A Chinese software developer is facing backlash after a writer accused its word processing software WPS of locking her out of a novel draft, claiming that the document contains “sensitive content.” WPS has denied the claims, but more users have come forward with similar experiences, raising concerns over the extent of online censorship by Chinese authorities.
The Chinese novelist, who goes by the alias Mitu, was using WPS, which is similar to Google Docs, to write up her novel, when she suddenly could no longer access the document on June 25. Mitu spoke out about her experience through the Chinese literature forum Lkong, saying that WPS was “spying on and locking my draft,” according to MIT Technology Review. Her plight was shared through different online platforms, with several people reporting that the same thing had happened to them before.
Meanwhile, WPS issued a statement on Weibo, denying that the software would lock one of its users out of a document. However, WPS went on to clarify that any online service in China is obligated by law to review the content on their platforms, but that they would protect the security of user information. Mitu said that she reported the issue to WPS, and was eventually granted access to the document, according to the South China Morning Post. But still, the incident prompted several users to respond to the WPS statement by declaring that they would uninstall the software.
WPS documents are not end-to-end encrypted, allowing the company to view the contents of the documents. But the latest move of locking a user out of their document triggered an ongoing discussion over China’s online censorship, and how much tech companies are forced to oblige with authorities. The Chinese government has one of the world’s largest online censorship apparatus known as the “Great Firewall of China,” which employs millions of people that track and block content.
This marks the first time WPS has been involved in a public outcry over censorship, raising fears that Chinese authorities may now interfere with personal documents before they are even published by restricting user access to them.