► At a Glance: Even with steeper fines, new proposed anti-spam rules for China are unlikely to be a deterrent; lack of streamlined, efficient governing body only aggravates the situation.
Even the nation’s official news agency, Xinhua, is a little worried about the maximum fine being proposed in the Telecommunications Short Message Service Management Regulations, which is currently gathering comments and views from citizens. To many, CNY 30,000 (equivalent to around GBP 3,000), in spite of being the equivalent of half a year’s pay in some of the larger cities (reduced in that same period to nothingness if a scary mortgage and utilities are accounted for), is in essence close to nothing for the hors-la-loi, who will easily make much higher profits even if fined.
In shocking figures, spam goes in China to the low figure of a mere CNY 0.04 per message, which means that 10 spam messages will cost the equivalent of a mere 4p (in pounds sterling). Criminals move quicker, too: one million spam messages are “easily” sent in just four hours’ time. This means that spammers can easily earn CNY 10,000 per hour; even if the full million were sent, and the spammer fined, that would still leave the spammer a profit of CNY 10,000. No wonder, then, why people are getting irritating, suggestive or outright obnoxious messages, and the fact that they’ve taken this to iMessage has meant Apple (which has already been in trouble in China) is dragged into the fray as well.
The fact that China doesn’t have a comparatively more unified government body to deal with spam, as well as infighting between the various ministries, means that users merely stand to lose as an already ugly situation is made worse. Even though government has acted a few years back, and the number of spam has slightly gone down in comparison, official sources still speak of cases where the average number of spam messages received by the average user was around 12 such messages per week.
Enforcement of the CNY 30,000 fine is yet another matter. Internet experts, including lawyer Zhao Zhanling, as cited by Xinhua, regards the fine as “not heavy” but that the law could still be felt if enforcement was firm. Others claim that the law, still in its “pre-infancy”, continues to be riddled with problems. The idea of having a report tended to (in the form of a response to the reporter) a mere 15 days after the initial report will most likely discourage the general public from actively reporting cases of spam.
These new regulations under discussion form part of rules expected to enter into force by late December 2014. Under these rules, no person or organisation may send commercial messages without permission from the recipient. It is expected that Weibo and WeChat also be governed by these regulations. It is already illegal now to spam in China, and businesses operating there are expected to prefix commercial messages with <AD> or a similar equivalent in the message’s title. Major commercial social networks already enable close to one-click spam reporting, but these are not often immediately actioned upon. The situation remains a problem in a country plagued by spam both online and offline — merely walking into the average Chinese residential compound will show how serious the situation is, as walls by the stairs are hopelessly full of “spamverts” for cleaning blocked sewage pipes, amongst many others.