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China, Freedom, and the Internet



Let the games begin! The Olympics in Bejing have begun and Tibet monks aren’t the only protesters – the media is angry too. While Chinese citizens may not have freedom of the press or Internet, but their Olympic guests expect it.

And to be sure, the media was promised they would have full access to web sites. But reports are that not only are sites being blocked but that the government is monitoring Internet activity.

The impending Olympic games have increased questions about Internet censorship in China, especially after Chinese officials tried to block journalists there for the games from accessing certain sites, even after the Chinese government assured reporters they would have full freedom to search the Internet, unlike its citizens.

Sites like FreeTibet.org, Amnesty International, Radio Free Asia, the BBC in Chinese, were blocked. And it’s not just specific sites – search engines are jumping in to assert their role in issues of freedom and human rights.

The top three US search engines drafted policies about how they’ll deal with blocked content and censorship. Microsoft writes (this goes to a PDF file on the LA Times web site): “We agree that Internet communications companies can and should play a valuable role in advancing the achievement of human rights, including freedom of expression.”

It’s always a careful dance – because each wants marketshare in China – a large and growing market. According to research firm IDC, China’s Internet user population is expected to grow to 378.9 million by 2011. Online advertising was US$637.4 million in 2006, and is projected to grow to reach US$4.328 billion in 2011 (according to “China Internet Economy 2007-2011 Forecast and Analysis,” Doc # CN187103P, January 2008).

Baidu.com is China’s number one search engine and the issue of freedom and competition affects how it competes. In the last quarter of 2007 Baidu had 73.6 percent of search engine traffic in China, and 60.8 percent of the search engine marketing spend (source: iResearch). While the Chinese search engine may censors sites, it doesn’t block illegal content…like music downloads.

It’s tough to compete against Baidu which grants free downloads to just about any song you can hear of – regardless of copyright. Google is taking the high road (and avoiding lawsuits) by launching its own music search site google.cn. The downloads are DRM-free but the selection is only of legal downloads – which certainly limits the selection.

I don’t recall an Olympics that has focused so much on freedom generally and especially how it plays out online. It certainly is a culture clash – with the culture of the Internet (which is still the wild west in many regards) and the Chinese government (which is known for being repressive). It’s all playing out as the world looks on.

  • http://www.jozsoft.com/blog/ Joe Hall

    As a marketer I can’t make up my mind on China. Part of me understands that China’s continued internet usage growth, will further the expansion of new markets, which makes me excited. But, at the same time, one can not ignore the fact that censoring the internet is against many of the same principles that would normally drive the expansion of these new markets.

    Will the Chinese succeed? Only time will tell.

    Joe Hall’s last blog post..Hitwise data misses the mark when it comes to Real Estate.

  • http://www.greatpriceshere.com Nicole Price

    If as Americans we can have our way of managing our affairs, why can’t the Chinese have their way of managing their affairs. It seems to work for them. Each culture’s value system can be different from the others’ without compromising on the whole.

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Discount DVDs

  • http://www.trendsspotting.com Apurba

    Hi Janet,
    Interesting report except some data seems outdated.Trendsspotting have published a data filled , action packed report “Handbook of Online China” on the eve of Beijing Olympics inauguration.
    http://www.trendsspotting.com/blog/?p=446

    The report focus on three key themes – China as an online leader , China Insider – the competitive landscape in Search , IM & Web 2.0 & Business in Online China – that are essentially key indicators of the ongoing development of the dynamic Internet market in China. The report is unique of its kind & we are sure you ,as an online china observer , analyst & investor , will find the report really handy.

    Incase you want a copy of this presentation feel free to drop us a note.We shall be happy to mail you the same .

  • http://www.free-games-console.co.uk Ps3 Gamer

    And it hasn’t been a great start to the Olympics, with one murder! Suicide and one fatally injured!

  • http://www.fiftystudio.com/news/ Fifty Studio

    The worst is watching NBC tout China as a free country, a democracy. It’s obvious they just want to keep the sponsorship for the next games.

    Fifty Studio’s last blog post..Win Batman Dark Knight tickets

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  • http://chinesetrader.co.uk The chink

    There is no hard and fast rule that says you need to live in china to have a chinese website or to ba a chinese trader

    As for the olympics. The fantastic show the chinese put on for the olympic opening ceremony should not be tainted by unrelated events.

    Enjoy the games.

  • http://www.xeltek.com MGA

    This is about Olympics and government’s block on online usage, right? At some point, the blog turned to be a free ad for Baidu.com. Thanks for the information but i hope Chinese goverment will respect the freedom of getting information. With this mentality, China won’t grow.

  • http://jeflin.net/ jeflin

    I think China overplayed their hand on this issue, sometimes the more you try to cover, the more you expose. And the media is having a field day digging and voicing their displeasure.

    However, I believe the attention should be on the athletes alone, not China.

    jeflin’s last blog post..Overhead Supply Can Trap Your Money

  • http://www.freegadgetzone.co.uk PS3 Addict

    I agree, concentrate on the olympics and not the country.

    Although china seems to be the only place to restrict access to the web more than my employer ;)

  • http://www.myfreeps3.net PS3

    The Beijing/China Olympics have been over shadowed by Politics when it shouldn’t be. People should concentrate on the Games. (and Michael Phelps)

  • http://www.recordingbeijing.com huibo

    one of the most risky thing to do business in china is that the government or administrative departments can change their mind at anytime for any reason… that’s part of the reason why Internet in China is a risky business, especially for foreigners.

    huibo’s last blog post..New Beijing Vocabulary-Lesson Four