10 Things the Chinese Government Ignores About Web Censorship

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-06-08

10 Things the Chinese Government Ignores About Web Censorship

The Chinese government issued a "white paper" this week to highlight its stance on Web censorship. The country discussed why it blocks Websites and why it will  continue to block sites that include content it deems is aimed at "subverting state power, undermining national unity, infringing upon national honor and interests, inciting ethnic hatred and secession," among several other issues. Furthermore, the while paper said that the Internet is controlled by the state and that won't be changing anytime soon.

It's rather sad to see China make clear that its stance on the Internet is one of fear and distrust. The country has been blocking sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for a while.

Recently, location-based social network Foursquare was blocked after users performed a silent protest over Tiananmen Square. Meanwhile, China made it clear that if the Internet is to be used for free expression by its people or even those outside the country, it will do everything it can to stop it.

China obviously doesn't understand the Web. Its ideas on censorship fly in the face of reality. And it's the main reason why its 384 million Web users, just 29 percent of its population, will continue to fight back.

Let's take a look at what China just doesn't get about Web censorship.

1. It never works

Web censorship might seem to work for China, but it really doesn't. If a Chinese citizen really wants to get the content he or she desires, the citizen will find a way around it. That has been a constant thorn in China's side throughout the years, as folks continue to find ways to thwart China's censors. Maybe it's time for China to realize that it won't get any better. Try as it might to stop content from leaking out into communities, it won't succeed.

2. It causes users to find workarounds

Following that, it's important for the Chinese government to know that citizens are finding workarounds all the time. In some cases, that's not such a big deal. But in many other cases, the techniques folks use aren't so safe. Whether it's running an IP address through servers around the world or any other technique, there are real risks involved in users trying to find ways around censorship. It can wreak havoc on a user's machine and easily spread those issues across the country. It happens all the time in the United States. Isn't it about time China realizes that it can (and does) happen within its own borders, as well?

3. The rest of the world is watching

China believes that what it's doing is in its own best interest. And since it believes that it owns the Internet in China, the government can do what it wants, when it wants, without fear of reprisal. That's a faulty belief. The world is watching as China limits the rights of its people. And although there isn't a lot that a single person can do, rest assured that collectively the rest of the world is doing its part fight the censorship. For example, Foursquare was blocked in China recently after users "checked in" to Tiananmen Square on the anniversary of the event. The vast majority of those folks were spoofing the service and saying they were in China when, in fact, they were in other areas around the world. China responded by banning Foursquare, but the point was made that Web censorship goes beyond China's borders.

4. It doesn't stop the debate

It's worth noting that Web censorship does little to curb the debate on whether or not China is really acting in its people's best interests. Although it has censored search results, sites have been banned and people have been limited by what they can say, the conversation on censorship continues in different corners of the Web where China can't find it. China might believe that it's effectively curbing outcry, but it's kidding itself.

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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.

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