China and the Internet

China comes to mind when one considers how geography has extended its dominion over the supposedly borderless Internet of the early 1990s. Two recent articles together make the point that Chinese control over the Internet is pervasive, but not as infallible as commonly believed. The first from E-Commerce News highlights China’s effort to control Internet content: China employs 14 governmental agencies plus additional outside companies to monitor the Internet, jails dissidents for long prison terms, executes thousands of people every year, and conditions access to Chinese markets on cooperation with its pervasive control. Complicity with Chinese abuse of human rights may make companies such as Yahoo! and Google queasy, but “[w]ith some 1.3 billion people in its emerging economy, the lure of China’s market is compelling.” However, according to this article from BBC News, China’s national firewall is not as monolithic as we might think. Computer science researchers from the U.S. examined how far into the Chinese network messages with banned terms such as Tienanmen Square and Falun Gong could penetrate before Chinese filters spotted the terms and terminated their transmission. “The researchers found that the blocking did not happen at the edge of China’s network but often was done when the packets of loaded data had penetrated deep inside . . . On about 28% of the paths into China’s net tested by the researchers, blocking failed altogether suggesting that web users would browse unencumbered at least some of the time.” The filters functioned least effectively during periods of heavy web usage.

One thought on “China and the Internet”

  1. I was in China this whole summer. I agree that many Chinese consumers can find loopholes in the system when using American based search engines like Google and Yahoo. But it doesn’t stop there. I believe the general rule of thumb is, if you have money you can get away with a lot in China. Thus, censorship is only as powerful as one would allow it to be. For instance, Chinese citizens and expatriates like me can find pirated cable channels. Besides, BBC and CNN international, I can watch Russia Today and French based news channel. At one point I could watch al jareez (please excuse me if I spelled it wrong). Now of course, I didn’t receive the best reception. But it is very important to note that the liquidity of information that we claim to enjoy exclusively in the Western world, is not as exclusive as we may think. Perhaps on a very superficial level we can say that on paper we enjoy the freedom of speech and press. But think about a country like China, with 1.3 billion people, one will surely find a way to get pass the system and never deny the power of rumors and gossip.

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