April 30, 2004

China's Digital Future Conference

Just started. Webcast there as well. First introductions....

Orville Schell, dean of the JSchool at UCB: Now in China, there is the question, what does it mean to be Chinese? The internet is one of those places where you begin to see the discussion, weblogs, chatrooms, txt messages.

Will China change the internet? This is an old theme in China: use technology from the west but then also reject politics, value, all the things that create revolution and radical change. Can China use what it wants but keep its own identity, keeping out what it finds too foreign? He quoted John Perry Barlow: the global space you are building will naturally be free of the tyrannies you are imposing... and then noted the posting on the internet in China recently with 14 questions for the propaganda department, why they exist, posing the kind of challenge that Barlow would have been proud of.

Annalee Saxenian, our new dean of SIMS: The Politics of Standards. Some people refer to it as the politics of protectionism.... And key for future development in China: applications, content, engineering and design. And the internet.

Panels on Internet Development in China and Regulation and Control of the Internet. Here are some notes from the second panel this afternoon:

Cindy Cohen, EFF: every time there is a new tool, a free speech mechanism, it has to fight for it's survival...
regarding privacy, the record of the internet has been more mixed... on balance. Architecture as policy - Mitch Kapor. That is an important observation, because the architecture will determine people's rights. In China we see the worst story around, where greatly accelerated internet use, 78 million users in China and 4 million broadband users.
Original strategy was filtering content. But the strategies to get around those are easy to implement and widespread. So now the reaction is not so much content filtering, but a distributed system of surveillance, with systems installed on users computers and used by ISPs -- often made by US companies and government who are trying to use those things here. And the US government has started this with Kalia, and forced it onto foreign governments through standards. China has taken the lead on doing voice recognition software for the purposes of surveillance and for doing video with almost instantaneous high speed transfer.

Bill Xia, pres of Dynamic Internet Projects -- and makes technologies that can get around the surveillance systems: He says the biggest challenge in China today is not technology, but the social issues. In China, surveillance occurs during the routing of packets where the to and from are watched. Also, the government claims that they are blocking things like porn sites, but in fact when you look at the blacklists, this is not true. There is severe overblocking of all sorts of things, including sites like 3dweb.com. Fear: truth or illusion? People say they don't worry because they have nothing to hide. But it occupies people's minds. And destroys traditions, as well as changes language: traditional Chinese characters have been filtered out of the culture. He thinks that there are cracks in the Chinese control system, and the fact that there are 500k users in China of his company's system to get around the control (out of 78 million users in China).

John Battelle (moderator) asked if users feel it's dangerous to use the product. And Xia responded no for regular users, but yes for some others, but then got cut off on the next presentation.

Jonathan Zittrain: Gave a chilling effects example where a DMCA C&D letter caused Google to remove a site, where on the supply side, the links then went to the original info at chilling effects. But on the other hand, other sites are deleted entirely from French and German search sites.

On the demand side, if you go to Google.com in China, you are redirected to the University of Beijing search site. Also, some testing of sites showed they were blocked by China, as well as many key word searches like "std" or "revolution." Found a few thousand sites that were blocked, including news sites, UC Courts, British Courts, porn, etc.

Tracking filtering is becoming more difficult, because there are new forms of filtering including the client side stuff. Also, if you do the wrong search, you are blocked from Google for about 20 minutes. Including searches that are not subversive at all. Comparatively, in Saudia Arabia, it's more bark than bite, verses China, which is the opposite.

Opennet Initiative is Zittrain's latest project examining filtering, along with folks from other universities. Examples of filtering they've found: the word "ass" in any domain gets blocked, which ends up filtering the "US Embassy" site. He clearly relishes giving this example, as with the rest of the presentation. He's having a lot of fun here.

He also challenges the NYTimes to get involved, so that when things open up, they have established their brand, since they are now totally blocked in China.

Jie Cheng, associate professor at Tsinghua University Law School: talked about how the filtering standards need to be revised. The social norms are more important than what the normative law. Later at the cocktain party, she talked about how China needs to be better with filtering, so that they don't block so many harmless sites. Obviously she has a hard job, coming here to explain her country's actions and policies to this audience but she and the audience were cordial in explaining questions and positions. It's a difficult position she's in.

Best quote of the day: Tom Vest, Packet Clearing House: "ruling a great nation is like hooking a small fish, a light touch might be best."

Posted by Mary Hodder at April 30, 2004 04:45 PM | TrackBack