China Goes After Baidu, Google in Web Porn Crackdown

The Chinese government is starting 2009 with a crusade to make the Internet safe for its young population to surf without encountering pornography. While Beijing has previously tried to crack down on obscenity, this time government officials are using some of their harshest language yet, threatening actions against 19 Internet companies — including China’s most popular search engine, Baidu, and Google. Both Baidu and Google also offer blogging services that the government said had been used to distribute obscene content.

“For those Web sites that repeatedly ignore warnings, we will publicize a few, punish a few and even close down a few,” the Chinese Information Office said, accusing the Web sites, providers and search engines of allowing “low-class, crude and even vulgar contents, which severely corrupted the public mentality.

“The vulgar trend has deeply harmed the mental and physical health of the young generation … Many parents are calling out: ‘Save our children’. They want the government to take drastic action.”

Porn Crusade or Free Speech Crackdown?

A Google spokesperson in China has told news agencies that the company abides by the country’s laws, and if anything illegal is found by Chinese users, they can report it to Google and it will be dealt with accordingly. Google’s U.S. offices have not responded to questions from TechNewsWorld about China’s claim that the company did not take “efficient measures” in dealing with pornographic material that comes up in search results, and how exactly the government issued warnings to Google about the illegal content.

“China periodically engages in these crusades, which are intended to put the fear of God into various Internet service providers,” Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told TechNewsWorld. “The question is whether this concern about pornography is a subterfuge for the same old, same old, and I suspect it is.”

The significance of the new calendar year is not lost on Harris. 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the Chinese government crushing pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, and the new anti-porn measures may be a preemptive strike against those looking to mark the date.

“Google doesn’t generate any content — it’s not a creator. Look at the words [the Chinese government] is using: ‘low-class,’ ‘crude.’ That could apply to anything. If the content is coming from China, I would be concerned their use of such broad terms is intended to reach political and religious content, general disagreement,” Harris said.

Google’s Chinese High-Wire Act

China has a firewall for filtering outside content — “The Great Firewall of China,” as it’s been dubbed.

Still, “it’s very hard for me to believe that China can create a pornography-free Internet,” Ethan Zuckerman, research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, told TechNewsWorld. “That seems pretty unlikely. Distributing porn is one of the things that the Internet is best at.” Those who really want such content in China can use proxies or other workarounds to get what they want, Zuckerman added.

The larger issue is whether Google and China are engaging in a high-stakes game of brinksmanship. Google wants access to the estimated 250 million members of the country’s Web audience, and just last year began working on a “principles process;” setting up rules of the road for companies looking to do business with China that respects that country’s laws without asking companies to violate their own integrity.

“Google has actually been fairly good in some cases about pushing back on China,” Zuckerman said. “Google has put forth suggestions that essentially say, ‘If we’re going to censor search engine results, we should let people know,’ and so forth. So Google has pushed back.

This may be a strategy in which the Chinese government is pushing back, and saying, ‘Well, we’re going to assert our ability to restrict pornography,’ and that’s going to be a way to restrict other forms of content.”

1 Comment

  • This is one issue that I agree with the Chinese Government on. Having pornography in the public domain is like having it posted on billboards around town. Of course children, and even adults, are adversely effected by watching porn. It is addictive, very addictive. And it can create dysfunctions between partners if relationships.

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