China targets Google, Baidu and Internet portals over porn

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A blacklist of 19 leading search engine portals and websites, including Google and Baidu, that "spread pornography or vulgar content, and threaten the morals of young people" has been published, the Chinese government said Monday.

According to Xinhua News Agency, six central agencies, led by the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, conducted an intensified month-long campaign to clean up the Internet of unhealthy, vulgar and porn materials.

"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. "Immediate action is needed to purify the Internet environment.".

"Pornography is banned in China and websites that feature erotic content are morally offensive," Huang Chengqing, deputy secretary-general of the Internet Society of China, said.

Headquarters of the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing

The China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center demanded the web portals, a number of video sharing sites and bulletin boards, including Sina, Sohu and NetEase, Google in Chinese and other websites to remove sexually-explicit photos after due notice but they failed and continued providing links to obscene sites.

Google China's spokeswoman Cui Jin, however, explained that "Google is neither the owner of those Web sites and porn nor does it spread (that) information intentionally. We have also adopted 'safe search' as the default setting, which automatically blocks sites with such content."

Baidu, and SINA Corp., in web statements on Wednesday, admitted their guilt, and apologized for failing to curb "porn" content. Google's China, on the other hand vowed to cooperate with Internet users and society to help establish a healthy Internet culture. "After we received notice from relevant government departments ... (we) cleaned up links to vulgar content that could have adverse effects on Internet users," it added.

Google's China headquarters in the Tsinghua Science Park, Beijing.

Sohu, and Tencent, the most popular free instant messaging computer program in Mainland China, and the world’s third most popular IM service, as well as an internet portal, apologized separately late Tuesday. China's Criminal Law penalizes distribution of pornographic and obscene publications, videos, articles for nonprofit use with a maximum of two years imprisonment. However, the law is vague on the definition of "distributing vulgar materials." Beijing Internet management office, staff, Wang Qiang, on Wednesday said "they were working on punishment schemes for the more vague charge of spreading vulgar images."

In June 2008, China had more than 253 million Internet users, according to Xinhua. The country has been severely criticized for web censorship. In a 2008 report, the U.S. State Department stated that "China had increased its efforts to control and censor the Internet, and the government had tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the domestic press and bloggers."

In 1996 Chinese Internet users were required to "sign a set of rules that makes it illegal for users to produce or receive pornography." In 2007 the public security ministry declared it would curb porn, online strip shows, including even erotic stories. Tianya Club, one of the most popular Chinese Internet forums, where members post government attacks, had also been publicly criticized.

In December, a woman was arrested and jailed in Shanghai for uploading home-made videos, allegedly showing her performing sex acts. In 2008, Hong Kong actor Edison Chen's and his female partner's obscene pictures circulated in the Chinese internet. Nearly a dozen people were arrested and detained by the authorities for distributing the porn materials. On Monday, these and photos of actress Zhang Ziyi sunbathing topless on a beach still appeared online.

Edison Chen (November 14, 2005)

In September 2008, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said, "to uphold state security, China, like many countries in the world, has also imposed some proper restrictions. That is for the safety, that is for the overall safety of the country and for the freedom of the majority of the people." To control public opinion, Chinese authorities had used a sophisticated spin machine dubbed as "50-cent party." Tens of thousands of "internet commentators" were hired and paid 50 Chinese cents ($0.07; £0.05) for each positive posting on websites and forums that upload bad news.

Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China is conducted under a wide variety of laws and administrative regulations. In accordance with these laws, more than sixty Internet regulations have been made by the People's Republic of China (PRC) government, and censorship systems are vigorously implemented by provincial branches of state-owned ISPs, business companies, and organizations. The escalation of the government's effort to neutralize critical online opinion comes after a series of large anti-Japanese, anti-pollution and anti-corruption protests, many of which were organized or publicized using instant messaging services, chat rooms, and text messages. The size of the Internet police is estimated at more than 30,000.

Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI), general manager Paul Durant, said that “each country decides how far it brings up the bar in terms of illegal content. If we are notified of material suspected of being illegal, we can trace it and establish whether it is or not, and then action can be taken if necessary. We are not a censor. If content is found to be illegal, we work with the relevant ISP and the law enforcement agencies throughout Europe to have it taken down. It can lead to huge collateral damage — you could block one site, for example, which is providing co-location hosting where people have lots of sites under one IP address. This means innocent sites risk being taken out.”

The authorities centered on pornography but the major government agenda is to control freedom of expression and to remove destabilizing online portal contents, which attack the Communist Party, suggest democracy or advocate Taiwan independence. In December, over 300 lawyers, writers, scholars and artists jointly signed "Charter 08" online petition, which advocates human rights protection by formulation of a new constitution.

Meanwhile, Center for Democracy and Technology's President and Chief Executive Officer, Leslie Harris, said: "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."