Chinese netizens are incensed over evidence that WPS Office was monitoring and deleting their files!
Find out what’s going on, and what it means for the digital privacy of WPS Office users!
Chinese Netizens : WPS Office Is Monitoring + Blocking Our Documents!
Chinese company, Kingsoft, is under fire for claims that its productivity suite WPS Office is actively monitoring and deleting user documents that might displease Beijing!
At the heart of this issue is the WPS Cloud platform that works like Microsoft 365, allowing users to store their documents in the cloud, or locally.
Chinese netizens are alleging that WPS Office was actively monitoring their documents, and even deleting those that were detected to contain content that might displease the Chinese authorities.
One novelist who goes by the pseudonym Mitu, claimed that she was unable to access her unpublished 1.3 million character document. Not only was it blocked in her cloud storage, she couldn’t access the local copy using the desktop WPS client.
She was told that “the file may contain sensitive content and access has been disabled“.
Mitu shared her experience on Lkong – an online Chinese literature forum, and the social media platform Xiaohongshu, in late June 2022; and it only began trending in Weibo in early July after an influencer reposted her complaint.
A Weibo post on her complaint appears to have been deleted, but fortunately a screenshot was captured. This was the post in Chinese, machine translated into English :
Mitu said she reported the problem to Kingsoft, which eventually apologised and restored access to the file within two days. The company admitted that “the file was not problematic”.
However, her story spurred other Chinese netizens to come forward with their own stories. A writer in Guangzhou who goes by the pseudonym Liu Hai also said that his WPS Office document of nearly 10,000 words was similarly blocked on July 1, 2022.
These incidents have sparked concerns about privacy in China. While the Chinese government routinely monitors and censors social media content, monitoring and blocking of personal documents would represent a new level of censorship in China.
WPS Office Admits Blocking File Access
After the online furore over claims that WPS Office deleted user files, the software developer issued a terse public statement on July 11, 2022.
It said that WPS Office does not delete the “user’s local files”, and that it was a misunderstanding. They only deleted the “online document link”, and blocked “others from access the link according to the law”.
Here is the Weibo post in Chinese, machine translated into English :
WPS Office cleverly claims that it never “censors, locks or delete users’ local files”, which is technically correct but as Mitu and Liu Hai described, WPS Office blocks access to their users’ local files.
It was discovered that the files can still be opened by other software, like Microsoft Word or Tencent Docs. But the blocked files cannot be opened by WPS Office, even if they are stored locally (in the user’s computer).
It should be noted that Mitu never shared her file online. So WPS Office’s claim that they only blocked “others” from accessing the file is misleading.
WPS Office Not The Only Cloud Provider Monitoring Content
To be fair to WPS Office and Kingsoft, they are not the only ones monitoring content uploaded to the cloud. They just took things one step further by blocking access to local files.
By default, traffic to and from cloud-based productivity services like Google Docs, Microsoft 365 and WPS Office are not end-to-end encrypted.
That means they can and most likely are reading / monitoring EVERYTHING you type or upload. This includes files uploaded and stored in cloud-based storage services like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.
That is the right of cloud service providers, because you are using their servers to store your content.
Google, for example, lists content that can be automatically removed and could even lead to a ban :
- Account hijacking
- Account inactivity
- Child sexual abuse and exploitation
- Dangerous and illegal activities
- Harassment, bullying, and threats
- Hate speech
- Impersonation and misrepresentation
- Malware and similar malicious content
- Misleading content
- Non-consensual explicit imagery
- Personal and confidential information
- Regulated goods and services
- Sexually explicit material
- System interference and abuse
- Unauthorized images of minors
- Violence and gore
- Violent organizations and movements
People need to be aware of this, and stop assuming that they have privacy on such cloud services, even if they paid to use them.
So it is not surprising that WPS Office monitors everything its users do. If they stopped at blocking access to the online files that contravened local laws, no one would bat an eye.
What is unusual though is that it also blocked access to the users’ local files! That means that their desktop and mobile apps were specifically designed to enforce a list of blocked files issued by WPS Office / Kingsoft.
If WPS Office / Kingsoft goes to that extent, does it mean that they would also alert the Chinese authorities about users producing content that displease them?
That is something everyone should think about, not just Chinese netizens who are justifiably concerned about WPS Office.
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