As junk e-mail and unsolicited text messages bombard users in the country, the Chinese Government is increasing efforts to crack down on spam.
The Ministry of Information Industry (MII) yesterday said it has passed a regulation on e-mail services to take effect from March 30.
The regulation will adopt a "market entry" scheme for e-mail service providers (SPs), said Wang Xiujun, deputy director of Bureau of Telecommunications Administration of MII.
This means only those licensed to operate Internet value-added service in the country will be allowed to provide e-mail services to the Chinese public.
Under the new regulation, spammers will face warnings or penalties of up to 30,000 yuan (US$3,750).
Companies sending unsolicited e-mails will see their licences revoked.
China now has more than 17,000 licensed telecoms value-added service providers.
The MII yesterday also launched an offence-reporting center to deal with Internet users' complaints against spammers.
All e-mail spreading junk information, rumours, erotic content, fraud or viruses, as well as unsolicited marketing material, are considered spam.
Spam is becoming a bigger headache for Chinese and the government amidst a dazzling Internet boom.
China had 111 million Internet users by the end of last year, with 64.7 per cent frequently using e-mail, according to China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC).
A ranking of spammers for the fourth quarter of last year by UK anti-virus company Sophos placed China in the second position, closely following the United States.
Wang said about 50 billion pieces of e-mail were sent and received in China last year. Of those, about 60 per cent was spam, she said.
Making things worse, some foreign spammers are taking advantage of the current loose regulation of junk mail in China.
They are using servers at Chinese Internet service providers' data centres to send out spams.
That may explain why Chinese e-mails are being routinely blocked by some Western Internet companies.
Wang said the MII, partnering with the Internet Society of China (ISC), will continue blacklisting and blocking mail servers sending spam.
"We are also seeking international cooperations to fight spams," she said, adding that e-mail users' privacy will be protected by the law.
The new regulation will ask service providers to adopt a registration scheme in their mail servers for e-mail users' IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.
Huang Chengqing, secretary-general of ISC, said MII's new regulation marks a milestone in the country's intensifying campaign against spam.
Yet, in the long term, "blocking mail servers sending spams is not a cure-all solution, as that will lead to break-up of the Internet," he said.
The MII, ISC and select service providers will jointly launch spam-free e-mail services soon.
"We are working on the standards for such services," said Wang.
MII also reiterated it will launch the real-name subscription scheme for mobile phones this year to curb spam spreading in the form of SMS (short message service).
By the end of 2005, China had 393 million mobile phones subscribers, sending more than 300 billion SMS throughout the year.
And about 200 million users had yet to register with their real names, said Wang.
The official said more than 10,000 mobile phone accounts were closed last year for sending illegal messages.
"The MII is working with other ministries to introduce tougher measures to fight spam on mobile phones," she said.
The real-name registration scheme is expected to slow down the growth of mobile phone subscription in the country.
Beijing-based research firm BDA China Ltd forecast 15 million prepaid mobile phone users will abandon their numbers within three years due to the real-name scheme.
(China Daily February 22, 2006)