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With the sheer size of China's population, and its steadily growing middle class, it represents potentially huge opportunities for businesses in the west who are looking to expand their customer bases. However, the country's government has also developed a reputation for vast censorship, general disregard for digital privacy and accusations of human rights abuses that currently include the internment more than one million Muslims.

Lately, China's hostility is extending to Twitter (download for iOS or Android), the use of which can get you arrested, detained and interrogated, according to a new report from "The New York Times" -- whose mobile app (download for iOS or Android) is banned by the Chinese government from appearing on its iOS App Store.

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The Times reports that less than one half of one percent of China's population actively uses Twitter -- but with nearly 1.4 billion people calling the country home, that still represents millions of users, in an environment where the government has proven to be systematically resistant to outside influences that could undermine its political and cultural messaging.

This messaging consistently disfavors the free speech, free trade and civil rights promoted by western democracies -- whose citizens regularly flock to Twitter and other social networks. It's also been a popular avenue for China's exiled political dissidents to communicate to the public back home. So by blocking Twitter and intimidating Chinese citizens who attempt to use it to criticize the government or its leader Xi Jinping, the People's Republic can seal off a major source of divergent information and discussion.

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Instead, the dominant social platform in China is its home-grown WeChat, whose reach is so great that it houses its own app ecosystem that effectively replaces the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. However, WeChat also surfaced in the news last month in a report accusing it of suspicious and excessive personal data collection.

British private investigator Peter Humphries, once jailed by China's government, tells The New York Times, "What we've seen in recent weeks is the authorities desperately escalating the censorship of social media."

In a smuggled recording of one interrogation, an individual identified as Chinese law enforcement told one Twitter user, "If this happens a second time, it will be handled differently. It will affect your parents. You are still so young. If you get married and have kids, it will affect them."

Takeaways

  • The New York Times reports that the Chinese government has renewed a crackdown on the usage of Twitter, which is banned in the country. In particular, users who criticize the government or it leader Xi Jinping are reportedly being arrested, interrogated and intimidated by police.
  • Less than half a percent of Chinese citizens use Twitter, but that still amounts to several million people who may influence the public in a way that conflicts with the Chinese government's political messaging.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.