China cracks down on online IDs

From Financial Times

By Mure Dickie in Tokyo

Published: April 9 2007 22:08 | Last updated: April 9 2007 22:08

In China, even when you’re an elf, the authorities want to know who you are.

Under a “real name verification system” to crack down on internet usage – and prevent internet addiction among the young – Chinese police are to check the identity card numbers of all would-be players of internet games.

While it is unclear how rigorously the system will be enforced, Monday’s move highlights Beijing’s desire to more closely regulate the internet and reduce the potential for anonymity on a world wide web where, as a New Yorker cartoon famously put it, “nobody knows you are a dog”.

Online role-playing games are hugely popular in China, with millions of people regularly logging on to play as elves, dwarves, magicians and martial artists in vast virtual worlds.

Chinese leaders recently announced a broad push to “purify” the internet of socially and politically suspect activity, and have been keen to push users to use their true identities online. Beijing is also looking at ways of implementing a “real name” system for bloggers to curb "irresponsible" commentary and intellectual property abuse.

State media this year quoted Hu Qiheng of the China Internet Association as saying that bloggers’ real names would be kept private “as long as they do no harm to the public interest”.

Several online game operators already require players to supply identity card details, but executives say many of the numbers submitted are false.

China’s 18-digit ID numbers are mainly based on place of birth, age and gender and are unique to each citizen, but widely available software can generate fake but plausible numbers.

Under the new system, Chinese police would check each number, a government official, Kou Xiaowei, said on Monday.

Players whose IDs showed they were under 18, or who submitted incorrect numbers, would be forced to play versions of online games featuring an anti-addiction system that encourages them to spend less time online, he said.

Minors who stayed online for more than three hours a day would have half of their game credits cancelled; those who played for more than five hours a day would have all of their credits taken away.

The anti-addiction system has been under development since 2005 - officials last year decided to bow to objections from adult players and games companies by imposing it only upon underage players.

Mr Kou gave no details of the likely cost of identity verification to online games operators, which include Nasdaq-listed market leaders, The9 and Shanda Interactive Entertainment.

However, Netease and The9 said the policy would not hurt their businesses.

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