China: more than 100 million internet users

While the number of internet users swells, state censorship is also quick to react thanks to new technology

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China could replace the US as the "country of internauts". It has just passed the threshold of 100 million users, not such an astronomical figure considering China has a population of more than 1 billion, 300 million. In a country of big investments, considered the Mecca of "new business", everything must anyhow be "approved by the State". Wary of the vast freedom the internet gives to nonconformist voices, like religious ones, the regime controls the internet regularly. If previously Microsoft had denounced widespread use of pirated Windows XP packages, now it is fast recovering lost ground thanks in part to the Beijing's government's acquisition of new technology to control web access. Microsoft has been available on the Chinese market for years and a little more than a year ago, the company signed an agreement with the Chinese Ministry of Computer Industry to extend the Windows platform, which can block connection to sites considered "dangerous". Even research engines have systems to filter access to key words like Tibet and Taiwan.

Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft are only three among the most well known names. In February 2004, Google inaugurated two new versions in a further two Chinese dialects of its sponsoring service AdWords. In November 2003, Yahoo! invested 120 million dollars to buy the portal

According to a study on internet filtering in China, undertaken by the Open New Initiative – a partnership between the Universities of Toronto, Cambridge and Harvard – both Microsoft and other big producers  like Cisco defend themselves against accusations that they are not pressuring governments who use censorship. Their excuse is that they "cannot know what use will be made of technology which is sold". An example is a router model with anti-virus and anti-hacking properties produced by a large company, which could also be used to filter access to selected sites. The country has earned itself the English nickname, "Great Firewall of China".

At least 60 cyber dissidents among most well-known intellectuals are currently imprisoned in China for having published "subversive" material on internet.