‘Subversive’ Messages Lead to Shut Down of Chinese Internet Phone Company

October 18, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

UUCall is type of Internet voice communication software. After logging in the user can dial any phone number anywhere in the world, or another UUCall user. (Internet image)
UUCall is type of Internet voice communication software. After logging in the user can dial any phone number anywhere in the world, or another UUCall user. (Internet image)
One of China’s largest internet phone service providers suspended its services and apparently shut its website down on Oct. 7, after being accused of harboring users who were spreading “Xinjiang independence” messages through its network.

A notice claiming to be from UUCall, a voice over IP (VoIP) company, was later posted on the Internet, indicating that an official body had instructed the company to make changes to its service. VoIP is a protocol that allows calls to be made through the internet.

The notice, attributed to username UUCall102 on Baidu Post, a popular website, explained that UUCall is actively communicating with the unspecified government department that issued the shut down, and informed users that its services will soon be resumed.

With over 30 million registered users in mainland China, the company promises to “assume responsibility for all its customers.” At present, a call to UUCall’s customer service offers a recording of a similar message.

The Sina science and technology channel published an interview with UUCall’s founder Mr. Wang on Oct. 12. Wang indicated that on Oct. 7 the company was having problems with its website. Later, the government ordered them to suspend all services.

Apart from internet calling features, the company’s other services, which include online business travel arranging and games, were also suspended. The company denied speculation that the suspension is related to commercial fraud.

A Radio Free Asia reporter called another large Chinese VoIP provider, MeeCall, on Oct. 12, and company representative verified that their business had also been recently affected by this government agency. He explained that their users currently have had difficulty dialing out.

Because of “Xinjiang independence” messages spread through the service, authorities had ordered all VoIP providers to “rectify their businesses,” the MeeCall spokesperson said.

Senior internet commentator Bei Feng said on Oct. 12 that Chinese authorities can monitor landline communications and mobile phones, but VoIP remains beyond reach. Hence, VoIP may indeed provide a channel for individuals to spread controversial information.

“The government’s approach to swooping in on VoIP services in order to cut off the spread of illegal information is ridiculous,” said Feng, who added that he does not know how authorities learned that “Xinjiang independence” messages were spread through VoIP, as the outside world is unable to obtain evidence that the Chinese government is currently capable of monitoring VoIP.

In mainland China, China Mobile and China Unicom are the two main mobile phone operators, with China Telecom being the largest landline phone operator. These large corporations occupy the majority of China’s telecommunication market, but their long distance phone service charges are expensive, making the relatively cheap VoIP service a popular option in recent years. With UUCall, for example, a user can dial any mobile or landline phone number anywhere in the world for as low as 0.06 yuan (US$0.0088) per minute.

However, Feng says that VoIP is a double edged sword, as many users pre-pay for the service through online banking or mail remittance, and cannot get their money back after the companies are shut down.

Read the original Chinese article.