3 years ago

Computerworld Hong Kong -

Computerworld Hong Kong -


CHINAWATCHChina’s recent Web clampdown a blow to human rightsHuman rights groups say China’s blocking of Gmail and VPNs has disrupted their communicationsBy Michael Kan, IDG News Service (Beijing Bureau)China’s latest efforts at tighteningits control over the Internet—includingthe blocking ofGmail and Web software that can bypasscensorship—have hampered the workof human rights activists, say US-basedgroups.“The Chinese government is specificallytargeting the communications ofhuman rights activists,” said PhelimKine, an Asia researcher with HumanRights Watch. “They’ve done this before,but this has been much more prolonged.”In recent weeks, Internet users in Chinahave reported greater difficulty withaccessing Gmail, posting on microblogsthat the service is slow or blocked. Severalcompanies providing virtual privatenetworks (VPNs), which can allow usersto view sites and content blocked by ChineseInternet censors, have also reportedaccess problems in the country.Human rights activists use both Gmailand VPNs to communicate and accessinformation over the Web. But the recentblocking has isolated activists workingin China, while making them fearfulthey will face subversion charges fromthe Chinese government, Kine said.Activists blockedExperts say the increased censorship istied to the “Jasmine Revolution,” an onlinecall for the Chinese people to protestthe government sparked by the politicalunrest in the Middle East. China has respondedby detaining Chinese humanrights advocates and deploying largepolice forces across cities to prevent anyprotests from occurring.“The current campaign is sending achill through the community of humanrights defenders in China,” Kine said.He added that the activists he knows inChina are all currently detained. “Theactivist community is beleaguered, under-resourcedand always under threat.Currently it’s under lock and key. That’sthe state of play for activists in China.”Sharon Hom, executive director forHuman Rights In China, said communicationbetween activist networks andtheir families in China has been unstablewith the disruptions to Gmail and theVPNs. “Sometimes we just haven’t beenable to get through,” she said. “It’s madeus concerned about the security of thecommunication.”China has the world’s largest Internetpopulation at 457 million, according tothe latest official count. But informationon the Web is strictly controlled, withcontent deemed politically sensitiveblocked or deleted from the sites.In the past, only free VPN serviceswere blocked, while paid VPNs providerswere unaffected, said Phil Blancett,president of, now paid VPNs such asStrongVPN and WiTopia are also beingblocked. StrongVPN’s customersinclude foreigners as well as businesses,Blancett said. “They blocked quite a fewVPN provider websites from what wehave seen,” he said. “We don’t understandthe Chinese government’s effort tocrack down on VPN providers like ourselves.”Censorship affecting businessChina’s tightening of control overthe Web could have greater effecton businesses operating in thecountry, said Mark Natkin, the managingdirector of Beijing-based MarbridgeConsulting. He noted that in recent days,even commercial sites free of politicalcontent have been inaccessible, a signthat the censorship is spilling over intobusiness activities.“I think as long as we continue to seethe upheaval that we are seeing in NorthAfrica and the Middle East, China willcontinue to be more sensitive than usual,and so there will be tighter control,” Natkinsaid.26 Computerworld Hong Kong April 2011

But China could start to see some pushback from the business and academiccommunity over the increased censorship,Hom said. Last month, Google accusedthe Chinese government of blockingGmail after users had complained forweeks. The search engine company saidthe blocking was designed to make itlook like the access problems were comingfrom Google.“You are getting some companies likeGoogle to go public by speaking out,”Hom said. “Google is exercising leadershipin this public arena, saying that thisis a serious problem.”China’s Foreign Ministry has deniedGoogle’s accusation. A Foreign Ministryspokeswoman said she had no commenton the blocking of VPNs because she didnot fully understand the situation. Butshe added China’s Internet is open andoperates according to the law. 3China’s Baidu testing newWeb browserThe Chinese search engine giant would be one of several domesticcompanies in the country with its own Web browserBy Michael Kan, IDG News Service (Beijing Bureau)China’s largest search engine,Baidu, is developing its ownWeb browser in an effort to cementits hold over the country’s Internetmarket.Baidu has begun testing an early betaversion of the product within the company,according to an industry sourcefamiliar with the browser. The browseris built to be integrated with the company’ssearch applications. Baidu has alsoincorporated its “box computing” strategyinto the design, a concept which allowsusers to not only search for results,but also execute commands likelaunching an application in thebrowser, or directly accessing anonline service. The browser usesthe Chinese language and functions onmajor Windows operating systems.Baidu currently holds a 75.5 percentshare of China’s search engine market,with Google a distant second, accordingto Beijing-based research firm AnalysysInternational. China’s Web browsermarket, however, is currently dominatedby Microsoft. About 83 percent of thecountry’s Internet populace uses InternetExplorer, according to, ananalytical Web research site.Baidu currently holdsa 75.5 percent share ofChina’s search enginemarket, with Googlea distant second,according to Beijingbasedresearch firmAnalysys International.The prevalence of Internet Explorer inChina is due to how many Internet usersin the country simply aren’t aware ofother browsers in the market, said LiuNing, a strategy director for Digital China,a major IT distributor in the country.He pointed to the lower education levelsin China, adding that Internet Explorercomes bundled on PCs operating Windows.By contrast, in the US, “peoplehave higher education levels, so theyhave knowledge of other browsers theycan choose from,” said Liu. 2011 Computerworld Hong Kong 27

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