Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

China’s military faces a computer game threat — Now Chinese army takes aim at ‘King of Glory’

August 14, 2017


© AFP/File | China’s military faces a computer game threat, top brass fear
SHANGHAI (AFP) – Chinese army officers have a new enemy in their sights — a mobile phone battle game believed so addictive to young soldiers that it may slow them down in real-life combat.

Smartphone smash-hit “King of Glory” is so popular in China that its maker and internet giant Tencent last month began limiting daily playing times to “ensure children’s healthy development”.

Now the Chinese army is taking aim at the multiplayer online battle game.

“There is certainly a security risk that can’t be overlooked,” the People’s Liberation Army Daily newspaper warned gravely.

“The game requires constant attention but a soldier’s job is full of uncertainty. Once a soldier is cut off from the game for an urgent mission, he could be absent-minded during the operation if his mind remains on the game.”

The newspaper said officers had become worried after noticing that almost all the soldiers in one dormitory were playing the game over a weekend.

The state newspaper did concede that up to a point the game offered respite during leisure time and there are no immediate plans to ban it from barracks.

Nevertheless, the rank and file should be given “scientific guidance”, it added.

The game boasts up to 80 million daily users but the Chinese government is increasingly worried about the impact it is having on children and teenagers, who lock themselves away for hours for marathon sessions.

A 17-year-old gamer in the southern province of Guangdong suffered a type of stroke after spending 40 consecutive hours playing “King of Glory”, state media said in April.

Thai Journalist Charged With Sedition for Online Comments

August 8, 2017

BANGKOK — A prominent journalist in Thailand has been charged with sedition and violation of the country’s computer law for online postings concerning politics.

The lawyer for Pravit Rojanaphruk said his client acknowledged the charges Tuesday at the police department’s Technology Crime Suppression Division. Pravit is very active on social media and outspoken in his criticism of Thailand’s military rulers, who took power after a coup in 2014 that overthrew an elected civilian government.

Pravit is a senior staff writer at Khaosod English, a website of a Thai newspaper. Police announced last week that they would bring sedition charges against him and two politicians, one a former energy minister. Sedition is punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.

Thailand’s ruling junta has tried to clamp down on dissent, targeting especially social media.

Encourage children to spend more time online, says former head of British Intelligence — “The country is desperately short of engineers and computer scientists, and lacks the broad ‘cyber skills’”

August 8, 2017

The Guardian

Robert Hannigan says children developing cyber skills could ‘save the country’ as UK was falling behind competitors

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 Robert Hannigan, in 2015, when he was director of GCHQ. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Parents should be encouraging their children to spend more time online in order to “save the country,” the former head of GCHQ has said.

Robert Hannigan, who was head of Britain’s surveillance agency between 2014 and 2017, said that the UK was struggling to keep up with competitors when it came to cyber skills.

He said parents should not feel guilty if teenagers spend hours of their summer holidays in front of a screen.

“The assumption that time online or in front of a screen is life wasted needs challenging,” Hannigan said. “It is driven by fear.”

The call comes days after the children’s commissioner warned parents that they should intervene to stop their children overusing social media and consuming time online “like junk food”.

In an interview with the Observer, Anne Longfield said that parents should “step up” and be proactive in stopping their children from bingeing on the internet during the summer holidays.

Writing in the Telegraph, Hannigan disagreed. “If you are spending a disproportionate amount of your holiday unsuccessfully attempting to separate your children from wifi or their digital devices, do not despair.

“Your poor parenting may be helping them and saving the country.”

The opinions come after a report said that children in all age groups are spending ever-longer periods online, according to Ofcom. Children aged five to 15 are spending 15 hours a week online.

Hannigan argues that young people need to explore the digital world just as they explore the physical world, in order to fully develop the kinds of skills both the country and they as individuals will need in the future.

He said: “This country is desperately short of engineers and computer scientists, and lacks the broad ‘cyber skills’ needed now, never mind in the next 20 years. The baseline of understanding is too low and often behind our competitors.

“If we are to capitalise on the explosion of data that will come through the ‘internet of things’, and the arrival of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we need young people who have been allowed to behave like engineers: to explore, break things and put them together.

