Chinese government to block 'online pornography'

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LISA: Officials in Beijing have more than just Tibet on their minds. Today, the Chinese government announced a major crackdown on internet search engines such as Google. The problem, according to Chinese government, is that Google and other sites aren't doing enough to block online pornography. The government of China says it wants to purify the internet's cultural environment and ?protect the healthy development of minors.? The World's Technology Correspondent is Clark Boyd. He's been following this story. This is, as you know Clark, hardly the first time that China has announced a major crackdown on web pornography, but how much can it do to actually limit what its citizens can and cannot see online?

CLARK: Well, China is widely regarded as being among, if not the most sophisticated country in the world when it comes to censoring what ?

LISA: You mean technically sophisticated?

CLARK: Technically sophisticated. They have an intense filtering regime in place. They back that up with a very, very strong legal system that doesn't hesitate to put people in jail if they are found to be accessing content that the government doesn't want them to see.

LISA: Meaning pornography and other content?

CLARK: Pornography. But usually, I mean, this is what interesting about this particular announcement today is that Chinese web watchers generally say that when a government announces a crackdown on pornography, that's code for ?online dissidence?.

LISA: Which would reverse some of the openings that we saw right around the time of the Olympic games?

CLARK: Well, we did see some opening up of the web in China around the Olympic games. Certain foreign websites that had been blocked before, including the BBC, were opened up and Chinese citizens could actually access them. Although people who really study the web in China would tell you that that was just for show, that those were just foreign websites. And if you actually paid attention to what was going on with Chinese domestic websites, there was actually no opening up at all and if anything, controls got even stronger.

LISA: Well, what kind of hold does the Chinese government hold over Google? I mean, is it asking Google to shut down these sites and right now, as you said, specifically they're talking about pornography. Whether or not it gets broadened is what remains to be seen.

CLARK: Well, the wording of the statement from the Chinese government seemed to suggest that they were in contact with Google about shutting down pornographic sites on a regular basis and that Google had not been ?efficient? enough in shutting them down.

LISA: So Google would have to do it according to the Chinese government?

CLARK: Well, yeah. That's the big issue here, is the Chinese government. It's in a way holding Google responsible for displaying those pages. And Google would like to say, ?No. We're not actually generating any pornographic content at all. We're just a search engine.? And the Chinese government perhaps should be focusing its attention more on the sites that are actually producing the pornography.?

LISA: Well, would Beijing go so far as to shut down Google if Google wasn't doing what it wanted it to?

CLARK: Well, I think that threat is always in the back of people's minds, although Beijing always has to tread this fine line between the fact that its citizens really want Google to be there and want the economic trappings that come along with that and all the E-commerce that that generates. But at the same time, Beijing wants to have its cake and eat it too in that it wants firm control over what its citizens can see. And I think it will be interesting as we move forward this year. We have the Chinese New Year coming up around which time there's always a lot of political discussions, and we also have the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen square in June of this year. So it will be interesting to see whether we see an even further tightening of controls over the internet as we move forward this year.

LISA: Thank you very much. The World's Technology Correspondent, Clark Boyd. Thanks, Clark.

CLARK: You're welcome, Lisa.