June 25, 2009

Google Attempts To Scale The ‘Great Firewall Of China’

Google services in some parts of China have been interrupted as the search engine giant is accused of proliferating vulgar content in its Web searches by China's Foreign Ministry. This is raising the controversial issue of censorship among Chinese citizens.

In a statement to AFP Google China said, "We understand that many users could not access Google.com in mainland China, along with linked services, such as Google Docs and Gmail, during the last 24 hours."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang accused Google of being in violation of Chinese law by spreading pornographic content.

Google vowed last week to eradicate all pornography from its Chinese Web searches after being accused of continued transgression.

China has required that all computers come supplied with software called Green Dam Youth Escort from 1 July, anti-porn software that is raising concern inside and outside of China about such a sweeping censorship.

However, this is not necessarily new. Certain foreign websites are frequently blocked in China, and censorship is widely believed to be the culprit behind the outages in an attempt to minimize access to vulgar or politically sensitive content.

Authorities began a major crackdown this year that resulted in closing over 1,900 porn-related Web sites.

Google has had a difficult time expanding in China, where it says it has about 30% of the search market. The company launched Google.cn with a Chinese partner after its market share caved with government filters slowing access to its U.S. service

Google was one of 19 large Internet portals named by the government in January of providing links to pornographic content, but Google got the spotlight when accused of failure to resolve the issue.

China's system of Internet is considered to have the most far-reaching supervision in the world, giving it the name "the Great Firewall of China."

The country accounts for the world's largest online population at nearly 300 million Web users, and rulers of its Communist Party are struggling to maintain control of its content.

Mr. Qin says he has no information regarding details of the outage, but urged the company to abide by local rules.

The U.S. said China's implementation of the proposed Internet filter would violate China's free trade obligations, weaken computer security and carry serious implications about censorship.

"Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective, and poses a serious barrier to trade," said US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Kirk's comment expresses the growing concern about broader trade issues between the U.S. and China over everything from computer security to chicken poultry imports. 

The US is complaining that the pressure on manufacturers to pre-install or supply the software would violate China's WTO free trade obligations.

"China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues," says US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology later claimed that use of the software was not mandatory and that the program could be uninstalled.

The testing of Green Dam outside China showed that PCs were exposed to many different security risks, such as being hijacked.

Petitions calling for Green Dam to be thrown out have spread all over China as citizens buck the attempt to censor them and contend for their personal liberties. 


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