Cyber Transparency: Privacy, Security, and Digital Rights in China


With the rapid development of Internet technology, more and more people are joining to become part of the cyber world. Each of us has our virtual identity on the Internet and should enjoy the same rights as in the real world, and like in reality, these rights may be subject to varying degrees of surveillance and protection depending on different countries and regions. Internet User Account Information Management Regulation, passed by the Cyberspace Administration of China on June 9, 2022, mentioned the mandatory disclosure of the attribution of Internet users’ IP addresses and decided to implement it starting from August 1 (Cyberspace Administration of China, 2022). The regulation has been widely used on major social media platforms in China, such as Weibo and Xiaohongshu. The disclosure of user IP addresses by social media platforms has sparked widespread debate, garnering over 200 million views on Weibo, with different communities holding opposing views on its pros and cons (Reuters, 2022). Despite Chinese authorities claiming that this is an effective measure to govern the chaos of false information on the Internet and ensure user security, there are still specific concerns among the public, especially regarding their privacy rights, as our identities in the cyber world are becoming transparent. As we all know, privacy and security are our critical digital rights, and we are all obliged to pay attention to and safeguard them. Therefore, China’s Internet governance regulation for disclosing user IP addresses is worthy of our in-depth discussion.

Privacy in the Digital Age

Privacy is considered a fundamental right protected by law worldwide, ensuring individuals are free from intrusion (Flew, 2021, p. 101). Individuals have the right to control their information and be free from interference or surveillance by others, and the national legal system should contribute to the protection of individuals’ privacy. In the context of the Internet era, people’s behaviours and preferences online are recorded and stored in the form of data (Petkovic & Willem Jonker, 2007, p.12). The personal data collected from daily online activities may not only include sensitive information such as names, addresses, and bank account details but also track interactions with others on social media platforms, reflecting the high interactivity of the Internet. The characteristic of the Internet implies that people’s data privacy and security face risks such as potential access by website administrators, website security vulnerabilities, the risk of storing sensitive information on personal computers, and the possibility of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) being targeted by hackers (Bahadur et al., 2002). Privacy and security are susceptible to breaches on the Internet, as personal data may face risks of leakage at multiple stages. Leaked personal data will probably be used for malicious purposes such as extortion, impersonation, fraud, and sale (Danao & Aditham, 2023). Given these risks, people need to pay attention to digital privacy and security. Protecting personal information from intrusion is necessary to ensure individuals’ rights and maintain online security.

IP Address Disclosure: Privacy and Security at Risk

IP address disclosure leaves us nowhere to hide. When you log into a social media platform, your real-time location is displayed on your profile, the posts you publish, and in the comments section. Any of the users using the platform can see where each other is right now, and this feature can’t be turned off, even if you don’t want to share your location or don’t want to see someone else’s location.

Figure 1: Weibo Profile Page Displaying IP Address [Screenshot]

Social media platforms construct a unique space that is neither entirely private nor public, where users’ personal information is communicated within the norms set by the platform’s algorithms and rules (Suzor, 2019, p. 12). Although users may search for private and secure interactions within these spaces, they ultimately remain within the platform’s purview—subject to its control and monitoring. The disclosure of IP addresses mandatorily exposes users’ personal information to the public space, eroding their private space on the Internet.

Furthermore, the security problems accompanying the leakage of personal privacy information have ensued. Disclosure of IP addresses makes it easier for hackers to launch more personalized and targeted tracking attacks (Toohil, 2024). Users’ real-time locations, Internet browsing histories, and activity patterns, all forms of personal privacy, can be exploited. Scammers exploit IP locations and purchasing histories to craft targeted phishing campaigns, as evidenced by the increase in parcel scam messages (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, 2023).

The obligation to accept opaque and complex platform terms only serves to entrench the problems. To have access to the services provided by platforms, users must accept the terms, which are often complex and obscure legal documents with no room for negotiation, leaving most of the rights in the hands of the operators (Suzor, 2019, p. 13). This compromise obliges users to accept regulations that diminish their control over personal data and inadequately protect their privacy rights, resulting in their privacy being in a state of instability and insecurity. We should re-examine personal privacy rights on the Internet, considering how many rights we have been granted by authorities and whether our control over our data is fully respected and protected.

IP Address Disclosure: Enhancing Transparency and Security on the Internet

Despite the negative impact of IP address disclosure on users’ privacy rights, this regulation has still received some positive evaluations. Disclosing IP addresses is an initiative by social media platforms to combat the spread of rumours (Feng, 2022). When certain attention-grabbing events occur, some users may pretend to be from the location of the event to deceive others into trusting them, and this kind of situation often happens on social media platforms.

Have you seen posts like this?

Figure 2: Discount Purchasing Advertisements on Xiaohongshu with Mismatched Personal Location and Real-time IP Address [Screenshot]

A user claims that a local mall is having a significant discount event and offers to help with purchasing, mentioning a surprisingly low price for the products. This is actually a scam involving the sale of counterfeit goods through purported purchasing services. Disclosing IP addresses can counter such scams, as users viewing the post can see that the poster is not in the area they claim to be. The regulation may raise vigilance and scepticism toward the post, helping users avoid this type of scam and protect their financial security.

