China widens "vulgar" online crackdown

BEIJING - China has widened an Internet crackdown on "vulgar" content to target 14 new sites, including Microsoft's MSN, and chided fellow American giant Google for not doing enough to clean up.

China's ruling Communist Party is wary of threats to its grip on information and has conducted numerous censorship efforts targeting pornography, political criticism and web scams, but officials flagged tougher steps this time.

MSN was cited for the large amount of inappropriate images on its film channel and some "selected pictures" in its social messaging section on a list posted on the website of the government-supported China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center (http://ciirc.china.cn).

Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment.

The campaign coincides with efforts to stifle dissent and protest as the economy slows and China enters a year of sensitive anniversaries -- particularly the 20th year since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Websites and especially blogs have become magnets for many of the country's nearly 300 million registered Internet users who seek to read and publish news, views or just raunchy pictures that are off-limits to official media.

But the stability-obsessed government is fighting back with a sophisticated network of controls that can shut off entire websites or just block individual pages within them, and a system to encourage self-censorship by major Internet companies.

A shadowy troop of Internet police also patrols cyberspace, with avatars on many websites offering surfers a direct link to report pornographic, unpatriotic or otherwise offensive content.

The government has not said how many "cybercops" it fields, but China's Xinhua agency reported two years ago that they would monitor all major portals and online forums across the country. Human rights groups say they number in the thousands.


Launched earlier this week, the latest dragnet originally targeted 19 sites, including Google and homegrown market-leading rival Baidu, for undermining public morality,

They had failed to swiftly purge "vulgar" content and ignored warnings from censors, a television report said.

The companies have since apologized and pledged to clean up, and Beijing apparently plans to hold them to their promises.

Late Thursday, it issued a progress update on the set of sites originally targeted. Only three were deemed to have done a "relatively good" job cleaning up and among those which "need to continue the clean up" is Google.

The firm had taken initial steps but still had some vulgar pictures on its "photo search" page, the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center said in a report.

A Google public relations officer in Beijing had no comment on the report, but said the firm abided by Chinese regulations.

Baidu, a homegrown firm which dominates the domestic search market with about two-thirds of the audience, fared even worse and was listed in a group of companies which had made "ineffective" clean up efforts.

"Baidu...has done some cleaning up, but still has a large amount of vulgar content," the report said. The company declined immediate comment.


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