THE GREAT FIREWALL OF CHINA

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THE GREAT FIREWALL OF CHINA

 user 2006-01-20 at 10:19:00 am Views: 38
  • #13481

    The Great Firewall of China
    A vast security network and compliant multinationals keep the mainland’s Net under Beijing’s thumb.
    But
    technology may foil the censorship  yet Skype had a dilemma. The
    Internet telephony and messaging service wanted to enter China with TOM
    Online , a Beijing company controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li
    Ka-shing. Li’s people told their Skype Technologies  partners that, to
    avoid problems with the Chinese leadership, they needed filters to
    screen out words in text messages deemed offensive by Beijing. No
    filtering, no service.
    At first Skype executives resisted, says a
    source familiar with the venture. But after it became clear that Skype
    had no choice, the company relented: TOM and Skype now filter phrases
    such as “Falun Gong” and “Dalai Lama.” Neither company would comment on
    the record.
    VAST MACHINE.  It’s no secret that Western Internet
    companies have to hew to the party line if they want to do business in
    China. Google , Yahoo!, and scores of other outfits, both domestic and
    foreign, have made concessions to China’s censors. The latest
    high-profile example: In December, Microsoft’s  MSN shut down a Chinese
    blogger’s site at the government’s request.
    Microsoft maintains it
    had no choice. “We only remove content if the order comes from the
    appropriate regulatory authority,” says Brooke Richardson, group
    product manager for MSN.
    Getting a phone call from the government is
    one part of the picture. What few Westerners know is the size and scope
    of China’s censorship machine and the process by which multinationals,
    however reluctantly, censor themselves. Few also know that China’s
    censors have kept up with changing technologies, from cell phone text
    messaging to blogs.
    EYES PEELING.  How do the Chinese do it? Beijing
    has a vast infrastructure of technology to keep an eye on any potential
    online dissent. It also applies lots of human eyeballs to monitoring.
    The agencies that watch over the Net employ more than 30,000 people to
    prowl Web sites, blogs, and chat rooms on the lookout for offensive
    content as well as scammers. In the U.S., by contrast, the entire CIA
    employs an estimated 16,000 people.
    Companies, both foreign and
    domestic, also abet the government’s efforts. Virtually all Net outfits
    on the mainland are given a confidential list of hundreds of banned
    terms they have to watch for. The list changes over time, based on
    events such as the recent police shootings in the southern town of
    Dongzhou.
    The rules are even tougher for companies that host their
    sites on servers in China. This group, which has included Yahoo but not
    Google, are pressured to sign the government’s “Public Pledge on
    Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry,” the U.S. State
    Dept. says. Under the agreement, they promise not to disseminate
    information that “breaks laws or spreads superstition or obscenity,” or
    that “may jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability.”
    Translation:
    “If you own something, you’re responsible for what’s there,” says
    Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong.
    That leads companies to “err on the side of caution and
    self-censorship.”
    NO “FREEDOM.”  For those who can’t see the
    characters on the wall, Beijing has plenty of backup. All Internet
    traffic entering or leaving China must pass through
    government-controlled gateways — that is, banks of computers — where
    e-mail and Web-site requests are monitored. E-mail with offending words
    such as “Taiwan independence” or “democracy” can be pulled aside and
    trashed.
    And when a mainland user tries to open a page that’s
    blacklisted, the gateway will simply deny access. Search for “Tiananmen
    Massacre” in China, for example, and 90 of the top 100 sites that
    mention it are blocked, according to the OpenNet Initiative, an
    Internet watchdog group. The Net operators’ response? “We are trying to
    provide as much information as possible,” says Robin Li, chairman of
    Baidu.com , China’s top search engine. “But we need to obey Chinese
    law.”
    The censors are also staying abreast of changes on the
    Internet. Hackers in 2004 found a list of 987 words that were banned
    from QQ, China’s top instant-messaging program. That same year, phone
    companies were ordered to install software that blocks text messages
    with offending terms. And bloggers are barred from posting words such
    as “freedom” as topics, although they’re given a bit more leeway in the
    actual text of their blog entries.
    “WE DON’T TOUCH POLITICS.”  Even
    so, since last summer, bloggers have been required either to post their
    musings on commercial sites that employ filters or to register with
    authorities, making it easier to track down offenders.
    The
    restrictions have led many companies to make both subtle and
    substantial changes to their operations on the mainland. The Shanghai
    podcasting and video blogging service provider Toodou.com checks files
    before they’re posted, and users sometimes report objectionable
    content. And IDG Venture Technology Investment, part of Boston’s
    International Data Group, has invested in a Chinese company that
    operates online bulletin boards on real estate, entertainment,
    technology, autos, and more. But “we don’t touch politics at all,” says
    Quan Zhou, managing director of the group’s Chinese arm.
    China’s
    Internet gateways can cause problems even for those companies that
    avoid controversial subjects. ILX Media Group, a Greensboro  publisher
    of four Chinese-language medical journals, transmits content from the
    U.S. to China. But getting complex graphics through Beijing’s filters
    can take days, says Jeffrey Parker, ILX’s chief operating officer in
    Shanghai. “All traffic has to go through the same meat grinder,” says
    Parker. Not that such policies deter investors. Parker, for instance,
    says he’s upbeat about his prospects there.
    KEEPING UP?  Despite the
    power and sophistication of China’s censors, the march of technology
    may yet foil them. As more sites add podcasts and user-generated video,
    China’s monitoring efforts will become far more complicated because
    it’s harder to examine such material than it is to check text files.
    “How
    do you filter when everybody has the capability to be their own video
    blogger?” asks Ross O’Brien, managing director at Intercedent Hong
    Kong, an IT consulting and research firm. But don’t underestimate
    China’s ability to control the Net, just as it has done in the past.
    Although the battle is far from over, the formula of getting companies
    to do much of the fighting may keep on serving China well