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whither the implications of china’s desire to eliminate porn?

Posted on | January 6, 2009 | 3 Comments

Like everyone else, I saw the headlines from this article at CNN entitled “ Report: China targets Web sites with ‘porn’ content“:

China has released a blacklist of 19 major online portals and Web sites, including Google and Baidu, that it claims provide and spread pornographic or obscene content, state media reported.

“The government will continue to expose, punish or even shut down those infamous Web sites that refuse to correct their wrongdoing,” Cai Mingzhao, deputy director of the State Council Information Office, said Monday at a teleconference

Authorities accused the portals, including Sina, Sohu and Netease, and the Web sites of either providing links to pornographic sites or failing to take down pornographic pictures after being notified by the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center.

The center said Google in Chinese had provided “a large number of links to porn Web sites” in search results for web pages and images. The center said it notified Google, but the company did not take any effective steps, according to Xinhua.

Cui Jin, a spokeswoman for Google China, told Xinhua that Google did not spread such items intentionally.

Google is neither the owner of those Web sites and porn nor does it spread (that) information intentionally,” she said.

So, it seems like even the big search engines are being targeted in this hunt for all adult related materials.  But I think one thing from the article is overlooked, which is why I bolded it: the search engines don’t own the relevant pornographic websites.  And the search engines don’t intentionally provide links for that either–it’s built into Google (and presumably Baidu) robots that scour the internet for data.  So…  what blame is there?  That’s the hard question.  Should search engines and similar web services be liable for hosting or linking other people’s offensive material?  We’re talking about a big policy issue.  I come down on the side that says no.  (Of course, my opinion doesn’t seem to matter all that much)

And of course, the implications are staggering for Chinese internet businesses if the government dramatically punished or shut down websites over materials that are not intentionally placed.  It’s like holding ISP’s liable for user data that isn’t in their realm of control due to privacy issues.  Any business that wants to deal with internet or media based services in China had better watch out…  in fact, they better hire people solely for the purpose of removing objectionable materials that the government points out to them.  So what happens to a BBS?  A web forum?  A youtube?  Xiaoneiwa?  You get the picture…  that’s a major chilling effect in my mind.  But when your government doesn’t have a sense of freedom of speech/press…

I think the implications for internet (and media) businesses could be huge if China actually decides to follow through against Sina, Baidu, Google, and company.  Let’s hope it doesn’t.


3 Responses to “whither the implications of china’s desire to eliminate porn?”

  1. chinacomment
    January 6th, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

    >>Any business that wants to deal with internet or media based services in China had better watch out… in fact, they better hire people solely for the purpose of removing objectionable materials that the government points out to them.

    It is my understanding that the government already requires ISPs to monitor websites for politically subversive content and to remove such content or else risk having their sites taken down and their licenses revoked. (When video-sites came up for licensing, this content-monitoring aspect was part of the deal for approval, I believe). This appears to be a logical progression… and oddly a return to China’s 1980′s campaigns against moral licentiousness.

    China’s censorship model is a smart model and I am impressed by its innovations. Of course parts of the censorship model can be circumlocuted by utilizing proxy servers and certain websites from inside china, among other technical creativity.

    Just think- if China forces sites to self-monitor their content and few complain, other countries will learn from China’s success and implement similar strategies. First the middle eastern countries, then perhaps America (in the name of protecting the children at first, then in the name of protecting versus terrorism). It’s almost a moot point now though about banning the content providers- soon enough it will be easy enough to “strike hard” against the viewers themselves.

    Surveillance technology is getting better, and access to internet cafes is becoming more and more tied to personal ID. It won’t be long before every Chinese citizen can have a file on a local gonganju computer with their entire internet navigation history and every keystroke. And heavens, China appears to intend to require government approval of each companies’ internet security software by (March 2008?). I wonder if they might be intending to implant trojans to capture passwords… moving a step up in potential espionage from all the intercepted Skype-calls.

    And when that happens, similar monitoring technology will be available in America as well… between Windows 7′s advanced desktop search capabilities and (IE) and Google’s near-monopoly on internet searches- theoretically every thing a person types on the internet can be recorded and stored.

    Still, are there enough people to sift through all that data and decide what is useful and what is useless? To do a general search, certainly not. But if they intend to target someone, well, then- the next few years could theoretically be very menacing indeed to any dangerous political dissident or person who disagrees with a powerful local official who decides to abuse his power.


  2. chinacomment
    January 6th, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

    Ah? here’s one article I was thinking about in regards to Chinese net-monitoring:

  3. Jeff
    May 29th, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

    China firewall is lame, use water to put out the fire of the wall but how do you get over the wall? – use to bypass it. You can bypass China Great Firewall and access youtube, facebook, blogger and all other sites which are blocked.

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