“Arguably that is what children always did in their summer holidays. The difference today is that they will want to explore, experiment and break things digitally.”

He also said that parents should attempt to catch up and improve their own cyber skills, suggesting they buy a Raspberry Pi.

“You could build it with your children and learn at least the concept of computer coding; there are plenty of free guides on the web,” he said.

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Children should be allowed to explore the digital world just as they explore the physical world, says Robert Hannigan

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By Ben Farmer
The Telegraph

Parents should encourage their children to spend more time online to improve their cyber skills and ‘save the country’, the former head of GCHQ declares today.

Rather than allowing youngsters to ‘mooch around on the streets’ during the holidays, it is families’ patriotic duty to encourage more screen time, according to Robert Hannigan.

Writing for the Telegraph today, the former head of the Government’s electronic spy agency, warns that Britain is struggling to keep pace with its digital rivals.

Without giving children more time to embrace and master the virtual world, the UK will fall further behind, he says.

His call comes just days after the children’s commissioner argued that children are already too attached to online devices.

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Thailand: Crackdown on critics of Military Government continues with accusations of sedition against award-winning Thai journalist — Dissent against the junta is not permitted

August 4, 2017

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Pravit Rojanaphruk, an outspoken Thai columnist for the English-language daily The Nation, poses for photograph while being called to report himself to the ruling military along with other journalists in Bangkok, Thailand Sunday, May 25, 2014. A spokesman for Thailand’s coup leaders said Sunday that democracy had caused “losses” for the country, as the junta sought to combat growing international condemnation and hundreds of protesters angrily confronted soldiers in central Bangkok. (AP Photo)

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – An award-winning Thai journalist accused of sedition over online comments critical of the junta said on Friday that the charge created a “chilling effect” amid an ongoing crackdown on critics of the military government.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, a journalist at local news outlet Khaosod English, has been a rare voice of dissent against the junta since it took power in a May 2014 coup, ousting then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The military government has largely silenced critics by summoning them for “attitude adjustment” sessions in military camps, banning public gatherings and detaining dissenters.

But government spokesman Weerachon Sukhontapatipak said criticism had not been outlawed.

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Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 as he is set to attend the ASEAN Summit in Manila

“It depends on the intention and the delivery… But if it violates existing laws, it must be dealt with accordingly,” Weerachon told Reuters.

Pravit, an avid social media user, has been summoned twice for attitude adjustment sessions.

He was accused on Monday of sedition and cyber crime over five Facebook posts in which he criticized the junta, police said.

He denies the accusations, saying his criticism was in good faith and the charges against him were aimed at intensifying a climate of fear on the internet.

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“This creates a chilling effect, because the junta is afraid of social media platforms. The online space is a new frontier where criticism is hard for them to control,” Pravit told Reuters.

Pravit will hear the charges against him on Tuesday.

Sedition charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison for each offence. According to the criminal code, punishment will be capped at 20 years for charges with multiple offences.

The accusations came as Thailand’s military government seeks to strengthen its online monitoring.

It has also asked Facebook to remove offensive content and threatened the opposition with cyber crime charges.

Rights group Amnesty International said the accusations against Pravit suggested there was “no end to the Thai authorities’ determination to stamp out any form of criticism, whether online or on the streets”.

Last month, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists announced that Pravit was a recipient of its 2017 International Press Freedom Award.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Nick Macfie)

Apple Removes Apps From China Store That Help Internet Users Evade Censorship

July 29, 2017

HONG KONG — China appears to have received help on Saturday from an unlikely source in its fight against tools that help users evade its Great Firewall of internet censorship: Apple.

Software made by foreign companies to help users skirt the country’s system of internet filters has vanished from Apple’s app store on the mainland.

One company, ExpressVPN, posted a letter it had received from Apple saying that its app had been taken down “because it includes content that is illegal in China.”

Another tweeted from its official account that its app had been removed.

A search on Saturday showed that a number of the most popular foreign virtual-private networks, also known as VPNs, which give users access to the unfiltered internet in China, were no longer accessible on the company’s app store there.

ExpressVPN wrote in its blog that the removal was “surprising and unfortunate.”

It added, “We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts.”

