With the display of users’ IP addresses being rolled out on Chinese social platforms, including Weibo, WeChat, Douyin and Xiaohongshu to curb the spread of misinformation, countermeasures soon arrived.
Some Internet users are seeking to hide their real base either due to the insecurity arising from the revelation of locations or out of personal commercial gains, for example, leveraging a certain location for content creation in exchange for online traffic, which has been commonplace by some social media influencers in China.
Such a demand for a fake location has driven the emergence of the IP address agent industry, a service available for individuals anonymously that can modify users’ IP addresses at a low cost of 6 RMB ($0.73), as per the Chinese technology media outlet Tech Web on 6 May.
The hashtag “IP agent industry booms as IP addresses displayed” has drawn in over 190 million views on Weibo, China’s largest microblogging site, who initiated the practice of showing Internet users’ geographical locations in comments back in March.
It is also reported that “IP agent” has become one of the trending searches on second-hand e-commerce platforms, including Xianyu, China’s leading platform for online resales. Several online retailers providing such services have admitted seeing an increasing number of orders in recent days following the collective move by Chinese social media in the past few days.
It is understood that the service is available both on mobile devices and laptops. And alternative routes, at the moment, are largely limited to within the country with only a handful of cities available for a temporary change only.
In response to the emerging controversy, Xianyu has taken actions to block “IP agents” from appearing in the search results and warned of the risks of such “virtual products”. It also suggested such services should not be listed on its platform and promised “measures to be followed to deal with this matter”, according to the Chinese media Laoban Broadcast.
The occurrence has, therefore, raised the question as to whether making users’ locations public would be an effective way to safeguard a healthy online environment. As with the presence of IP agent services, not only does it potentially aid the spread of fake news but also puts individuals’ personal information at risk, which could further lead to private data breaches.