Yes, you hear it right. The Chinese IT giant Baidu is offering a promotion that gives 2 terabytes of free cloud storage to its users for life if they download its mobile app and log in from a mobile device. This is almost too good to be true. The same size of cloud storage would cost $1,200 a year with Google, and a 500 GB cloud storage service from Dropbox costs $499 a year.
Besides its size, Baidu’s cloud drive offers features that will make downloading, streaming and sharing content extremely easy. The user can download content directly from a link or via torrent file link. They can also share content seamlessly between accounts, on the web via links, and across various Chinese social platforms.
One of the advantage of such affordable storage and sharing capacity is that it can support semi-public information and content sharing among users, in a truly “social” manner as opposed to broadcasting, and in large bulks as well. And this, to Chinese netizens, is quite significant if not groundbreaking.
Compared to US internet users, Chinese netizens seem to prefer small-community based, semi-public communication to completely open and public communication. An example of this is the localization of microblogging sites in China. Compared to Twitter’s open platform, for instance, China’s Sina Weibo is designed in such ways so that it allows users to have more control over the perimeter of the reception of the information they share on the platform (for details, see my dissertation “The shapes of cultures“). These changes, however, have somewhat rendered Weibo a kind of mutant where Twitter’s open and fast information dissemination and chat applications’ ability to support specified audience for closed communication are both lost. The fast rise of Tencent’s WeChat, an application based on chat application incorporating functions for group chat and semi-public broadcast (via its “public handles” for instance), is evident of Chinese netizens’ preference to somewhat private small community sharing. (There’s a multitude of reasons for such a preference that I will not be able to expound in detail here. Historically, China being a family-centered, politically and culturally centralized society, public discourse has always been discouraged since it entails great risk, socially and politically, and uncertainty to individuals. Secrecy, thus, has been a characteristic in all kinds of communication. The Communist Party really only continued such a tradition, although at times it has exacerbated its control over public discourse. In this sense, fear is a big factor that makes netizens to desire a sense of control over who can access their speech.)
With China’s increasingly harsh crackdown on “illegal” content online, Baidu’s cloud drive can become a channel for relatively safe content sharing, including large file sharing such as movies and videos, among smaller groups of users. Its P2P feature can step up once websites that distribute “illegal” content, such as foreign movies and TV shows, are close down by the government. That, however, depends on whether Baidu can protect users’ privacy from the government, which, with the lesson we learned from the NSA in the US, is probably an unreasonable expectation. On the other hand, such surveillance at least will allow Baidu to continue to provide this service. As a user myself, although it probably means that I’ll have to self-censor when I upload and share content on Baidu’s cloud drive, I still hope the life-long offer will last as Baidu promises.