Chinese desktop platform confirms user files on its cloud server are subject to censorship Global Voices

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Image created by Oiwan Lam

How would you react if you were blocked from accessing important documents stored on your personal cloud drive?

A Chinese netizen, “Metoo just wants to make money” (米兔只想赚钱 and hereinafter referred to as “Meetoo”), claims that she was denied access to one of her own online documents by WPS Office, a Chinese cloud-based office platform, due to censorship. The document is a draft of a novel of over a million Chinese words.

On July 11, 2022, “Metoo” posted the complaint about the WPS lock on popular writers’ forum Ikong.com. According to a screenshot of an automatic notification issued by WPS, “Metoo” was denied access to his document because it contained illegal content. Here is what she wrote on Ikong.com:

說 文件 含有 違禁 內容 , 禁止 訪問 , 更 別 說 修改 了 , 這 就 是 所謂 所謂 服務 服務 我 文件 文件 , 怕 有 違禁 內容 那 也 我 事 , , , 對 外 分享 分享 甚至 也 我 我 自己 事 , , , , , ,外分享販賣販賣。

更 別 說 全部 內容 清水 , 網站 都 能 發 出去 , 結果 結果 結果 要 要 我 我 鎖 誰 它 它 的 權利 窺探 窺探 隠私 文件 文件 , 處理。。。 勸 各位 用 用 用 wps 了 , 現在 要 進行 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權 維權各位別用WPS了,現在要進行維權維權舉報。

He said the document contained illegal content and therefore access was denied. There is no way for me to edit the document. And this is their so-called subscription service? Even if there was sensitive content in the document stored on my local computer’s drive, it was my private matter, as I did not share or sell it to the public.

Not to mention that the content is absolutely clean and without anything sensitive. I can publish it on other open web platforms. But WPS locked it. Who granted him the right to check my private document and decide his fate… I advise you not to use WPS and now I have to defend my rights and report the incident.

WPS Office is a most popular cloud office platform in Mainland China, similar to Microsoft Cloud Office or Google Drive. It allows users to store documents in different formats, share them and co-edit them. “Metoo” complaint caught the attention of netizens and its story was picked up by several social media outlets, and the hashtag “#WPS was exposed that it would delete users’ locally stored documents” (WPS 被曝會刪除用戶本地文件), went viral immediately as netizens used it to alert each other.

“Metoo” later Told local media that the incident happened in May. She told them that she never said her locally stored document had been deleted, but further explained that it was automatically synced to an older version of the document she had stored on the WPS p. After that, she couldn’t access her own updated version. She pointed out that as part of her appeal, WPS admitted there was a flaw in the platform’s detection systems and promised to fix it.

However, other WPS users have started sharing their experiences on social media. A student said his essay disappeared from WPS. Another user said the same thing happened to their class presentation plan. And yet another claimed he was once accused by WPS of retrieving a document the platform deleted.

In response, WPS denied that the platform censors, locks or deletes documents stored locally on the user’s computer. The company said:

正常情况下,后台是不会操作用户的本地文件的。

Under normal circumstances, the platform would not control users’ locally stored documents.

However, he added that according to relevant laws in China, including the Cyber ​​Security Law, the Measures on the Administration of Internet Information Services and the Provisions on the Ecological Governance of Network Information Content , among other things, all platforms that provide online information services are required to review the content circulating on its platform. In light of these requirements, WPS said it seeks to protect the security of user information by encrypting sensitive content and providing a channel for its customers to appeal and retrieve their documents.

Reading between the lines, some Weibo users summarized the company’s statement as follows:

WPS确实会扫描和审核用户文档

WPS has confirmed that it will definitely scan and censor its users’ files

就是说,我还是偷窥你们的内裤,原因不再自己,我就是能看

It’s another way of saying I could peek into your underpants because it wasn’t yours and I have the power to.

A Beijing News reporter tested The censorship mechanism of WPS and found that once the user shared a document containing sensitive content such as pornography or sensitive language with another user, the link was redirected to a page with a disapproval notification of access. The journalist explained that once the “share” button was pressed, the document would be synchronized with the cloud server, triggering automatic censorship. The reporter could not explain why the locally stored document of “Metoo” was also affected.

Some tech bloggers sharp that it was ridiculous for a cloud desktop platform to separate the concept of cloud files and local files because cloud storage and co-editing are the most important features of a cloud desktop platform cloud. If users cannot co-edit a document with their colleagues and must download the document to their own machine after editing, there is no point in having a cloud drive.

Many have concluded that the problem of censorship and invasion of privacy is not limited to WPS. No platform or application that syncs with cloud servers is trustworthy, as they are obligated under Chinese laws to review and censor their users’ content.

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