When most people think of the Great Firewall of China, they think of government censors black holing the comments of political dissidents or conversations related to the long list of topics the governing Communist Party finds disruptive to political harmony. But in testimony before Congress, the head of a U.S.-based technology industry group said that the censorship is also taking an economic toll on Western Internet firms, as China steers Chinese consumers away from Western Web based services including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Foursquare and toward domestic competitors.
Ed Black, President and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China that the Chinese government “censors, blocks and discriminates against foreign-based Web services and content.” The net result of the filtering, he said is to “directly or indirectly advantage domestic firms.”
CCIA is a lobbying group that represents computer manufacturers and communications firms. Black was testifying on CHina’s censorship of the Internet. His comments were published online Thursday.
In his comments before the committee, Black described a wide reaching campaign of censorship against Western firms that do business online. At times, the censorship has clear political motives, such as a move to block the geolocation service Foursquare ahead of the June 4, 2010 anniversary of the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 after some Foursquare users announced plans to set their location to the Square in tribute to the protests. In another case, traffic to U.S. search engines was redirected to Chinese search engine Baidu in retaliation for Congressional recognition of the Dalai Lama.
In other cases, the censorship is designed to promote domestic competitors to Western firms, but lacks a clear political motive. For example, Yahoo’s Flickr photo sharing site is blocked in China, even while a domestic alternative, Bababian, has been allowed to thrive by hosting the same kind of content. Google’s Blogger blogging site and WordPress, another Western blog platform, are blocked. Tianya, a mainland competitor is a popular site in China.
Beyond overt censorship, China applies content filtering to Western Internet based services as they pass through China’s tightly controlled Internet egress points, degrading the quality of those services compared with unfiltered domestic alternatives.
CCIA claims the censorship and filtering amount to unfair trade practices and applauded efforts by the U.S. to use the rules of the World Trade Organization to force China to disclose its filtering practices. The group also warned Congress about the dangers of following a similar path, particularly with the introduction in late October of the controversial Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), which Black warned “shares some disturbing similarities with China’s approach to centralized Internet control.”
China’s censorship of firms like Google has attracted occasional press attention. Following exposure of the so-called “Aurora” attacks on Google, that company pulled out of mainland China, while the government aggressively filtered traffic to Google’s Web site. Congressional attention to China has followed a series of reports alleging widespread cyber espionage by the Chinese Government and military against Western governments, defense contractors and other industries.