On August 25, 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China (“CAC”) issued the Administrative Provisions for Services concerning Internet Comment Posting (the “Internet Comment Posting Provisions”) and the Administrative Provisions for Services concerning Internet Forums and Communities (the “Internet Forum and Community Services Provisions”), both of which will become effective on October 1, 2017. On the same date of issuance, CAC’s head commented at a press conference that the purpose of these two provisions is to “thoroughly implement the spirit of China’s new Cybersecurity Law”, “to standardize China’s Internet comment posting services market” and to “promote healthy and orderly development of the market.” At the same time, however, the special requirements for Internet users and service providers under these new provisions also cause substantial concern in the market.
Application of the Provisions
The Internet Comment Posting Provisions state that they will regulate the provision of “Internet comment posting services” within the territory of China. “Internet comment posting services” are defined as the provision of publishing services of texts, symbols, expressions, pictures, audio, and video clips to the users by any Internet websites, applications, interactive communication platforms, and other communication platforms with the nature and function of providing news and public opinions, and social mobilization, through posts, replies, messages, “bullet screen” comments (danmu), and etc.
The Internet Forum and Community Service Provisions will regulate the provision of “Internet forum and community services” within the territory of China. “Internet forum and community services” are defined as the provision of services to the users of interactive information publishing communities and platforms in the form of forums, postings, communities, etc. Definitions under these two provisions appear to be broad enough to cover all website, application and forum operators providing information publishing services through Internet in China (collectively, the “Service Providers”).
Substantive Responsibilities of the Service Providers
The provisions expressly address eight types of substantive responsibilities that the Service Providers are legally required to comply with in offering information publishing services, including:
- Verification of the real identity information of the registered users. Before a user is permitted to use the Service Provider’s service, he/she must disclose its real name and ID information to the Service Provision for verification. Service Providers are not permitted to provide information publishing services to any users without identity verification. However, after verification, the users do not have to display their real names when making comments within the platform.
- Establishment of user information protection mechanism. The Service Providers must not divulge, tamper, destroy, sell or disclose to others any of the users’ personal information. Before collecting and using such personal information, the Service Providers must obtain the users’ prior approval.
- If the users are intended to comment on any news, the Service Providers must review the comments for any improper discussion before releasing the comments to the Internet.
- For any “bullet screen” comments (danmu), a popular feature among young Chinese netizens where comments scroll across the screen while a video clip is playing, the Service Provider must post within the same webpage and same platform the text version of the “bullet screen” comments.
- Service Providers are required to provide prior review and real-time management of all the comments posted, and report to the supervisory authorities if any illegal information is discovered.
- Service Providers are required to develop a sound information security and protection system to avoid any safety defects and loopholes.
- Service Providers shall maintain a professional team of editors.
- Service Providers are required to provide necessary technical, materials and data support for the supervisory authorities’ supervision and inspection.
Protection of Legitimate Personal Rights
In formulating these two provisions, CAC also had the goal of protecting legitimate personal rights. In addition to requiring protection of the users’ personal information and information safety discussed in the section above, the new provisions expressly prohibit a Service Provider or any of its employees from intentionally deleting or recommending any posts for the purpose of seeking improper benefits or based on erroneous values. Service Providers and users are not permitted to use software, hire business organizations, or personnel to disseminate information that misleads public opinion. Finally, the provisions require that Service Providers are also required to establish a “credit evaluation grading system” for all their users under which the Service Providers should evaluate the users’ performance, and decide the scope of services provided to the user based on the evaluation results. If any user is given a low credit score under the grading system, Service Providers shall stop providing services to the user and add the user to a black list, and prohibit the user from any further use of its service (for example, through registering a new account).
CAC and its local agencies at different levels are the law enforcement agencies and supervisory authorities of the Service Providers under the provisions. They are empowered to hold any Service Providers accountable who fails to perform their responsibilities by law. Also, the provisions stipulate that if a Service Provider intends to offer new products, applications, and features for comment posting services, it must file an application with the CAC or its local agencies for a security evaluation. Finally, CAC or its local agencies shall also establish a “credit evaluation grading system” for the Service Providers to supervise the credibility and compliance of all the Service Providers.
The issuance of these two provisions show the Chinese government is taking active regulatory approaches toward the information publishing industry. However, at the same time, the industry also worries that these new provisions may impose excessively harsh responsibilities on the Service Providers, which may increase operating costs, reduce operation efficiency, and even affect business innovation. The healthy development of the industry needs the joint efforts and in-depth communications among legislation, law enforcement agencies, and Internet companies.