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Vietnam jails dissident nine years for propaganda against state

July 25, 2017

HANOI (Reuters) – A court in Vietnam jailed a prominent dissident for nine years and gave her five years of probation for spreading propaganda against the state, her lawyer said on Tuesday, in what appeared to be the Communist-ruled country’s latest crackdown on critics.

Despite sweeping reforms to its economy and growing openness to social change, including gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism.

Blogger Tran Thi Nga was found guilty at a one-day trial in the northern province of Ha Nam, six months after being arrested for posting the offending material on the internet, lawyer Ha Huy Son said.

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Trần Thị Nga

“This is an unfair verdict,” he said. “Nga is not guilty as stated by the court.”

The charges against Nga are “bogus”, said New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“The Vietnamese government consistently goes to extremes to silence its critics, targeting activists like Tran Thi Nga with bogus charges that carry a long prison sentence, and subjecting their families to harassment and abuse,” its deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said in a statement.

Separately, police on Monday arrested a prominent dissident they have accused of conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the government.

The arrest of Le Dinh Luong, 51, followed his “regular activities with the aim to overthrow the authority and complicate local security,” police in the central province of Nghe An said on their news website, but did not elaborate.

It was not possible to contact Luong and it was not known if he had legal representation.

Nga’s verdict and Luong’s arrest come just a month after a court jailed prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Me Nam”, or Mother Mushroom, for 10 years for publishing propaganda against the state.

Several dissidents and bloggers voiced support online for both Nga and Luong. With information tightly controlled by the government, some critics take to web blogs to air grievances and social media sites, including Facebook, are hugely popular.

Luong and Quynh had both spoken out against a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp that caused one of Vietnam’s biggest environmental disasters in April.

Vietnam police arrest dissident for attempt ‘to overthrow government’

July 25, 2017


JULY 25, 2017 / 12:25 AM

HANOI (Reuters) – Police in Vietnam have arrested a prominent dissident they have accused of conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the government, in what appeared to be latest effort by the Communist-ruled country to crack down on critics.

Police in central Nghe An said Le Dinh Luong, 51, was arrested on Monday. They said on their news website Luong had conducted “regular activities with the aim to overthrow the authority and complicate local security” but did not elaborate.

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Lê Đình Lượng (See note below)

It was not possible to contact Luong and it was not known if he had legal representation.

Despite sweeping reforms to the economy and growing openness to social change, including gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism.

Several dissidents and bloggers voiced support for Luong online. With information tightly controlled by the government, some critics take to web blogs to air their grievances and social media sites, including Facebook, are hugely popular.

In June, a Vietnamese court jailed prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Me Nam” (Mother Mushroom) for 10 years for publishing propaganda against the state.

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Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh

According to her lawyer, Quynh was found guilty and sentenced at a one-day trial, six months after she was arrested for posting what police described as anti-state reports, including one about civilians dying in police custody.

Luong and Quynh had both spoken out against a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp that caused one of Vietnam’s biggest environmental disasters in April. (toxic chemical spill that killed fish)

New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report earlier last month that said Vietnamese human rights bloggers were being beaten and intimidated.

Separately, dissident Tran Thi Nga, who was also arrested in January on charges of promoting propaganda against state, was due to go on trial later on Tuesday.

VPN crackdown an ‘unthinkable’ trial by firewall for China’s research world

July 24, 2017

Beijing risks a brain drain and undermining international collaborations by cutting off academics reliant on virtual private networks, scholars say

By Sarah Zheng
South China Morning Post

Monday, July 24, 2017, 11:45am

But access to this resource is not guaranteed as he works at Tsinghua University in China – where the government has been tightening what are already among the strictest controls over the internet in the world.

China is notorious for its “Great Firewall” – the mass censorship and blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, plus news sites including The New York Times. It also routinely censors politically sensitive information across Chinese social media and websites.

 If researchers cannot use VPNs to access a free and open internet, it might lead to government censorship of academic information and a “brain drain” of skilled individuals overseas, one researcher says. Photo: Xinhua

Its push in recent years to further limit people’s abilities to circumvent controls on the internet have forced academics such as Pastor-Pareja to depend on tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs), which redirect users to offshore servers to bypass the censors. His personal VPN subscription, paid for out of his own pocket, allows him to access Google, monitor his Twitter feed for the latest scientific literature, and connect with the wider scientific community via social media.

