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The Great Australian Firewall: Will Google Abandon Australia?

January 17, 2010

It’s difficult to think of two countries more different than Australia and China. In fact, it’s difficult to think of anything the two countries have in common.  It seems, however, they may soon have one shared characteristic to brag about: a controlling internet censorship system that limits free speech and inhibits the free flow of information.

On December 15, 2009 it was announced by the Australian Labor Party that new legislation entitled “Measures to improve safety of the internet for families”, would be introduced to support mandatory internet filtering. These proposed laws on internet censorship are sometimes referred to as the Great Australian Firewall, Rabbit Proof Firewall, Firewall Australia or Great Firewall Reef (sorry Aussies, it just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘Great Firewall’).  If all goes according to plan, the legislation should be implemented in the Autumn of this year aiming to target sites on controversial topics such as euthanasia and racism- along with a host of video games.

Having lived in China for three years, I know all too well how slippery the slope can be. From the beginning to the end of my stay, I saw virtually everything that made the internet what it is gradually get placed behind the Great Firewall: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blogger, WordPress- the list goes on.  Although people in favour of the legislation will claim Australia’s firewall is not as high or as far-reaching as China’s, it raises interesting ethical questions on who should decide what internet content should be blocked and on what grounds. At what p0int does blocking internet content start ‘protecting’ families at the expense of free speech?

Perhaps PM Kevin Rudd has spent too long in China over the years, but I believe western countries cannot preach civil liberties to developing countries when they fail to practice these building blocks of society themselves. Will Google threaten to withdraw from Australia when it begins censoring its internet?  I didn’t think so. Will Amnesty Australia implement a social media campaign of the same scale as its campaign last year against China’s Great Firewall?  I doubt it.

The Great Australian Firewall is just another example of western hypocrisy- and just another reason for China to rightly resent the west.

Sign the petition against internet censorship in Australia here.

And here’s a clever little video that made me smile after my 20 minute rant.

Chinese Whispers

January 15, 2010

Drama, drama, drama. Everyone I know is fascinated by the Google China story. Here are five Google China rumors currently doing the rounds on Twitter. But as we all know, Twitter can be somewhat like Chinese whispers (pardon the pun), so please take these with a pinch of salt.

Tweet 1: All Google staff told Google China will close, State Council to decide punishment for Google tonight. (via @lonsonlo)

Tweet 2: Google (or parts of it) departing China within two months. (from Techweb)

Tweet 3: A Google employee told us their office in China went dark. No emails, calls or contact. (via @percychow)

Tweet 4: Google to help China staff get green cards for three year employment contracts. (from ChinaSMACK)

Tweet 5: Google and China working to salvage carriers’ Android plans. (from iPhonAsia)

Five Opinions on the Google China Announcement

January 15, 2010

As you probably all know, Google made an announcement that it would no longer be willing to censor its searches after discovering the Gmail accounts of human rights dissidents had been breached. Rumours and speculation are, of course, rife over whether there are other reasons as to why Google may be leaving China.

Here are the top 5 views from brainy people on Google China’s announcement:

1. William Moss, Imagethief: China has broken just about every rule in the book for corporate communications in China

Google has taken the China corporate communications playbook, wrapped it in oily rags, doused it in gasoline and dropped a lit match on it….Google has undertaken a bet-the-farm confrontational communications approach in China. They will not have made this decision lightly. Dressed up in the polite language above is what is essentially an ultimatum: Allow us to present uncensored search results to our Chinese users or we’ll walk. The Chinese government is not likely to cave to an ultimatum from a foreign company, no matter how decorously delivered.

2. George Godula, Web2Asia: Leaving a country with a market as big as China’s is global suicide for any company in the long run.

If the company would value ethical standards more than business standards it would have never entered China in the first place and played along to Chinese CENSORSHIP. Period. You cannot do business (by that I mean profit generating business) in China with Western ethical standards. If you deny that you either have no idea about China or are lying to yourself. Period. You either join the dark side of the force or stay out.

