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High-jumping China's firewall
August 9, 2008, Asia Times
HUA HIN, Thailand - All eyes are on China this month as it prepares for possibly the largest influx of foreign visitors and reporters it has seen. The chances of the government relaxing any of its censorship policies have dwindled as the Olympic Games take center stage. Internet frustration is at a peak as tourists and journalists scramble to get online while the big players in the Internet business attempt to placate the red dragon to make their lives easier.
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are drafting a code of conduct for business operations in China and other countries with restrictive Internet policies. Included in the code are principles for promoting freedom of expression and privacy, implementation guidelines and an accountability framework, according to separate company letters.
The voluntary code would outline the behavior of search engines partly in an attempt to prevent pressure from the Chinese government on them to hand over private and sensitive information on Internet users who are in China for the Games. Both Google and Yahoo have been under fire in recent years for bowing to Chinese web censors and filtering their search results.
Chinese officials have confirmed that the 5,000 or so journalists at the Games will not have the freedom to access the Internet originally promised them. Several websites will remain blocked, including a number of large news blogs, many of which are critical of China's policies. Following talks between Chinese officials and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) some blocks were lifted but many remained when the Olympic Village press center opened this week.
There have even been rumors that some large hotel chains have had to install software to allow the government to monitor the Internet traffic of their guests. It all sounds like something from an overly imaginative spy novel.
Journalists have lodged complaints about slow connection speeds, some claiming that this is intentional, with the aim of discouraging Internet use. In response, enterprising companies are offering unfettered and private access to the Internet from China via their services, namely a downloadable Virtual Private Network hosted in the US. The Global Internet Freedom Consortium has also offered a free software package at its website, www.internetfreedom.org, that will enable Beijing reporters and tourists to have full access to the Internet.
The free software can be downloaded onto a hard drive or USB stick. All traffic passing through the software is encrypted and can bypass Internet filters. According to the company website, over 1 million users worldwide are already using GIFC tools to view the Internet beyond the filtered web that their government provides.
Tools by WebSitePulse have been made available for web developers and media companies to test if their websites are being smothered by the stifling red blanket.
The Beijing Tourism Administration expects the Olympics to attract over half a million visitors, in addition to the frustrated reporters for the 17-day duration. Security experts are warning them about possible espionage attempts and advising them to go "naked" of digital devices such as phones, cameras and laptops (but not clothing).
The treatment of communications networks are vastly different in China compared with the West, where they are held for private personal and business contact. In China, the information belongs to "the people", which actually means the government, which owns and heavily monitors all communications networks.
Many have expressed concerns about what will happen to all the spy cameras and intrusive technology once the Games are over. You can bet the government won't rush to take them down. Along with the beefed-up military security surrounding the Games there are likely to be a fair few more recruits along China's Great Firewall too.
Thailand has banned sales of the popular Grand Theft Auto IV video game following the murder of a taxi driver by a teenager trying to re-create a scene from it.
Publishers New Era Interactive Media pulled the title after the 18-year-old student confessed to driving a cab backwards out of a Bangkok street and stabbing the driver when he fought back. A Bangkok police captain stated that the youth "wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game". Evidently it was, but now the young man faces a death penalty by lethal injection for failing to distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality.
The violent interactive blockbuster, which has sparked controversy across the globe for its adult-natured themes, has been given a "mature" rating. Banning it will only increase demand and may even turn it into a cult as those that haven't played will want to know what all the hype is about.
The responsibility, in an ideal world, should fall on the parents, gaming cafe managers and shop vendors to uphold the age limits on adult products, which this game clearly is. Although we are not talking about a seven-year-old here, if an 18-year-old does not know the basic differences between right and wrong there must be something else seriously afoot in the brain regardless of whether he has played a violent video game or not.
Thailand has a history of restriction and censorship, including blurring out smoking scenes in movies. When governments start to treat their population like a huge kindergarten, the people begin behaving like kids.
Marching ever forward, microchip giant Intel ventured into the realm of graphics processing this week with the revelation of plans for the stand-alone Larrabee graphics chip.
The product is likely to hit the market in late 2009 or early 2010. The move will pitch Intel against Nvidia and AMD. Intel onboard graphics cards sporting multi-core Larrabee processors will be good news for consumers, giving them a wider choice compared with the current market, which is a two-horse race.
There may be a lot more under the hood on the new chip, according to Intel, but full technical specifications and product details have yet to be released. Graphics processing is likely to be merely the start for Intel as it forges ahead into a more powerful corporate computing era.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.