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.