Forbidden City in Cyberspace
With the world’s largest population of Internet users, China is reported to pursue a policy of official online monitoring that does not fit into the open global cyber environment.
What is the future of China once it reaches one billion Internet users?
May you live in exciting times” is an ancient Chinese saying; no truer words could be spoken about the country itself which boasts its civilization to be thousands of years old.
Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, China is the world’s second-largest country by land area, its landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from forests, flat lands and mountainous terrain to large deserts.
The very mention of ‘China’ brings to mind images of imperial courts and historical buildings, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China and the Shaolin Temple. Its political history, ranging from kingdoms comprising family dynasties
to red revolutions, the country has had more than its fair share of ups and downs and has indeed survived multiple tests of time.
Today China is rapidly expanding its economic and industrial horizons and boasts a huge population of internet users. A recent estimate shows that the country’s internet population has crossed the half billion mark. The country had 538 million Internet users by mid 2012. It is projected that this number will hit 718 million in 2013.
It is China’s involvement in all kinds of technology-oriented manufacturing that has brought this increase in its internet user population. But surprisingly industrialization and the economic/financial boom are not the only driving factors in China’s onward march in cyber space.
The figures from China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) show that approx 54.9% of its Internet users are male, 57.9% are unmarried, and 51.2% are under 25 years old. The majority of Internet users have at least a college diploma. Among them, 36.7% are students and 25.3% enterprise staff.
The Chinese largely use the internet for entertainment and information gathering. With the net being referred to as the “entertainment superhighway”, the Chinese go to BBS or web forums to download music, videos, and movies and also use the net as a major public forum to freely exchange their ideas. This is further reinforced by trends showing people going online to read the news and to search for information.
Although it is said that the Chinese tend to write fewer e-mails as compared to people in other parts of the world, they do enjoy other Internet communication tools and end up forming their online communities based on different interests. Bulletin boards on portals or chat rooms, instant messaging groups, blogs and microblogs are very active in China; moreover photo-sharing and social networking sites are growing rapidly as well.
The increasing number of Internet users in China has also generated a large online shopping base in the country which some analysts describe as a future online addiction.
It is no surprise that Chinese indulgence in electronic manufacturing, especially for tools that connect to the net (laptops, cell phones and palm computer devices) is seeing a larger demand in the world markets. With a propensity for exploring the online universe, the requirement for online gadgets for both local and international markets is definitely making waves.
One of the most popular topics of discussion with regard to Internet privacy appears to make China its central point of debate. The main concern with privacy of Internet users in China is the lack thereof. China has a well-known policy of censorship when it comes to the spread of information through public media channels. Censorship has been prominent in mainland China since the communist party gained power over 60 years ago. With the development of the Internet, however, privacy became more of a problem for the government which has been accused of actively limiting and editing the information that flows into the country via various media. The Internet poses a particular set of issues for this type of censorship, especially when search engines are involved. Yahoo as well as Google have been quoted to have had encountered some interesting problems after entering China in the mid-2000s.
These problems also lead to warnings of loss of business as well as to a few arrests and have been criticized by foreign entities such as the creators of the Tor anonymity network, which was designed to circumvent network surveillance in many countries.
User privacy in China is not as black and white as in other parts of the world. China, reportedly, has been accused of having a much more invasive policy regarding Internet activity that involves the Chinese government. For this reason, search engines are under constant pressure to conform to Chinese rules and regulations on censorship while still attempting to keep their integrity.
Most search engines operate differently in China than in other countries. There are two types of intrusions that occur: one concerns companies providing users with Internet service and the other concerns the policy the Chinese government.
Companies providing users with Internet service are based on reports that companies, such as Yahoo are using their access to the internet users’ private information to track and monitor their Internet activity. The claims made against the Chinese government say that the government is insistent that the Internet-based companies should track users’ private online data without the user’s knowledge. Both sets of claims are relatively harsh and force foreign Internet service providers to decide if they value the Chinese market over internet privacy, thus presenting them with some tough choices. Dr. Omar Farooq Khan is an ardent believer in Jinnah’s ideologies for a balanced nation-building.