China may ease up on Internet censorship in limited regions

The Chinese government may be about to ease up on its policy of censoring its citizens.

The South China Morning Post reported last week that websites considered "politically sensitive," such as Facebook, Twitter and The New York Times, will be unblocked in one area of Shanghai.

The government, according to the report, is lifting the Internet access ban in Shanghai's free-trade zone and is set to accept bids from foreign telecommunications companies for licenses that would allow them to provide Internet services within the special economic zone.

"In order to welcome foreign companies to invest and to let foreigners live and work happily in the free-trade zone, we must think about how we can make them feel like at home," said an unnamed source in the Post report. "If they can't get onto Facebook or read The New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free-trade zone is compared with the rest of China."

The report points out that the easing of the ban only pertains to Shanghai's free-trade zone and will not apply to any other part of China.

Bending to criticism?

What's been known as the Great Firewall of China could be crumbling a bit under economic and worldwide pressure.

"It's certainly a start," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "I think this move is initially for foreigners to have access to sites they might want when traveling to China. It is the free-trade zone, so it looks like China is applying that to Internet services as well."

He added that he expects to see China lift its Internet access ban in parts of other cities but that it's likely to be a long, slow process.

Google has had a long and well-publicized battle with the Chinese government for several years.

Early in 2010, Google announced that a major attack launched against its network from China had forced the company to pull its business out of the country. After the attack, which was aimed at exposing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, Google reconsidered its willingness to agree to censor search results of users in China.

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