Wikimedia administrators have been hotly debating the hosting of pornographic content on Wikimedia Commons for some time. Until now Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has remained silent on the matter, but in a new post on his user talk page he makes his position clear. "Wikimedia Commons admins who wish to remove from the project all images that are of little or no educational value but which appeal solely to prurient interests have my full support," Wales wrote.
There has been no official word from the Wikimedia Foundation, which has control over the Wikipedia project, but now that Wales has made his position known the outcome seems assured. Wales also restarted the Commons: Sexual Content page, which tracks inappropriate content on the site.
Wales did attempt to assuage fears of a wholesale removal of legitimate content later in his post saying, "We should keep educational images about sexuality - mere nudity is not pornography - but as with all our projects, editorial quality judgements must be made and will be made - appropriately and in good taste." So should the Wikimedia Foundation be removing legal pornographic content from the site?
In a blog post this morning, Google made note of a startling fact regarding censorship. By The Big G's count, out of the 100 countries they offer services in, 25 are blocking at least some part of those services. Google calls the problem of net censorship a "growing problem" and references the Open Net initiative's list of countries that censor online content.
According to Google, the increase in censorship is due to the unprecedented number of people meeting to share ideas online. This means the traditional methods of controlling a few print and television sources no longer work. The example of YouTube is used - the video sharing site sees 24 hours of new content every minute. As a result governments simply clamp down on the internet, blocking large sections of the internet that may contain content they do not approve of.
By way of examples, Google singles out China and Vietnam for political censorship. But Google points out that it complies with democratically elected governments that have specific restrictions - like a ban on pro-Nazi material in Germany and France. But Google sums it's position up as such, " We are driven by a belief that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual."
Do you take Google at its word, or is this just business?
Last week, when Google effectively stopped censoring its search results in China by redirecting all Chinese visitors to its uncensored Hong Kong site, it also set up a page to update users on the status of its services in China. The page was last updated yesterday to reflect the current status of its mobile services. Their status has changed from normal to “Partially Blocked.”
It marks the first time the status of any Google service has changed since Google started maintaining the page. While it may appear to be an open-and-shut case in most eyes, Google is not willing to jump the gun and blame the Chinese authorities. Google told the Los Angeles Times that it is too early for it to pin down the exact reason for the unavailability of its mobile services in China.
It admitted that the status of its services does fluctuate and outages are not uncommon. It could also be the handiwork of obsequious telecom carriers trying their best to appear on the same page as the government.
The Starting yesterday, Google shut off their Google.cn domain, and redirected the traffic to the uncensored Hong Kong version of the search engine. Now Chinese users are unable to view uncensored search results on the Hong Kong site due to government filters. This is probably not the last move China will make to punish Google.
China’s biggest telecom, China Mobile, is expected to cancel an agreement with Google to provide their homepage search. Many have said this is due to direct government pressure. China’s second largest cell carrier, China Unicom, has also delayed to launch of a smartphone based on Google’s Android operating system. It is also looking grim for Google’s Chinese sales presence, which could come under government pressure to shut down.
We probably haven’t seen the end of this saga, but the longer it goes on, the less likely that Google will ever manage to work out a deal with China. Should Google just pull out all together, or is this piecemeal approach best?
We had previously heard that Google may be announcing an exit from the Chinese market today. As it turns out, they’re taking a slightly different approach. The Google.cn domain now redirects users to the uncensored Hong Kong version of the search engine. Google says they plan to retain most of their operations in China including R&D teams and sales.
The move seems to be a direct challenge to the Chinese government, which could easily block access to Google on mainland China. Google’s David Drummond claims the move is “entirely legal” and went on to say, “We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision.”
Beijing has not yet responded to Google’s action, but the government has become increasingly harsh over the weeks. Some analysts pointed out that Google’s plan could backfire, leaving their sites blocked even in Hong Kong. For now it’s a waiting game for the Big G.
A report by China Business News today indicates that Google may have set a hard date of April 10th to shut down their Chinese operation. CBN also reports that an official announcement may come on March 22nd. Google is still remaining tight lipped on the matter.