“Everybody here does the same,” he said. “First-class research at a truly competitive level can’t go on with researchers cut off from the outside world. It’s truly unthinkable.”

However, it may become more difficult for people in China to evade the censors amid the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s “clean-up” campaign of internet access services such as VPNs.

Beijing has championed the concept of “cyberspace sovereignty” – control of its own digital space – that has forced VPN providers into a long-standing dance with the authorities over their “legal grey zone” of operation.

Freedom House, a US-based democracy and human rights NGO, says Beijing has escalated efforts to “restrict individual VPN usage over the past few years”, branding it “the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom”.

“VPNs provide a pressure valve for those who rely on open internet access to communicate and stay informed – even government supporters,” said Madeline Earp, a research analyst at the group. “Interfering with these channels to the outside world creates tremendous frustration and uncertainty.”

In January this year, Beijing launched a 14-month nationwide campaign against unauthorised internet connections, including VPN services, saying all service providers must obtain government approval.

Nathan Freitas, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, said “anyone who was anyone” in China depended on “the VPN of the week that works” to access essential blocked resources.

Any new restrictions would cause “significant” harm to global collaborations, including Chinese academics or open-source projects on the mainland, he said.

“There is this idea that for people inside – the playing field, the collaboration field, was levelled because they had VPNs,” he said.

John Zhang, a chemistry professor at New York University Shanghai, has used his college’s VPN network to access academic information for years. If that changed, “the impact on my work would be serious”, Zhang said.

Another Chinese academic at a university in Shanghai said he had used VPNs since 2012 to access sites such as Google, a service he needed to “accurately and quickly” find academic papers.

He now bypasses the firewall with his university’s VPN system. Since researchers could still access legal VPNs through work, he did not think the restrictions were harmful to China’s academia – “at least for now”.

 Both Chinese and foreign researchers in the country need to tap into global conversations for “well-informed research”. Photo: Chinese Academy of Sciences

A Chinese physics professor at a university in Beijing said he hoped the VPN crackdown would not affect his ability to use Google.

“Baidu has absolutely no use for my work,” he said, referring to the Chinese search engine.

“It is a shame … Without Google, academic research and study will definitely be adversely ­affected.”

Academics in China are reluctant to publicly comment on censorship. But both Chinese and foreign researchers in the country need to tap into to global conversations for “well-informed research”, according to Dr Nicole Talmacs, lecturer in media and communications at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

One former visiting scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai tried multiple services in his “adventures of finding a VPN”. The first was blocked upon arrival, the second worked for one night and the third worked only after a prolonged configuration process.

He said it was “catastrophic” for his research to be restricted from file sharing services such as Dropbox or Google Drive. “I don’t want to risk my access being limited to whatever the government decides I can use,” he said.

Dr Christopher Balding, a business and economics professor at the HSBC Business School in Shenzhen, frequently accesses Twitter, Gmail, and Google Scholar for his work.

“If we start taking [VPNs] away, it’s going to be very problematic,” Balding said.

“When you’re going to such extremes, you’re stopping basic access to information for professors … It’s really going to harm the types of jobs and industries that China says it wants to grow.”

Dr Mario Poceski, a former visiting scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the lack of complete internet access was a constant hassle while he was in China, creating conditions that were “rather intolerable”.

He added that this would negatively affect the country’s appeal for foreign scholars.

The firewall’s impact on research was raised when the legislature met in March in Beijing.

Even Liu Binjie, a former director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, indicated support at the National People’s Congress meeting this year for the reintroduction of Google Scholar to China after the authorities suspended access to the service in 2010.

Luo Fuhe, a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, also said this year that limited access to the internet was harmful to scientists.

“It is not normal when quite a number of researchers have to buy software that helps them bypass the country’s firewalls in order to complete their scientific research,” Luo said.

The communist government has been increasing efforts to maintain its ideological grip on the country’s universities, which President Xi Jinping has vowed to turn into “strongholds of the party’s leadership”.

