Web & communication software

China Restricts Google Access as Porn Dispute Continues

The dispute between the Chinese government and Google appeared to heat up today as some Chinese users found themselves unable to contact the service, a short time after a government representative accused the company of spreading pornography.

The move sharpens China's attempts to define how Western companies do business there, forcing them to make a choice between free speech values and access to a rapidly-growing market.

Guess which they choose?

Google is doubtless right now figuring out new ways of kowtowing to the Chinese, lest some other search engine come to dominate that important market. While understandable from a purely business perspective, the unwillingness of Western companies to take a stand is troubling.

"We have found that the English version of Google.com has spread lots of pornographic, lewd and vulgar content, which is in serious violation of Chinese laws and regulations," the spokesperson, Qin Gang, was quoted by the BBC.

It was not clear whether Gang was referring only to pornography in the Western sense or also to political content the Beijing government considers vulgar. The Chinese government has been accused of using its anti-pornography campaign as cover for a crackdown on all content Beijing does not want its citizens to access.

The BBC reported that users in Beijing and Shanghai were unable to reach the Google search engine, Gmail, and the Chinese version of Google.com for a time today. The outage reportedly lasted from Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the BBC reported.

Additionally, access to Google's English language site and other services was reportedly disrupted for more than an hour on Wednesday.

It is not clear what is going on behind the scenes, though the outage seems far from coincidental. Gang would not comment on the outage, but said Google officials in China have been summoned to meet with governmental officials, according to the Associated Press.

Google told reporters it was investigating the service disruption.

Separately, Microsoft's Bing search engine has been found deliver different results for politically sensitive search requests made using simplified Chinese characters compared to the same searches made in traditional Chinese or English.

Simplified Chinese is used in China, while traditional characters are the choice in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Filtering pornography is a controversial issue, with some Americans applauding Chinese efforts to do so and wishing their own government would do the same. Others consider any Internet filtering to be a violation of freedom of speech and expression.

American companies continue to be criticized for acceding to Chinese government demands and sensitivities.
Internet control is part of a much broader effort to control what the Chinese people see and hear that also includes jamming of foreign radio broadcasts.

Separately, the Chinese government is sticking by an order that, effective July 1, all PCs sold in China shall include pornography filtering software, which also happens to filter political content and allow monitoring of users computer use.

The U.S. has criticized China over the plan on technical, free trade, and free speech grounds, but so far to no avail.

David Coursey tweets as techinciter and can be reached via www.coursey.com/contact.

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