Joining Google, will halt some services in China

From Mercury News

A second prominent Internet company has joined Google in rejecting Chinese surveillance and censorship rules, as Google’s move to stop filtering its Chinese search results draws more attention to Internet freedom in Washington.

Saying it hosts many individual Web sites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, the Go Daddy Group said Wednesday it would stop hosting new sites with “.cn” domain names, rather than comply with government requirements to provide increasingly detailed information about its Chinese customers.

The world’s largest Internet domain name registrar told a congressional panel that its China operations had come under increasingly stringent surveillance rules since December. Chinese authorities demanded in February that Go Daddy, which hosts Web sites tied to Tibet and the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, provide color photographs and signed registration forms for all Chinese owners of its 27,000 .cn domain sites, said Go Daddy general counsel Christine Jones.

Suspending new .cn Web sites “was a decision we made in our own right, based on our experience of having to contact Chinese nationals, collect their personal information and return that information to the government,” Jones told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “We made a decision we didn’t want to act as an agent for the Chinese government.”

Google on Monday followed through on its threat to stop censoring its Chinese search results, redirecting traffic to an unfiltered search site in Hong Kong ā€” the subject of Wednesday’s hearing. Increasingly, some industry advocates are linking Internet freedom and censorship with free trade, saying American Internet companies are purveyors of information, and that interfering with its flow damages their businesses.
Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, urged U.S. officials to follow the lead of the European Union, which passed a resolution in 2008 recognizing Internet censorship as a trade barrier. “There must be a trade remedy when a country blocks access to a U.S. Web site,” Black told the commission.
Google and Go Daddy received glowing praise Wednesday from a number of the senators and House members who compose the China panel, and other Internet or media companies may come under pressure to reject Chinese censorship rules.

Wednesday, some of that pressure fell on Microsoft, which operates its Bing search engine in China among other operations.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, D-New Jersey, singled out Microsoft at the hearing for “enabling tyranny.”

Google co-founder Sergey Brin also took a shot, telling the U.K. newspaper The Guardian about Microsoft’s China stance after Google first announced in January that it would stop censoring search results: “They essentially spoke against freedom of speech and human rights simply in order to contradict Google.”

A Microsoft spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company regularly communicates with the Chinese government to advocate for free expression and transparency.

“At Microsoft we remain committed to advancing free expression through active engagement in over 100 countries, even as we comply with the laws in every country in which we operate. We have done business in China for more than 20 years and we intend to continue our business there,” a company statement said.

Google told the congressional commission that its services ā€” ranging from search to YouTube to its Orkut social network ā€” at times have been filtered or blocked by more than 25 countries in recent years, with YouTube blocked in over a dozen countries, including U.S. allies such as Turkey and Pakistan.

Alan Davidson, Google’s director of U.S. public policy for the Americas, said Google has started to see government filtering of certain keyword searches on the Hong Kong site, something reported by Internet users in China but that Google had not yet acknowledged.

Go Daddy said about 1,200 Chinese existing customers were affected by new retroactive requirements that the Scottsdale, Ariz., company turn over personal data, information owners did not have to provide when they registered.

About 20 percent of those customers agreed to have their information shared with the government. The other 900 customers may well have their Web sites blocked by the government, the company said.

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