3. Jeremy Goldkorn, The Guardian: If Google cannot operate here in accordance with its international standards, it should leave.

The fallout will be interesting. I can’t recall a single case of a major international company with operations in China taking a stand like this. As someone who agreed with Google’s reasoning when it entered China, I also support this move. If it cannot operate here in accordance with its global standards, it should leave.

4. Douglas Rushkoff, The Daily Beast: Google is using the announcement to detract our attention away from the real issue: Google’s cloud computing system is easily hackable.

So it’s not that Google’s cloud computing technology is so easily hackable, it’s that Google’s misguided partnership with a repressive regime is so easily exploitable. My concern—for Google and for us—is that the reason they know it’s the Chinese government behind these attacks is because Google may have inadvertently given them the key.

5. Ethan Zuckermann, Harvard: Four possible explanations on why Google may be retreating from China.

Google decided to stop being evil.

Google retreated from a very tough market.

Google abandoned Chinese users.

Google is about to join the front lines of the anticensorship wars.

The end of Google China?

January 12, 2010

Google announced on Tuesday it may end its operations in China after it discovered that the email accounts of human rights activists had been breached.

A lengthy blog post by David Drummond, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer said that the company is no longer willing to censor search results which may lead to the closing of Google’s China operations.  Mr Drummond accused the Chinese government of ‘further limiting free speech on the web’ through its censorship and strict regulatory controls.

The announcement comes after years of conflict with the Chinese government.

The “Digital Gap”

January 10, 2010

Interesting article in the China Daily this morning discussing how digital and wireless technologies are creating divides between social and economic classes in Hong Kong.

One irony of the Internet age is that while, on the one hand, digital and wireless technologies are clearly bridging gaps, they are also creating or exacerbating them -generational, access and cost gaps, to name key ones, Tiffany Wong reports in this second of a two-part write-up

By no means is this an issue specific to Asia, but the generational gap in countries like China is already vast. Is digital and mobile technology making this gap worse?

Thoughts?

IMDb “Hotbed of Evil Forces”, Chinese Official (satire)

January 9, 2010

IMDb, the film review website, has been blocked in China following allegations from the Ministry of Information that the website is a ‘hotbed of anti-Chinese forces’.

“It has come to our attention that IMDb and various groups funtioning on the site have intentions to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people,” said one official at a press conference earlier this week. “IMDb is used as a tool by celebrities and highly organised separatist groups to propagate information through film reviews that may harm China’s economic and social development”.

The International Celebrities for a Better China Coalition (ICBCC) released a public statement yesterday expressing the upset caused by the blocking of the website in China. “IMDb’s film reviews have long been a primary medium for communicating pressing human rights issues with the Chinese people,” said one reality TV star who chose to remain anonymous. “The blocking of IMDb in mainland China is an enormous upset for all members of the ICBCC.”

The move is seen by many as an attempt by the Chinese government to step up its internet censoring programme drawing criticism from human rights groups.

Top 5: Tweeters in China to Follow

January 8, 2010

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another Follow Friday!  Here’s my top five pick of people in China tweeting about digital and social media:

1. @kaiserkuo  Columnist, rocker and digital icon, Kaiser is one of the stars of China’s digital media industry. 

2. @imagethief  Imagethief is the head of an ‘international PR company’s’ office in China (no points if you can guess which one).  Imagethief has a great insight into the ins and outs of China’s PR industry. His blog is also worth a read too.

3. @thomascrampton Thomas is the Asia-Pacific director of digital influence at Ogilvy. His website is one of the best sources around for information on social media in China.

4. @ajschokora Adam is a digital strategist working for American PR firm Edelman in Shanghai. Adam is also a co-founder of Neocha– a bilingual portal showcasing creative talent and emerging youth culture in China.

5. @Pete_Fraser Pete is a digital strategist at advertising agency Publicis.  He also has a fantastic sense of humour.