Fake mobile base stations are rife in China. A single GSM transceiver costs around 50,000 yuan ($8,000) and can be used to profitably blast out SMS ads to hawk property, massages, fake receipts and other services over a small area.
It’s only one part of China’s massive mobile spam problem, which runs at some 400 billion SMS a year, but given that this leaves a transaction trail, identifying the spammers pose no problem for even the dimmest investigator.
Indeed, as this blog has reported, it didn't take much for a Beijing newspaper reporter to do exactly that, and it was only after his disclosures that authorities troubled themselves to act. Bear in mind that as well as harassing users with junk messages and often promoting illegal services, the unauthorised signals also caused calls to drop.
Now that authorities have been nudged into action, a media campaign is underway to reassure a concerned nation that their government is working diligently working to rid the airwaves of this hitherto hidden scourge.
One of these reports prompted a Beijing student to contemplate the illegal base stations as a means of sharing information about the not-quite forgotten events of 1989. Zhao Huaxu rashly shared this thought in a tweet which, unlike the torrents of overlooked spam, quickly attracted official attention. So much that they took her into custody, which in turn caught the attention of the twittersphere.
I confess my attention was caught by the fact that Ms Zhao is a student at my old college in Beijing. While she is merely one of several truckloads of citizens preemptively arrested and criminalised in the panicky months leading to the anniversary that cannot be mentioned, her plight and background recalls the naïve youths I shared a campus with many years ago.
Although a campaign is afoot to have her released, her prospects are extremely dim. As well as the privations of custody, she presumably faces the end of the college education for which she and her parents had sweated for so many years.
All of which reminds us once more that in this country official indifference to the inconvenience and harassment of ordinary citizens is matched only the unflinching persecution of harmless teenagers.