Beijing blocks Google search results over pornography row

Posted by Aharon Etengoff

San Francisco (CA) - Beijing has blocked an unspecified number of Chinese-language Google search results. According to Xinhua, the results were censored due to allegations of pornographic and "lewd" content.

The government also demanded that Google remove the disputed material and urged the California-based company to: "[follow] laws and regulations, take effective technical and management measures to filter pornographic content from its search results and prevent such information from overseas flowing into China."

Meanwhile, a top-ranking Google China official has reportedly "admitted" that the website disseminated a "huge amount of porn and lewd information." The official - who apologized profusely - promised to promptly "rectify the situation."

It should be noted that China embarked on a major crusade against pornography in January, targeting online portals and major search engines. At least 1,000 web sites have been blocked by the authorities over the few weeks, while over 4,000 web sites were shut down in recent months.  

In addition, a controversial porn-filter known as "Green Dam" is slated to be installed on all computers sold in China beginning on July 1. The government-mandated software has already been downloaded 7.17 million times and loaded onto 2.62 million computers in schools across the country.

However, security researchers at the University of Michigan have identified a number of security vulnerabilities in Green Dam. According to J. Alex Halderman, hackers could theoretically exploit the software to gain control of computers, websites and network infrastructure.

The professor also noted that Green Dam blocked access to pornography as well as politically sensitive phrases, a concern that was echoed by a recent OpenNet report.

"The filtering options include blocking of political and religious content normally associated with the Great Firewall of China, China's sophisticated national-level filtering system. If implemented as proposed, the effect would be to increase the reach of Internet censorship to the edges of the network, adding a new and powerful control mechanism to the existing filtering system," stated the report. "As a policy decision, mandating the installation of a specific software product is both unprecedented and poorly conceived. In this specific instance, the mistake is compounded by requiring the use of a substandard software product that interferes with the performance of personal computers in an unpredictable way, killing browsers and applications without warning while opening up users to numerous serious security vulnerabilities."