Controlling the Internet: An Impossible Government Task

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-06-08 Print this article Print


5. New services crop up every day

The fun never stops when China talks about its Web-censorship efforts. The country honestly believes that it can really stop all debate over the country's policies and practices. What a joke. Each day, new Web services crop up with just a few hundred or a couple thousand users that aren't even on China's radar. In fact, one report from a Chinese technology publication said that before China banned Foursquare, it only learned of the service from other social networks. In other words, the Chinese government is behind the times. And trying to stop every single service that might allow users to do something it doesn't like is an unattainable goal.

6. Invading a user's privacy is never a good idea

A key component in China's Web censorship is privacy. Based on what China said in its white paper, it would seem that the government simply isn't doing enough to maintain user privacy when it starts censoring content or ensuring that citizens are not using the Web for the wrong reasons. Admittedly, privacy isn't as big of a concern in China as it is in some other countries around the world, but it should be. Web privacy is a hot-button topic that has a direct impact on user security. To simply forgo privacy for the sake for censorship isn't doing anyone any favors.

7. Users care in China

The Chinese people care deeply about the Web censorship that's affecting their lives. After all, if they didn't, they wouldn't try time and again to find those sites that allow them to express themselves to the rest of the world. Although the government believes that it can control its people for the good of the nation, it's really only doing more harm than good. As Web censorship continues, the government is only putting itself in more peril. Right now just 29 percent of all Chinese people are on the Web, so it might not be such a concern. But as that number rises, the government might want to tread lightly.

8. Security plays a role

Security has seemingly been tossed aside in the Chinese government's desire to censor Web content. There is nothing less secure than a draconian policy that forces people to behave or act in a certain way on the Internet. Although it's a much smaller and less troublesome issue, corporations around the world are learning the hard way what kind of impact draconian business policies can have on a network. By locking down Web access, companies are forcing employees, who are upset with such rules, to engage in risky behaviors to do what they want. All the while, they're putting their networks at risk. The same can be said for China. Blocking safe content has never been a good idea from a security perspective. Why would China think that law doesn't apply to it?

9. It won't last forever

Try as it might to keep censorship in place for the long term, China will never be able to achieve it. The Internet is the next frontier in the country. And although a small portion of the population is accessing the Web right now, it will only be a matter of time before the entire country is wired. And when that happens, the Web will be used as a tool for freedom by citizens, rather than another place to keep them down by the government. Censorship is nothing more than a short-term solution to a much broader issue. The Chinese government can sit beyond the dam for only so long. Eventually, it will burst and the citizens will make the political climate for Web censorship untenable.

10. Adding companies to the mix is a bad idea

China currently puts some of the onus of Web censorship on companies doing business there. This is another misstep. Companies might play ball for a while, but they have a vested interest in turning a profit. As Google has shown, when censorship starts cutting into that profit, it's only a matter of time before it calls the government's bluff and does what it wants. Admittedly, it's easier for Google to follow such a strategy than a China-based firm, like Baidu. But they're all the same. And eventually, the companies will realize the error of their ways and start fighting back against China. It's inevitable.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at

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