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[liberationtech] New Citizen Lab series of research posts on Asia chats

Ronald Deibert r.deibert at
Thu Nov 14 12:13:11 PST 2013

Dear Lib Tech.

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new series of research reports on censorship and surveillance on mobile messaging applications in Asia.
Details are below.


Asia Chats: Analyzing Information Controls and Privacy in Asian Messaging Applications 

The Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto  is proud to announce the launch of Asia Chats: a project analyzing information controls and privacy in mobile messaging applications used in Asia. 

Across Asia, a new class of instant messaging (IM) mobile applications are rapidly growing in popularity and amassing enormous user bases. These applications encompass more than text, voice, and video chat as they offer social networking platforms that include expressive emoticons and stickers (known as “emoji”), photo and video sharing, e-commerce, gaming, and other features that provide a more sophisticated user experience than previous generations of IM clients.  These applications are dominating their respective domestic marketplaces, but are also keenly expanding into markets in countries across Asia and beyond the region. 

Currently, the three most popular chat applications developed by companies based in Asia are WeChat (developed by Tencent holdings Ltd based in China), LINE (developed by LINE Corporation based in Japan, which is a subsidiary of South Korea-based Naver Corporation), and KakaoTalk (developed by Kakao Corporation based in South Korea). 

The swift growth of these applications and aggressive strategies to attract international user bases raise questions regarding the kind of governmental pressures the companies may face in particular jurisdictions to implement censorship or surveillance features and provide user data and how they will respond to these pressures. 

This series will begin with a focus on WeChat, LINE, and KakaoTalk. Reports will include analysis based on our technical investigation of censorship or surveillance functionality, assessment of privacy issues surrounding these application’s use and storage of user data, and comparison of the terms of service and privacy policies of the applications.

The first report in this series by Seth Hardy (Senior Security Analyst, Citizen Lab) examines the implementation of regionally-based keyword censorship in LINE for users based in China. 

This analysis reveals that when the user’s country is set to China during installation of the LINE application it will enable censorship functionality by downloading a list of censored words from Naver’s server, and then block the transmission of  any messages that contain any of those keywords. 

Today we release the following outputs:

Asia Chats project framing post 

Detailed technical report of regionally-based keyword censorship in LINE by Seth Hardy (Senior Security Analyst, Citizen Lab)

Keyword list translated from Chinese to English with contextual descriptions by Jason Q. Ng (Research Fellow, Citizen Lab)

Blog series by Jason Q. Ng on context behind the blocked keywords on LINE

LINE Region Code Encrypter Tool developed by Seth Hardy and Greg Wiseman (Senior Data Visualization Developer, Citizen Lab) for changing regions in the LINE client to disable regionally-based keyword censorship in the application. 

For media enquiries please contact us at info at or +1 416 946 8903

Asia Chats Research Team

Contextual, Legal and Policy Research: Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Andrew Hilts, Irene Poetranto, Jason Q. Ng, Adam Senft, Aim Sinpeng.

Technical Research: Jakub Dalek, Seth Hardy, Katie Kleemola,  Byron Sonne, Greg Wiseman.  

Ronald Deibert
Director, the Citizen Lab 
and the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies
Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto
(416) 946-8916
r.deibert at

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