Universities – which fall under the control of Communist Party committees – have repeatedly been told to maintain purity in their socialist ideology, including steering clear of teaching topics such as press freedom and civil rights.

The party dispatched anti-graft teams earlier this year to inspect 29 top universities on criteria including the implementation of the party’s guiding principles for education and strong “political awareness”.

China’s drive for internet restrictions on academics may stem from a desire to keep data on Chinese internet platforms and sensitive information such as defence or cybersecurity research within its borders, according to Freitas.

But when scholars and researchers could not use VPNs to access a free and open internet, it might lead to government censorship of academic information and a “brain drain” of skilled individuals overseas, he noted. “Intelligent people want to be connected with a global cohort of collaborators,” he said.

Balding said China was “definitely a different environment” from when he arrived in the country eight years ago, citing its restrictive internet and politically sensitive academic environment.

Asked if he was now considering working outside China, he replied soberly: “I should probably start thinking about looking.”

Russians march against state internet crackdown — “No to censorship, no to dictatorship!” and “Down with the police state!”

July 23, 2017


© AFP | Around 1,000 people demonstrated in Moscow against Russian government controls on the internet

MOSCOW (AFP) – Around 1,000 people marched through central Moscow on Sunday to protest against the government’s harsh legislative controls on the internet.

Demonstrators at the rally, which was authorised by city authorities, shouted slogans including “No to censorship, no to dictatorship!” and “Down with the police state!”

Some adapted a popular slogan from opposition rallies against President Vladimir Putin’s rule, shouting “Russia without Putin and censorship!”

Police said that around 800 people attended the protest, which was organised by Parnas opposition party, headed by former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov. An AFP journalist estimated the turnout at 1,000 to 1,500.

OVD Info website, which monitors detentions of political activists, said three had been detained, one for giving out leaflets promoting opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Pavel Rassudov, 34, the former head of the Pirate Party campaign group, said at the march that “restrictions on the internet began in 2011,” as the opposition to Putin held mass rallies in Moscow.

“The authorities realised the Internet was a tool for mobilisation, that it brings people out onto the streets,” Rassudov said.

Another marcher, Lyudmila Toporova, 56, said she came to the rally because “Freedom is the most important thing in life. That’s why I’m here.”

Russia in recent years has moved to impose restrictions on internet use, blacklisting web pages for extremist content and prosecuted a growing number of individuals for posting online.

Since January 1, internet companies have been required to store all users’ personal data at centres in Russia and provide it to the authorities on demand.

In addition, new legislation passed by the lower house of parliament on Friday would ban the use of VPNs and anonymous messaging apps such as Telegram.

Protesters on Sunday highlighted the case of videoblogger Ruslan Sokolovsky who filmed himself hunting Pokemons in a church and has been placed on a list of “terrorists” and extremists and had his bank accounts blocked.

The internet is one of the country’s few forums for political debate and Kremlin critic Navalny has won a youth following with live video blogs and YouTube videos.

Putin on Friday during a live television show with children admitted that he almost never uses the internet and does not have time for social media such as Instagram.

China’s Censorship and Internet Police Take Away More Freedom

July 22, 2017

Internet police step up their ability to filter photos

A WeChat booth at a conference in Beijing in April. Internet companies are required by law to maintain strict censorship of their platforms, a defense that is reinforced by police forces.
A WeChat booth at a conference in Beijing in April. Internet companies are required by law to maintain strict censorship of their platforms, a defense that is reinforced by police forces. PHOTO: JASON LEE/REUTERS

BEIJING—China’s already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength—the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them.

The ability is part of a broader technology push by Beijing’s censors to step up surveillance and get ahead of activists and others communicating online in China.

Displays of this new image-filtering capability kicked into high gear last week as Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo lay dying from liver cancer and politically minded Chinese tried to pay tribute to him, according to activists and a new research report.

Wu Yangwei, a friend of the long-jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said he used popular messaging app WeChat to send friends a photo of a haggard Mr. Liu embracing his wife. Mr. Wu believed the transmissions were successful, but he said his friends never saw them.

“Sometimes you can get around censors by rotating the photo,” said Mr. Wu, a writer better known by his pen name, Ye Du. “But that doesn’t always work.”

