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CHINA: China Disables Some Google Functions

by Edward WongNew York Times
June 19th, 2009

The Chinese government disabled some search functions on the Chinese-language Web site of Google on Friday, saying the site was linking too often to pornographic and vulgar content.

Government officials met with managers of the Chinese operations of Google on Thursday afternoon to warn them that the company would be punished if it did not remove the offending material from the Web site, according to a report on Friday by Xinhua, the state news agency.

Earlier Thursday, a government-supported Internet watchdog group, the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center, criticized the search engine for its erotic content and threatened punishment by the government. It said Google had already been warned twice, in January and April, about its content.

On Friday evening, the associative-word feature of the Web site appeared to have been disabled. That is the function that displays a drop-down menu of words related to a search word that is typed into the search engine. The previous evening, reporters on China Central Television, the state television network, showed how typing in the Chinese word for son, erzi, could pull up associated terms that have lewd connotations.

State news organizations said the ability to use Google’s Chinese site to search overseas Web sites was supposed to have been disabled, but that feature was working Friday evening.

Google released a statement saying it was making greater efforts to clean up its Chinese Web site. “We have been continually working to deal with pornographic content, and material that is harmful to children, on the Web in China,” the statement said.

Recent efforts by the Chinese government to limit access to the Internet have outraged Chinese computer users. The strongest reaction has been to the government’s plan to force computer makers to install Internet censorship software on all computers sold in China after July 1. Critics say the software, called Green Dam-Youth Escort, could be used to censor Web sites with content deemed politically unacceptable, even though the government says its main use will be to block access to pornography.

Computer experts say the software can make a computer vulnerable to hackers. This week, developers said they had found solutions to the problems. But on Friday, J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, said that a patched version of Green Dam had a security problem as serious as the original one.

In a paper posted on the Internet, Mr. Halderman said he and his research team found the new problem in only an hour. In an e-mail message, he said, “It’s probably going to be impossible to make the software safe enough ahead of the July 1 deadline.”



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