Citizen Lab Research Manager Masashi Crete-Nishihata was interviewed by Al Jazeera regarding censorship practices in popular Asian instant messaging applications, commenting on developments in the wake of LINE Corp’s decision to go public. LINE’s primary source of business are its instant messaging platform, downloadable games, and sales of virtual stickers. The company, based in Tokyo as a subsidiary of South Korea’s Naver, has faced competition in the instant messaging market from WeChat, Facebook, and WhatsApp. The company’s instant messaging and other services have users in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Taiwan, among other countries, and the various legal jurisdictions in which it operates affect the services it is able to offer in these places.
Citizen Lab has published a series of reports on LINE’s mobile application, as well as other prominent chat platforms such as WeChat, identifying a list of keywords of politically sensitive content, which if included in messages, prevented their delivery. Commenting on the findings of censored content in China, for example, Crete-Nishihata said that “any company, whether domestic or foreign, operating within the Chinese market has to follow Chinese law and regulation around content filtering and information controls.” Governments requiring foreign firms to conform to strict content standards, some of which may compromise users’ privacy and security rights, is a growing trend. He added: “The best thing companies can do is be transparent about this and help ensure that users are making informed decisions about their own communications.”