China's leading search engine Baidu on Thursday required users of the company's services, including popular online forum Baidu Tieba and cloud storage service, to register their real identities before June, otherwise they may be prevented from accessing the services.
Baidu said in a statement that the requirement was in accordance with China's Cyberspace Law, which stipulates that an Internet operator should require its users to provide real identities before publishing content and using instant messaging. The law will take effect on June 1.
Based on the requirement, Internet users should access the services with registered cell phone numbers. One telephone number could be used to verify several accounts so that the users do not need to delete their back-up accounts.
The requirement follows a notice by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in November 2016, which required everyone in China to use a SIM card registered with a real name in their mobile phones by June 30.
Wang Sixin, a professor specializing in media law and regulations at the Communication University of China, viewed the move as the latest effort by the cyberspace authorities in tightening regulation of online platforms. "The purpose is not to control Internet users, but to better regulate Internet operators to manage online information," said Wang.
Wang told the Global Times that the real-name registration will help crack down on rampant online rumors, spread of pornography and pirated content.
China's Internet regulators have required Baidu to clean up Baidu Tieba several times as it was found to be "selling personal information, spreading rumors, publishing fake advertisement, and distributing pornographic, gambling-related and violent content." Previously, China has shut down several companies' cloud storage services after they allegedly became a haven for pornography and piracy.
A public relations staff from Baidu, surnamed Yan, told the Global Times that most of its users have been verified with real names and the company will provide higher-level data protection to real-name users.
While some supported the real-name requirement, others worried that it may create risks of personal information leakage.
"I am unwilling to register the account with my phone number as I am afraid my personal information will be leaked or even sold out along with the valuable data on the cloud drive," said a user surnamed Li.