Posted by: Frederik Balfour on June 21, 2009
China is clamping down on the internet once again, this time by forbidding Google (GOOG) from linking to certain foreign websites with pornographic content and other material deemed harmful to children. The move to block Chinese users of Google’s Chinese language search function from overseas websites comes less than two weeks after Beijing announced that all personal computers sold in China must have pre-installed firewall software blocking pornographic and violent content.
After an uproar from people on the net over “Green Dam-Youth Escort” firewall software, Beijing backpedalled somewhat on that PC censorship move, but this time around, there’s no telling whether the censorship of foreign internet sites will stick. But if the new requirement lasts, it will be far more draconian than previous attempts to erect internet firewalls within China. For example terms Google searches for terms like Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Taiwan and Falungong routinely turn up no results, a form of self censorship that Google agreed to enforce in return for access to China’s market of about 300 million internet surfers.
The move will undoubtedly be met with cheers from the folks over at Baidu (BIDU), the leading search engine in China accounting for about 60% of all searches. According to the Financial Times, sites blocked by Google were still accessible by Baidu.
Whenever the Chinese government launches a new campaign to keep out undesirable foreign influences, I always wonder what the real backstory is. Surely Beijing realizes they can’t put the internet genie back in the bottle, so is this mere posturing or do China’s leaders really believe they can ring fence the country from pornography, or any other content, for that matter? Or is this just another form of protectionism [the “Buy China” policy is a more overt example of this], an attempt to prevent Google from getting too big? Or is it a desperate move by some faction of the Chinese communist party trying to bolster its position by taking an uber-protectionist/censorship stance. Nothing like picking on the foreign influence when you want to divert attention from troubles in your own backyard. For a look at how Chinese bloggers are reacting to this latest Big Brother move, there is a good summary on the EastSouthWestNorth blog. Then, there’s also the whole question of Google’s complicity in this matter. But that’s a subject for another blog.