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China Says Google and Baidu Push Vulgar Content

China Says Google and Baidu Push Vulgar Content
January 5, 2009 1:48PM

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China launched a crackdown of "vulgar and pornographic" Internet content. Targeting Google and Baidu, China's government says vulgar content on the Internet is harming its youth. China's online search market has grown; Google and Baidu both boosted total revenues in 2008. Experts say China's vulgar-content crackdown may have other motives.

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China is moving to rein in Web sites it deems inappropriate. The Communist nation has targeted Google and Baidu, the two dominant search engines there. The charge is spreading pornography and vulgarity.

China's Ministry of Public Security and six other government agencies launched the campaign on Monday.

The government "decided to launch a nationwide campaign to clean up a vulgar current on the Internet and named and exposed a large number of violating public morality and harming the physical and mental health of youth and young people," said a report on state television.

Low-Class, Crude and Damaging

China's government identified 19 Internet operators and Web sites that had not made moves to remove "vulgar" content. These operators and Web sites also allegedly failed to heed warnings from censors, according to the television report.

"Some Web sites have exploited loopholes in laws and regulations," said Cai Mingzhao, a deputy chief of the State Council Information Office. "They have used all kinds of ways to distribute content that is low-class, crude and even vulgar, gravely damaging mores on the Internet."

Repeat violators, as well as those that have a "malign influence," might be exposed, punished or even shut down, according to China.com.cn, one of the nation's official news Web sites. On Monday, the Financial Times reported that the Chinese government is arming censors with more advanced filtering software to catch the banned content.

Same Old Threats

According to Leslie Harris, CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, China is trying to flex its muscles. However, she said, if China is seriously concerned about vulgar content -- and if it is illegal -- then the government ought to take its complaint to Internet service providers.

"This is just a threat, and I think it's the same old-same old dressed up in rhetoric that is more internationally acceptable," Harris said. "Obviously, all countries control to some degree pornography consistent with their laws and values."

Some question whether it's really about vulgar content, though. The Communist Party of China is working to silence dissent and protest in a slowing Chinese economy; 2009 is also the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Regardless of the motive, Harris doesn't think the Chinese censorship regime will ultimately stand. "I think China periodically engages in these tactics to try to pull everybody back in," she said. "But I think China is losing control, and this is just a subterfuge to ratchet it up and see if they can get it back."

China Search By the Numbers

China's online search market grew to CNY 4.664 billion (US$682.37 million) in the January-September 2007 period, a 75.8 percent year-over-year growth.

Baidu.com is the world's biggest Chinese-language search engine. Its market share in China grew to 62.9 percent in the January-September 2008 period, from 59.3 percent in 2007, according to Analysys. The company boosted its revenue to CNY 2.275 billion (US$332.85 million) in the period.

Google is the second-largest online search engine in China, with its market share climbing to 26.9 percent in the first three quarters of 2008, according to Analysys.

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