Measuring Decentralization of Chinese Keyword Censorship via Mobile Games


Jeffrey Knockel, Lotus Ruan, and Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto


China has the world’s largest mobile gaming market. Like other technology and Internet companies operating in the country, the gaming industry must follow strict content control policies including submitting lists of blacklisted keywords to regulators. In this paper we provide a first look at how content regulations over the gaming industry are implemented in practice by analyzing over 180,000 unique blacklisted keywords collected across over 200 games from app stores in China.

Internet censorship in China is often presented as a uniformly enforced, top-down system. However, we find content control responsibilities are pushed down to companies resulting in varied implementations. We find that, among the hypotheses we tested, the only consistent predictor of keyword list similarity is whether games have the same publisher and developer, which suggests there is no central state or provincial authority controlling the generation of keyword lists and companies have a degree of flexibility in implementing controls. These results suggest a decentralized and fractured regime of control.

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@inproceedings {205906,
author = {Jeffrey Knockel and Lotus Ruan and Masashi Crete-Nishihata},
title = {Measuring Decentralization of Chinese Keyword Censorship via Mobile Games },
booktitle = {7th {USENIX} Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet ({FOCI} 17)},
year = {2017},
address = {Vancouver, BC},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},