In addition, IP address disclosure only provides accuracy at the provincial level and does not reveal the user’s exact location. Major Chinese social media platforms state that limited address disclosure does not constitute an infringement of privacy rights, arguing that this regulation supports the maintenance of authenticity and order on the Internet, purifies the discussion environment and safeguards user rights (OctoPlus Media Global Limited, 2022). The regulation was introduced in China during the city lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people support the regulation of IP addresses disclosure, citing concerns about separatists who aim to stir public dissatisfaction and tarnish the reputation of the Chinese government and deliberately use the Internet to instigate disputes over China’s political system under the guise of COVID-19 (Dobberstein, 2022). Social media platforms display users’ IP addresses, enabling users to identify the origin of statements, ascertain the identities of those posting malicious comments, and aid in the control of the Internet during periods of social unrest.

Therefore, the disclosure of IP addresses contributes positively to the protection of public interest and security, contributing to the Harmonized Internet environment, and preserves the privacy of individuals’ specific locations, amounting to a respect for personal digital rights.

IP Address Disclosure: Fuelling Digital Rights Conflicts

Disclosing IP addresses is not a talisman for ensuring safe online activities; sometimes, this regulation can even turn into a weapon used against people’s rights. Perhaps everyone has experienced discrimination, including gender, occupational, or regional biases. China’s vast territory and large population make people’s understanding of the population largely related to geography, and regional discrimination is a long-standing social issue in China.

Social media, as a virtual space for free discussion and a medium for information dissemination, plays an important guiding role in addressing the issue of regional discrimination in China (Peng, 2020, p. 2). In China, people from Henan Province are heavily regional discriminated against. In response to an incident where a preschool teacher in Henan poisoned students, many comments on social media platforms focused on the teacher being from Henan, accusing all Henanese of being evil and shameless, used to stealing and scamming (The Economist, 2019). After the IP address disclosure regulation was implemented on social media platforms, many users with Henan IPs suffered unwarranted regional discrimination and verbal abuse.

A post on Weibo reported a large-scale theft at a music festival in Henan, leading to heated arguments about regional discrimination in the comments among users from different IPs. A user with a Henan IP spoke up for Henan, arguing in the comments that the theft incident should not be generalized to all Henanese. However, a user with a Jilin IP countered by saying, “The whole of Henan province has a bad culture,” redirecting the blame back to all Henanese, and the Henan IP user retorted in the same tone, “Everyone from Jilin province is regionally biased.”

Figure 3: Argument on Weibo about support for Henan people [Screenshot]

Moreover, under another post where a user with a Henan IP defended Henanese, users with IPs from other regions retaliated by sharing their personal experiences of being stolen by someone from Henan and expressing the belief that all Henanese are like that; this led to the two parties attacking each other based on their regional IPs. It’s worth noting that such arguments are common. A user with a Beijing IP stated that people from Henan inherently have bad qualities, which promoted retorts from users with IPs from other regions, “Does being from Beijing make you noble?”

Figure 4: Argument on Weibo about IP addresses [Screenshot]

It seems that users with different IP addresses engaging in discriminatory comments against each other’s IPs as a form of contention has gradually become a paradigm. Escalating from individual issues to collective behaviour is a common tactic in these regional disputes. Such comments can quickly garner empathy from others in the same region and draw them into the argument, intensifying conflicts between regions.

Thus, disclosing IP addresses may intensify regional discrimination occurring on social media platforms, as users may use the IP addresses they see to target attacks and make discriminatory statements. The regulation may lead to tensions and heightened conflicts within the Internet community, posing a security risk and compromising user’s digital rights.

Seeking Balance: Governance and Privacy Rights

While it is widely acknowledged that we should rightfully pursue a peaceful and secure Internet environment, and that the disclosure of IP addresses has undeniably contributed to this goal, the implementation of such measures raises significant concerns. With IP addresses disclosed, people indeed become more aware of their responsibility for their words and actions, leading to a reduction in baseless assertions on social media, as noted by Yao (2022). This increased transparency has the benefit of closely linking people’s online selves with their real-world identities, encouraging them to think rationally and act cautiously. The regulation prompts individuals to consider the real-world consequences of their online behaviours, potentially improving the atmosphere of the Internet.

Nevertheless, this regulation is not without its problems. The ease and low cost of forging IP addresses, as Graff (2009) notes, mean that simply disclosing IP addresses does not completely resolve issues of Internet impersonation. This vulnerability raises questions about the effectiveness of such a regulatory measure. Furthermore, many users have expressed concerns that this regulation infringes on their privacy rights and has led to significant distress. Displaying users’ IP addresses can inadvertently reveal identities that individuals prefer to keep private, heightening fears of privacy breaches (Liu et al., 2024, p. 8).

Moreover, mandatory IP address disclosure represents a lack of control over personal digital rights and exemplifies how China’s internet governance can inadvertently lead to neglect and injustice towards certain groups. The dissatisfaction and forced concessions by many individuals underscore the delicate balance that must be struck in internet governance. Image if you were to speak ill of your company on social media; your boss might be able to identify you through your tone, content, and IP address. More alarmingly, if your comments provoke extremists, they could potentially track you down via your IP address, posing a direct threat to your safety.


In conclusion, while the disclosure of IP addresses aims to foster a more responsible and secure online environment, it also exposes the complexities and potential pitfalls. The anonymity of the Internet grants people the freedom to speak freely, yet it also harbours darker elements. Reducing anonymity on the Internet can strengthen the connection with reality and maintain order in the cyber world, but it also invades personal privacy and creates security risks. Therefore, Internet governance policies should not solely be implemented from the perspective of rule-makers; they should prioritize the rights of every user.

Disclosing IP addresses is a forceful and risky governance practice. Perhaps in the future, China could adopt more moderate measures, such as platforms implementing stricter user registration verification mechanisms while ensuring data privacy, preserving users’ rights to keep their IP addresses private, supervising online chaos, and creating a favourable Internet environment while respecting individual digital rights.


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