At the end of 2011, the information watchdogs of Beijing and Guangdong declared they would enforce real name registration for users of domestic microblog sites, including highly influential sites like Sina Weibo.
When I first read the news, the first question that occurred to me was whether or not microblog sites could ensure the security of my personal information. Many times, friends have informed me that their social network accounts, email services and instant messenger accounts had been hacked and to disregard bogus messages sent to me from those accounts. As for myself, I have received more than twenty calls from insurance companies or stock brokers after I gave my real name and contact information to well-known investment-related website which claimed it would keep my information secret. When microblogging or registering for online services, I try to avoid using my real personal information if not necessary. However, it seems that under the new regulation, if I don't register using my real name and identification I will be excluded from access to Weibo.
There are advantages to real name registration - it could play a role in curbing rampant cyber rumors, cyber violence or other cyber crimes which are rooted in anonymity. What I worry about most, however, is the personal information security of netizens. Without a sufficient information security infrastructure, real name registration might turn out to be a source of new troubles. If a policy aiming to prevent one crime may risk causing other crimes, we should think twice before implementing it.
Unfortunately, several days after the real name policy was implemented on Dec. 21, my fears came true - the personal information of more than 6 million Internet users on China Software Developer Network (CSDN) and millions more on a dozen other sites, including Tianya, Mop, and Kaixin001 was hacked. According to the Internet security company Qihu 360's surveillance data, the recent leaks have affected "hundreds of millions" of users.
In spite of heated criticism, the South Korean government adopted a real name system for online users in 2007 which required people to use their real names and resident registration numbers when making online postings, in hopes of stopping cyber crime. However, five years later, cyber violence still exists, and personal information leaks have become more and more prevalent. According to local media reports, the South Korean government will push ahead with plans to scrap the current real name registration system in the wake of the country's worst online security breach in August of last year, where 35 million users' passwords at a leading web portal were breached.
The lesson learned from South Korea is that user-based content websites must operate in a secure cyber environment. Real name registration seems to be the easiest way for government to regulate Weibo, but it may endanger netizens' personal safety. Therefore, more should be done for both government and internet companies to strengthen cyber security before rushing to enforce real name registration. We're still not ready.
Gong Wen is a visiting scholar at the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.