China is stepping up its censorship of online conversations, according to reports, with the country's ISPs and internet companies having agreed to increasingly aid surveillance of Chinese citizens.
Reuters reported on Sunday that Sina Corp, Maidu and Alibaba were among companies to have negotiated the agreement with state officials. The firms will "conscientiously safeguard the broadcasting of positive measures online", Reuters quotes state news agency Xinhua as saying.
Internet companies and service providers have agreed to "resolutely curb the spread of rumours online, online pornography, internet fraud and the illegal spread of harmful information on the internet," the report stated, adding that industry and IT minister Miao Wei ordered the firms to invest more in "tracking surveillance".
According to the report, Chinese microblog firms already monitor what their customers are saying, blocking and removing unacceptable comments.
Several US-based companies have also acceded to Beijing's demands, as they have to do so to continue to operate in the enormous Chinese market. Microsoft, for one, has never appeared outwardly squeamish about adhering to the directives of the Chinese authorities.
Google has been the most recalcitrant of the US web giants, having stopped the censorship of its results in 2010. It subsequently made a compromise that kept its Chinese operations going, by directing search queries made in China to Google Hong Kong.
A Wikileaks cable published in September revealed a major reason for Google's willingness from 2006 to 2010 to censor its results in China: the internet in China effectively has one gateway to the outside world.
With the large scale of Chinese service usage, this bottleneck makes hosting services from outside China impractical, so they need to be hosted inside the country. Doing this means abiding by Chinese laws, including those on censorship.
Last week British foreign minister William Hague called for "a future for cyberspace which is not stifled by government control or censorship".
Two months earlier, following the UK riots in the summer, prime minister David Cameron briefly floated the idea of blocking access to social networking services such as Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) in the event of future mass violence.
However, Hague denied accusations of hypocrisy, saying the government had decided blocking was not the way to go, and insisting that "Britain will always be on the side of people aspiring for political and economic freedom, in the Middle East and around the world".