Why users might want to post without having to provide Sina with their state ID number and real name is no mystery. Some see it as a violation of privacy, and many worry that it could be used to track down users who help spread stories critical of the government. If you like Sina Weibo but agree you’d rather not share your personal information with the company and any Chinese policemen who might ask for it, read on. I’m going to show you a few ways you can keep using Weibo without revealing your real name.
Before I do, though, please note that none of these methods are guaranteed. For whatever reason, many of these methods work for some users and don’t for others. But if you really want to Weibo, some of these could be worth a shot.
1. Get Lucky
For some reason, some Sina Weibo users — myself included — found themselves registered automatically when the real-name regulations were put in place. Despite not having bound a cell phone to their accounts or providing Sina with any identification information, these users received messages from Sina thanking them for providing their information and informing them they could continue to post as usual. As this happened to me, I double-checked my account settings, and all the ID information sections are blank, so it’s clear Sina doesn’t have any real information on me. I’m still able to post. However, if this hasn’t happened to you already, there’s no way to make it happen, so let’s move on to the next one…
2. Post Using a Mobile Client
Some users — including my wife — are reporting that even though their accounts have been blocked from posting when they access them via the web, they are still able to post messages to Weibo via Sina’s official clients for Android and iOS. Although Sina is using real-name registered phone numbers to get users ID information without seeming invasive, that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here, as accounts that post this way remain unregistered — i.e., unable to post — on the web, and posting from a mobile client still works when using a SIM card that was purchased before China’s real-name phone regulations and thus doesn’t have any real-name information attached to it.
If you want to be totally secure, you’ll want to use that mobile client only with unregistered SIM cards, or just remove the SIM card completely and use a wifi connection whenever you fire up the Sina client. We’ve heard whisperings that the mobile clients may be secretly sharing lots of information about your phone with Sina.
3. Set Your Account Location to “Overseas”
Since Sina Weibo does not yet accept passport numbers or any forms of ID besides Chinese ID numbers, the company has been allowing overseas users to post without registering their real ID information. Some users inside China changed their account settings to say they were “overseas” before the hammer dropped, and these users have been able to continue posting. If you didn’t do that before the regulations went into place, it’s probably too late for your current account, but what you can do — if you don’t mind starting from scratch — is register a new account and set your location to “overseas.” This will allow you to post without restrictions, regardless of your actual location.
4. Buy a Cheap SIM Card, Register With That Number
If you’re willing to be sort of break the law — and spend a little money — in your quest to get on Weibo, the most foolproof way to post without surrendering your personal information is to purchase a new SIM card for your mobile phone and then bind that phone number to your weibo account. The key here is when you purchase the SIM card, refuse to give the seller your ID information, or request that they fill in some fake information. Technically, sellers are not supposed to do this, but plenty of smaller shops are willing to. In fact, some even advertise it as a service.
Obviously, there are some moral issues with this one. Trying to get shopkeepers to break the law isn’t a great idea, and moreover, you have to wonder whose stolen identity is being used to register your number — is that guy going to get dragged to prison if you say something edgy on Weibo? We don’t advocate using this method. But technically, it does work.
It’s interesting that Sina’s real-name system continues to be so easily avoided. Obviously, this benefits Sina, but could it put the company in danger if regulators interpret the laxness as Sina not taking their orders seriously? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, it’s also unclear what sort of an impact, if any, real-name regulations have had on user numbers and user activity. Sina hasn’t shared any statistics on this, but it may just be too early to tell. We’ve been tracking a few numbers of our own here at Tech in Asia but we want to keep following them a little longer before we suggest any conclusions. In the meantime, happy registration-free microblogging!
[Part of image via Shutterstock]