Chinese Government Attacks Google Over Internet Porn


Chinese Government Attacks Google Over Internet Porn

Beijing’s Internet censors are on the rampage again. But this time the
victims are not the country’s nearly 200 million surfers but one of the
most-recognized names on the Web: Google.

The search giant’s
China operation, already struggling to compete with its domestic
rivals, is the subject of a blistering and unprecedented wave of
criticism by China’s official media, who have singled it out as having far
more links
to pornographic websites than its competitors. Chinese authorities
disabled some search functions on Google’s China page late late week and
ordered the company to block links to foreign websites.

The first sign of trouble came on June 18 when a report was released from
the China
Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center, a government agency, that
accused Google of
providing links to pornography. A story from the official Xinhua news
agency soon followed alleging an unnamed Google official had admitted
that a “huge amount of porn and lewd information” had been disseminated
via the search engine. The issue has also received a significant amount of
news coverage on China Central Television .

A Google
spokesman told reporters the company was “”continually working to deal
with pornographic content and material that is harmful to children
on the Web in China” and that the company would renew this effort. While
it’s not clear what prompted this attack, some observers see a connection
with the lambasting the authorities
received both domestically and overseas when news broke recently that
starting July 1, all
computers sold in China would be required to have pornography filtering
software pre-installed. The news caused
outrage among Chinese computer users, many of whom complained the
software, called Green Dam Youth Escort, was ineffective and would expose
users to viruses and
hacker attacks. A U.S. company, Solid Oak Software, meanwhile alleged that
the program had illegally incorporated parts of its own proprietary
software.

The attack on Google is seen by some as an attempt to divert criticism from
the controversy over filtering software. “It doesn’t seem like a coincidence
that comes
amid mounting criticism of Green Dam, whose ostensible purpose is to
block porn,” says Rebecca MacKinnon, a former Beijing bureau chief for
CNN who is writing a book about the Internet in China. “Now they’re
trying to show what a bad job Google does in protecting China’s children.”

MacKinnon also notes that there’s plenty of evidence that searches
conducted on Baidu — Google’s main rival in China and the company with by
far
the biggest share of the search engine market — Baidu produce just as
many or more links to pornographic sites.

That same point was made by many Chinese netizens, whose anger over the
attack on Google dominated online forums and billboards following the June
19 airing of a program critical of Google on CCTV. China’s “human flesh
search engine” — a
vigilante Internet mob that discovers the identities and publishes
personal details OF those who displease netizens — also swung into
action.
The group claimed that a Beijing youth, depicted in a CCTV program as a
university student who had mounted an anti-Google campaign, was actually
a CCTV staff member.

Speculation that the Google attack was a method of distracting
attention from the Green Dam fiasco intensified after a report that a
Silicon Valley-based Solid Oak Software had sent “cease and desist
orders” warning computer users not to use the Green Dam software, which
it said copied parts of one of its programs.

Google and other Internet companies face major challenges operating in
China, where the government strictly controls access to certain websites as
well as the publication of sensitive political and social information.
Websites such as YouTube and Wikipedia are routinely blocked so that Chinese
users can’t access them. In contrast, Chinese Internet companies commonly
practice self-censorship to prevent publication of content authorities may
deem off-limits.

Some observers said the government, by attacking Google, was sending a
message to all foreign websites to watch out. “Chinese search engine are the
obvious beneficiaries of [the criticism of Google] and that
suits the authorities fine,” says one industry insider who requested
anonymity. “They all take care of the political censorship themselves
and obviously have to do exactly what the bureaucrats tell them. A
foreign company like Google is that much harder to control.”

See TIME’s pictures of the week.

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