Data Protection Report - Norton Rose Fulbright

The Cyberspace Administration of China announced on February 4, 2015 new regulations requiring Internet users to register accounts under their real names for social network sites like blogs, discussion forums, comment sections, instant messaging, and related services. The rules impose the obligation to enforce the restrictions on affected businesses, including Western companies operating in China.

The new regulations come after a raft of earlier proposals that have tried with limited success to impose real-name registration requirements on users for a broader scope of Internet services, which included e-commerce, microblogs, video hosting websites, news websites, apps developer portals, online payment systems, and others.

The ban on “harmful” usernames prohibits usernames that harm national security, result in disclosure of state secrets, hurt “national honor” and interests, disturb social stability, spread rumors, harm religious policy, or instigate racial hatred and discrimination. The ban also restricts usernames that are defamatory, obscene or violent. Examples of prohibited usernames that appropriate misleading handles include names such as “People’s Daily,” the “Cyberspace Administration of China,” or, for example, heads of state like “Obama,” or “Putin.”

Under the new rules, users will need to register an account under their real name but will still be allowed to use aliases and pseudonyms on social media sites. However, users will be restricted from using aliases that fall under the nine banned categories. Internet companies, including Western companies providing services in China – especially social media, messaging or forum services providers – would have the responsibility to review users’ names, avatars, aliases and taglines. This is an obligation that could prove costly in a country with 649 million Internet users.

In the event of the Internet company discovers a violation, the rule requires it to contact the user to change the registration information. Businesses also may be required to interrupt the user’s service or cancel the registration for noncompliance.

The rule will come into effect on 1 March 2015.

In the United States, fictitious social media profiles may be restricted under the Lanham Act.