China risks reverse censorship--it could be cut off from vital information

China risks reverse censorship--it could be cut off from vital information

Summary: Web site owners could choose to block users from another country to protest foreign government actions.

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TOPICS: Censorship
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Should US companies such as Google acquiesce to the censorship requirements of foreign governments? Dan Farber and colleagues write about Bill Gate's defense of China's actions.

I do know that we all can have a say on this issue, and we can take some powerful actions.

We can publish our opinions in major media outlets and on blogs. Countries tend to monitor global public opinion and are very keenly aware of how their actions are received. And they are surprisingly sensitive to any criticisms.

The second action is one that is potentially more powerful: web site owners could choose to unilaterally block the traffic coming from a country that practices forms of censorship, or forms of government, that the web site owner disagrees with.

It is easy to block access from any region in the world. What would happen if say MIT blocked access to all of its online educational material (which is freely available) from online users in countries with governments that it deemed had unfavorable practices?

What would be the economic cost to a country that is unable to access all of the internet all of the time?

Would the economic cost be large enough to create pressure on governments to moderate inhumane or undemocratic behaviors?

I think it could--that's if we are right about the importance of the internet and the free access to information.

But would it be ethical? Would reverse censorship be just as bad as censorship in any form?

Could it lead to a new type of information-based boycott? Could governments seek to ban other countries from accessing its countries web sites? For example, the US government could mandate that all internet access from Cuba be restricted.

Yes, the internet is porous, yes, information could and would find its way around such blocks. But it wouldn't be easy, and it would reach smaller numbers of users; and leakage of banned information could be patched and re-patched.

I tend to think that the above scenarios will happen--because they can happen. And because information is valuable and it has commercial and social value.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but its current open, sharing nature is a temporary phenomenon.

There are many "choke points" on the internet through which information has to pass through. And at each choke point controls of various kinds can be applied.

The quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities that are coming into use, to prioritize certain data packets, are opportunities for new commercial services and also censorship. In QoS you can peek at a data packet to see if it is a high priority data packet.

For example, a Skype data packet might or might not, be a high priority data packet on some networks. Similarly, data packets coming or going to certain geographic locations could be prioritized or not--or could be blocked completely.

It's a whole new internet that is being formed, and Balkanization and censorship will be two of its less favorable characteristics, imho.

Topic: Censorship

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6 comments
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  • Isn't China already cut off?

    "Should US companies such as Google acquiesce to the censorship requirements of foreign governments?"

    No, they shoudn't, but reverse censorship would do a big disservice to those who may be able to get around the Great Firewall. China's already doing itself economic harm by censoring itself and privately angering citizens. After all, it's not the people we don't like, it's their government we have problems with. If we engaged in reverse censorship, we would only be reinforcing the PRC's policies.
    Tony Agudo
    • What about if Chinese gov institutions

      ...were cut off? And educational institutions? Yes, they could get around it, but it would be a nuisance. I'm not saying we should do such things, but individuals with their own web sites could--and they could also cut off France while they are at it--and anybody else. It's a free country. . .
      foremski
  • Baby Steps

    Everything tends to be evolutionary, except for those times when they are revolutionary. You don't step straight from flying a kite, to space exploration.

    While I don't think that anyone disagrees that China's free speech and human rights needs to change, they won't match those of the developed world tomorrow. For better or for worse, they have embraced some western concepts, and they need to be encouraged to take the baby steps with the others.

    The tit for tat approach does not demonstrate the spirit of human freedom.
    bigpicture
    • I agree

      "The *** for tat approach does not demonstrate the spirit of human freedom."

      That's precisely why I said in my post here:
      (http://www.zdnet.com/5208-11474-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=17218&messageID=340189&start=-45)
      Reverse censorship would be a grave disservice to the Chinese, self-censored or not. Google, MSN, and Yahoo should have denied censorship while making themselves available for those who could get around the Great Firewall. Tom is endorsing a course of action that goes against not just human freedom, but also freedom of information. If your website is to the cause of freedom(however indirect), would you deny certain people access because their govt. doesn't like it? Or would you allow access to help them find the next baby steps?
      Tony Agudo
  • What ? !

    Give it a rest, people. You think that the Internet communication infrastructure will continue to be centralized in(and therefore controlled by) the U.S. alone? Or that the level of addiction to the Internet in China is as high as that in the U.S.?
    Remember: it is your conglomerates rushing west; to prostrate before the Great One (the Chinese Government) for a few Yuan, the little matter of censorship notwithstanding.
    ubwete
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