While over 384 million people have access to the Internet in China, only a portion of what the World Wide Web has to offer is available to online users.
Why? Because China's government uses what's been dubbed China's Great Firewall to censor the Internet. Censoring the Internet means information is examined in order to delete what is considered objectionable.
How China Censors the Internet:
Instead of banning certain websites, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) uses filtering software that detects sensitive words in data moving through a network. When a user logs on and tries to search for banned words like 'Tiananmen Incident,' the filtering software detects the banned word and sends reset commands to break the connection so the user can't access information related to the 'Tiananmen Incident.'
As more Chinese have access to the Internet, the Chinese government is finding more ways to censor the Internet. In the summer of 2010 the government ordered all new computers sold in China be installed with the government's Green Dam censoring software, but the idea was abandoned after international protests.
In December 2010, MIIT started requiring websites to register their true identities. The government said this was to crackdown on pornography websites, but opponents say it has been another way for China to create a list of approved websites and block innocent websites.
But it's not just the Chinese government that prevents users from accessing sensitive data. Microsoft censors Chinese language searches on its search engine Bing both in and outside of China, Apple has blocked downloading of a Dalai Lama application for its iPhone and iTouch, and both Google and Yahoo! have filtered searches in order to do business in China.
What Is Censored in China?
China's MIIT has blocked Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. The list of sensitive topics and keywords is constantly changing but always includes:
- Falun Gong
While some users can get around the censorship by using proxy servers and VPNs (Virtual Private Network), which disguise a user’s IP address, these services are getting harder to access from inside China.
Google v. China:
In January 2011, Google decided to stop censoring its Chinese search engine, Google.cn over allegations by Google of an attack on it and 20 other companies in what Google called an attempt to steal code and break into Gmail accounts of human rights activists. Launched in January 2006, Google.cn is the number two search engine behind Baidu, which holds 60-percent of the Chinese search engine market. It remains unclear if its decision means the end of Google in China.
US Response to China's Internet Censorship:
Before the flair up between Google and China, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed Internet censorship while speaking to students in Shanghai in November 2010:
"I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable," said Obama. "They can begin to think for themselves."
His comments, however, were censored from the live broadcast on a local Shanghai television channel but included on the transcript of his remarks posted on Xinhua, the state news agency's Web site.
In the days after Google's announcement that it would stop censoring its search engine in China, Hillary Clinton gave what amounted to the US's first speech making Internet freedom part of foreign policy. She used Cold War terminology to describe internet censorship:
"a new information curtain is descending across much of the world."
Clinton also called for an investigation into Google's allegations:
"In an interconnected world, an attack on one nation's networks can be an attack on all," said Clinton. "Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation."
China's Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs He Yafei (何亚非) responded:
"The Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries; otherwise, it's an over-interpretation."