for
instance, moderators and opinion leaders have had their identities verified by
the site, while for ordinary users only methods generally considered more
secure, such as mobile phone registration, are feasible. To date, several
million Tianya users have opted for mobile phone verification.

Website operators are businesspeople first, Chen said, and
have their own long-term development to consider. A full-scale implementation
of real-name registration, with a complicated verification workflow, could
cause sites to lose large numbers of potential users — requiring sites to
grant special privileges or incentives to users who opt for verification, which
— when combined with a sizable investment in security systems — would
increase the cost to operators of implementing real-name registration.

Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU) deputy chief editor Fang Gang was
relatively sanguine regarding implementing back-end real-name registration for
internet communities. Fang cited the relative ease of implementation and the
potential of a real-name registration system to make users “more
responsible for their speech” as positives, but noted that users would
also have to see personal benefits, such as copyright protection for their
online comments.

Hu Yong, an associate professor at the Peking University
School of Journalism and Communication, said that Chinese society had entered a
phase in which different social strata could vie for primacy using emerging
technologies — meaning that the government would be required to offer clear
communications and beneficial services in addressing the “online discourse
crisis” in order to create a more responsible internet user base.

Zou Ming, VP of Phoenix New Media’s internet portal iFeng,
said that Chinese internet users had seen an unprecedented increase in
awareness and sophistication over the last decade, and that improvements to the
online environment would essentially be contingent upon social progress.

Sanya municipal deputy director of propaganda Jian
Qiuxiong said that real-name registration would be a means of imposing online
order and making internet users responsible for their online comments, and
would have little actual effect on governmental efforts to oversee and direct
public discourse. At present, many internet users responding to real-name
registration are signing their own names and leaving their phone numbers. The
government should respect online public opinion, Jian said, and should shift
its efforts from eliminating online discourse to addressing real-world