China mandates public Wi-Fi hotspots track users


Stepping up its efforts to track, control, and censor Internet use, Chinese authorities have begun requiring operators of public Wi-Fi hotspots to purchase and install network monitoring software that identifies Wi-Fi users and keeps records of their Internet activities, including applications they run and sites they visit. According to the China Daily, the new requirements are similar to those in place for businesses operating purely as Internet cafes, but are now being extended to restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, and other businesses offering Wi-Fi Internet access; authorities are rolling out the requirements beginning in Beijing, with plans to extend the plan nationwide.

Both businesses and Internet users in China have decried the new requirements. Hot spots operators are being required to pay from 20,000 to 60,000 yuan (about US$3,100 to $9,300) to acquire and install the required software from Shanghai Rain-soft Software. As a result, many businesses are reportedly shutting down their Wi-Fi hotspots because they can’t absorb the costs. Businesses will face minimum fines of 5,000 yuan if they don’t comply.

Some everyday Internet users see the requirements as an invasion of their privacy.

Industry watchers see the move as an evolution of China’s efforts to monitor and control its citizen’s online Internet activity: by extending requirements for Internet cafes to any location with a hotspot, the regime plugs a hole in its surveillance system that has enabled microbloggers, activists, foreign visitors, and everyday Chinese citizens to access the Internet from mobile phones, tablets, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices with relative ease and anonymity.

China represents the world’s largest Internet market, with an estimated 485 million users. China also operates the world’s largest Internet censorship regime, routinely blocking access to material it deems undesirable or politically sensitive.