China's bid to control information flowing through the Internet and to its citizens has led to the closure of over 130,000 Internet cafes over a span of six years, according to the country's Ministry of Culture.
Citing a government report from the ministry, a report Friday on tech news site Computerworld revealed the extent of regulations imposed on operators running Internet cafes in China. Officials were particularly stringent with cafes that allowed minors under the age of 18 into its premises, as Web content is perceived to endanger their wellbeing.
While the ministry said in the report that it will continue to promote Internet cafe chains that comply with its regulations, it plans to institute harsher penalties on cafes caught for admitting minors. This clampdown is part of a wider nationwide Web censorship to weed out online pornography.
"Promoting Internet cafechains allows the government to have more control...as [these chains] all adhere to the same standards on service and security," Yu Yi, an analyst with research house Analysys International, said in the Computerworld report.
Despite the heavy policing, Chinese Web users continue to visit these cafes. According to the report, around a third of China's online population surfs the Internet from Internet cafes. The number of Internet cafe users increased by 28 million users from last year to reach 163 million. The country's total Web population stands at 457 million.
Google service blocked, again
One company that has experienced China's censorship efforts at close quarters is Google, and the search giant has now accused the Chinese government of blocking its popular e-mail service Gmail over the past month.
According to a report by the New York Times, Gmail users in China found it difficult to gain access to the mail service, with Google stating it was not a technical issue on its end. The Internet giant released a statement last weekend, saying: "There is no issue on our side; we have checked extensively. This is a government blockage, carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail."
Analysts quoted in the NYT report speculated that the Chinese government might be intentionally disrupting access to Google and other Web services as part of a campaign to tighten Internet controls and censor material.
Google had tussled with Chinese officials last year following a spate of cyberattacks on its Web site, accusing them of instigating the attacks. The Chinese government denied it played any part and subsequently criticized Google for shifting its search engine from China to Hong Kong, where the Chinese government has lesser control.