The Google/China dispute started in January when Google disclosed that it had been part of a hacking attack from within China. Combined with the state imposed censorship, Google said the market was perhaps more trouble than it was worth. We’ve been hearing reports of ongoing talks, but in recent days more rumors have emerged pointing to a Google exit.
Former Google Asia employee Peter Lui says if Google leaves, they might not be able to get back in. “[Google] burnt bridges and they’ve burnt the Google brand in China,” said Lui. This is all still rumor, but come Monday if there is a Google press conference scheduled, we’ll know we’re on to something.
The Internet is a good thing, unless the Internet is a bad thing. For open societies, the Internet helps to establish and expand social networks, provide a free-flow of information, and engage in new found economic opportunities. For less open societies, these benefits are seen more as a negative than a positive. Says Reporters Without Borders, some 60 countries are having issues with an unfettered Internet, with China and Iran topping that list.
Reporters Without Borders are advocates of an uncensored Internet. According to its report for 2009 activity about twice as many countries are now practicing some form of Internet censorship than in 2008. An expected rouges gallery leads the list: Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. Reporters Without Borders say countries appear on their list because they repress or restrict Internet content, or because they harass or punish people who express themselves online. (China being the worst offender, with 72 people in jail for speaking too freely online.)
Besides the usual suspects, Reporters Without Borders has two democratic countries on a “watch list”: Australia, because of a proposed Internet filtering system, and South Korea, which has been instituting laws that restrict Internet users.
Last week we reported that Google's China talks may soon be coming to a close, and CEO Eric Schmidt even hinted to reporters at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit that "something would be happening soon". Well, if you believe the Financial Times, Google is about 99.9% sure it is going to pull the plug on China. Wired.com attempted to contact a Google spokesman for a comment, however they would neither confirm or deny the report. According to the Times, Google has drawn up a detailed plans for how it will exit the Chinese market, and is poised to execute.
If Google does pull out of China, the action plan is no doubt intended to protect local employees from retaliation by authorities. It is still unknown if they intend to push ahead with their plans to un-filter Google.cn, but Chinese authorities made a very stern and public warning to the company on Friday. "If you don't respect Chinese laws, you are unfriendly and irresponsible, and the consequences will be on you," said China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology, Li Yizhong.
According to the Financial Times Google is exploring every option to keep its Chinese businesses afloat, but is wary of the backlash from authorities which may make this all but impossible. "It's very important to know we are not pulling out of China," Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, told the Financial Times at the time. "We have a good business in China. This is about the censorship rules, not anything else."
Google CEO Eric Schmidt has hinted that the company's negotiations with the Chinese government may be drawing to a close. The parleys began in January after the search engine giant announced it was no longer willing to censor its search results in China.
Eric Schmidt told reporters at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit that “something will happen soon.” However, Google has chosen to remain mum until it concludes negotiations with the Chinese. Schmidt also revealed that the company is working alone on resolving this issue and hasn't “coordinated with the U.S. government except post-facto.”
But the company does want the U.S government to take a strong stand against internet censorship. "Internet censorship is a growing global problem that not only raises important human rights concerns, but also creates significant barriers for U.S. companies doing business abroad," Google's deputy general counsel, Nicole Wong, told a congressional hearing Wednesday.
The telecommunications agency of Iran announced on Wednesday that they have “permanently suspended” the use of Gmail. Iranians can expect a national email service (ironically) to be released soon regarding the ban.
The announcement comes, along with other reported incidents of authorities disrupting or confiscating various forms of telecommunications, including satellite dishes and cell phones. It is thought that these events might be sparked by this week’s anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, during which it is speculated the streets will fill with anti-government protestors. The U.S. State Department criticized the Iranian government for denying its people “access to information, the ability to express themselves freely, network and share ideas.”
While Google has not directly commented on the order to suspend their email service in Iran, in a recent statement Google says, “we strongly believe that people everywhere should have the ability to communicate freely online. Sadly, sometimes it is not within our control.”