There were disruptions on Tuesday to another popular messaging app, Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp, with many China-based users saying they were unable to send photos and videos without the use of software that circumvents Chinese internet controls. Text messages appeared to be largely unaffected.

WhatsApp, which employs encryption that allows users to have secure conversations, is one of the few foreign messaging apps that has gone unblocked in China. Supporters of Mr. Liu had been using it to exchange information and images of the Nobel laureate in recent days.

WhatsApp made no technical changes that would limit its service in China, a person familiar with the matter said.

Chinese internet censorship first concentrated on the development of word-screening software to root out politically objectionable content. As a result, internet users over the past couple of years turned to sending photos to evade cyber police. In response, censors upped their game by demonstrating the ability to purge images from group chats and public posts.

In a new report, researchers from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said they observed that WeChat expanded its image censorship to one-to-one chats for the first time, in the wake of Mr. Liu’s death on Thursday.

Dissident Liu Xiaobo is cared for by wife Liu Xia, right, in an undated photo taken at a Chinese hospital. He died last week following a battle with liver cancer. He was 61 years old.
Dissident Liu Xiaobo is cared for by wife Liu Xia, right, in an undated photo taken at a Chinese hospital. He died last week following a battle with liver cancer. He was 61 years old. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Citizen Lab, a human-rights research group known for its studies of Internet censorship and surveillance, said it is investigating how WeChat is able to filter the images. Since the images are blocked mid-transit, the speed is too fast for human intervention. The rapid blocking suggests an algorithm is at work, Citizen Lab researcher Lotus Ruan said.

Though activists said they noticed image censoring over the past year, Ms. Ruan said Citizen Lab didn’t detect this kind of targeted, person-to-person image blocking when it was investigating Chinese censorship in the spring.

Tencent Holdings Ltd., the Chinese internet company that operates WeChat, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Online-content companies are required to strictly censor their platforms, a front-line defense that is augmented by police forces dedicated to internet monitoring.

The requirement of companies to censor online content is written into governent regulations.

Because WhatsApp is a foreign service, China can’t order it to implement fine-toothed censorship at the level of individual messages. Instead, to stop the transmission of certain images on WhatsApp, censors have to disrupt the sending of images for all users in China.

The use of enhanced image filtering comes as Chinese authorities move to step up surveillance by using new data-driven technologies. Security cameras with facial-recognition software are being deployed in Chinese cities to catch jaywalkers and track criminal suspects. Local governments are rolling out “social credit” systems that catalog the digital lives of its citizens, including their internet history and bill payments.

A high-stakes leadership shuffle in the fall that is likely to see Chinese President Xi Jinping further consolidate his power could also help explain the evolution in censorship. Internet controls tend to tighten significantly in the run-up to major political events in China.

These capabilities are closing a censorship gap that Chinese activists and ordinary internet users have counted on—that the sheer mass of messages was too much for censors to handle.

“If you hire a million network police, it still wouldn’t be enough to filter 1.4 billion people’s messages,” said Bao Pu, a Hong Kong-based publisher of political books that are banned on the mainland. “But if you have a machine doing it, it can instantly block everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s a billion messages or 10 billion.”

Citizen Lab researchers said an increase in image censoring was noticeable as part of a broader clampdown on messages about Mr. Liu. The researchers said they documented 19 images blocked in one-to-one chats, including a cartoon of an empty chair, in addition to images blocked in group chats. Mr. Liu was famously represented by an empty chair at the 2010 ceremony where he was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize while in prison in China.

In tests conducted by The Wall Street Journal, some images of Mr. Liu were blocked in private WeChat messages, including a widely circulated one of him and his wife and another one overlaid with information about a vigil in Hong Kong. Some other photos transmitted successfully.

Activists said that they have noticed more frequent image blocks on WeChat over the past year and that there are signs the censorship is automated: One image will be blocked while a similar one in a different color scheme will go through.

Citizen Lab researcher Jeffrey Knockel said slight changes to an image or its metadata allow it to slip through the filter, while other modified pictures get blocked. That suggests WeChat is filtering based on certain data, or “hash,” of the image, he said.

Write to Eva Dou at

Appeared in the July 19, 2017, print edition as ‘Beijing’s Censors Target Chat Images.’