<IT WORLD> High-jumping China's firewall
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - All eyes are on China this month as it prepares for
possibly the largest influx of foreign visitors and reporters it has seen. The
chances of the government relaxing any of its censorship policies have dwindled
as the Olympic Games take center stage. Internet frustration is at a peak as
tourists and journalists scramble to get online while the big players in the
Internet business attempt to placate the red dragon to make their lives easier.
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are drafting a code of conduct for business
operations in China and other countries with restrictive Internet policies.
Included in the code are principles for promoting freedom of expression and
privacy, implementation guidelines and an accountability framework, according
to separate company letters.
The voluntary code would outline the behavior of search engines
partly in an attempt to prevent pressure from the Chinese government on them to
hand over private and sensitive information on Internet users who are in China
for the Games. Both Google and Yahoo have been under fire in recent years for
bowing to Chinese web censors and filtering their search results.
Chinese officials have confirmed that the 5,000 or so journalists at the Games
will not have the freedom to access the Internet originally promised them.
Several websites will remain blocked, including a number of large news blogs,
many of which are critical of China's policies. Following talks between Chinese
officials and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) some blocks were lifted
but many remained when the Olympic Village press center opened this week.
There have even been rumors that some large hotel chains have had to install
software to allow the government to monitor the Internet traffic of their
guests. It all sounds like something from an overly imaginative spy novel.
Journalists have lodged complaints about slow connection speeds, some claiming
that this is intentional, with the aim of discouraging Internet use. In
response, enterprising companies are offering unfettered and private access to
the Internet from China via their services, namely a downloadable Virtual
Private Network hosted in the US. The Global Internet Freedom Consortium has
also offered a free software package at its website,
www.internetfreedom.org, that will enable Beijing reporters and
tourists to have full access to the Internet.
The free software can be downloaded onto a hard drive or USB stick. All traffic
passing through the software is encrypted and can bypass Internet filters.
According to the company website, over 1 million users worldwide are already
using GIFC tools to view the Internet beyond the filtered web that their
WebSitePulse have been made available for web developers and media
companies to test if their websites are being smothered by the stifling red
The Beijing Tourism Administration expects the Olympics to attract over half a
million visitors, in addition to the frustrated reporters for the 17-day
duration. Security experts are warning them about possible espionage attempts
and advising them to go "naked" of digital devices such as phones, cameras and
laptops (but not clothing).
The treatment of communications networks are vastly different in China compared
with the West, where they are held for private personal and business contact.
In China, the information belongs to "the people", which actually means the
government, which owns and heavily monitors all communications networks.
Many have expressed concerns about what will happen to all the spy cameras and
intrusive technology once the Games are over. You can bet the government won't
rush to take them down. Along with the beefed-up military security surrounding
the Games there are likely to be a fair few more recruits along China's Great
Thailand has banned sales of the popular Grand Theft Auto IV video game
following the murder of a taxi driver by a teenager trying to re-create a scene
Publishers New Era Interactive Media pulled the title after the 18-year-old
student confessed to driving a cab backwards out of a Bangkok street and
stabbing the driver when he fought back. A Bangkok police captain stated that
the youth "wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as
it was in the game". Evidently it was, but now the young man faces a death
penalty by lethal injection for failing to distinguish the difference between
fantasy and reality.
The violent interactive blockbuster, which has sparked controversy across the
globe for its adult-natured themes, has been given a "mature" rating. Banning
it will only increase demand and may even turn it into a cult as those that
haven't played will want to know what all the hype is about.
The responsibility, in an ideal world, should fall on the parents, gaming cafe
managers and shop vendors to uphold the age limits on adult products, which
this game clearly is. Although we are not talking about a seven-year-old here,
if an 18-year-old does not know the basic differences between right and wrong
there must be something else seriously afoot in the brain regardless of whether
he has played a violent video game or not.
Thailand has a history of restriction and censorship, including blurring out
smoking scenes in movies. When governments start to treat their population like
a huge kindergarten, the people begin behaving like kids.
Marching ever forward, microchip giant Intel ventured into the realm of
graphics processing this week with the revelation of plans for the stand-alone
Larrabee graphics chip.
The product is likely to hit the market in late 2009 or early 2010. The move
will pitch Intel against Nvidia and AMD. Intel onboard graphics cards sporting
multi-core Larrabee processors will be good news for consumers, giving them a
wider choice compared with the current market, which is a two-horse race.
There may be a lot more under the hood on the new chip, according to Intel, but
full technical specifications and product details have yet to be released.
Graphics processing is likely to be merely the start for Intel as it forges
ahead into a more powerful corporate computing era.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.