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China lifts porn ban, Indonesia clamps down

26 Jul

A bunch of news outfits got fairly excited by the news last week that China has apparently stopped blocking porn sites. The folks over at Gawker even trumpeted it as a huge win for freedom, and likened it to the fall of the Berlin Wall or D-Day.

Hyperbole aside, the Associated Press story suggested a number of possible reasons for this change, which has apparently resulted in many porn sites – including Western ones such as YouPorn and PornHub – being accessible to the general public for the past eight weeks. One of the possibilities is that the government is running out of resources to keep sites blocked, so they’re reorienting man- and computer-power to block the really sensitive political stuff. Another theory is that the government is trying to distract people from worrying about the actually important stuff, such as human rights, by “keeping the population’s hands and minds distracted,” as Gawker put it. It’s not a bad theory – it sure has worked here in North America.

One thing is for sure, and that’s that the government hasn’t officially announced a different position when it comes to pornography. Keep in mind that non-pornographic websites and services in China are intermittently blocked and accessible, so what the state does as far as internet regulation is really all just a big guessing game.

The recent decision to renew Google’s license to operate in China is a perfect example. The search giant, finally sick of censoring its own results to keep in line with Chinese law, decided it wasn’t going to play ball anymore and earlier this year started directing all users to an unfiltered site based in Hong Kong. The government wasn’t too happy with that. As a compromise, Google instead directed users back to its main, censored search site based in China, but that site has a link to the unfiltered page in Hong Kong, which anyone can access with a simple click. How the Chinese government finds that to be acceptable is beyond me.

The bottom line is, I wouldn’t get too excited about this apparent easing of restrictions on pornography in China. My money is on this being either a temporary shortage of resources, or an experiment wherein censors are testing some sort of new blocking system without anyone knowing it.

Ironically, just as China is unblocking adult sites, the clamps are coming down in Indonesia. The country is looking to block porn sites before Ramadan begins on Aug. 10 as an effort to carry out a law passed in 2008. The government says it is being very careful not to evoke the sorts of web censorship fears found in China and Iran, since Indonesia has humans rights and press freedom laws, but it is duty bound to protect the population from the ill effects of pornography.

What’s funny is that the government isn’t quite sure how they’re going to block such sites, whether it’s with keywords or some sort of other larger method. One thing they don’t want to get into is accidentally blocking non-pornography sites. Even the Communications and IT Minister seems to know this is a “good luck with that” kind of situation, summing up the plan with this nice quote: “If some of [the websites] remain accessible, we can at least say we tried.”

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Posted by on July 26, 2010 in china, Google, sex

 

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