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China expands porn sting by shutting P2P video sites

China's latest moves against porn range from online games to mobile phones to Google

By Owen Fletcher, IDG News Service
December 10, 2009 03:21 AM ET

IDG News Service - Chinese regulators have taken a wide-ranging war against online porn one step further by closing a series of popular BitTorrent and other video-sharing Web sites in recent days.

BTChina, a BitTorrent site whose closure has caused a media uproar, has emptied its Web site except for a message saying the country's broadcasting regulator shut it down for lacking a license to offer online videos. VeryCD, another popular service that says it is based on the eMule file-sharing program, appeared to become the latest casualty of the clampdown when it went offline Wednesday afternoon, though it posted a statement blaming the outage on server problems and saying service might resume the next day. China's broadcasting regulator has now shut down hundreds of video Web sites in its campaign, according to local media.

The move against video-sharing sites comes as efforts grow to stamp out porn elsewhere too. Regulators have cranked up their work to eradicate porn accessed by mobile phone and called for more control of vulgar content in online PC games. Last week state media also criticized Google and local rival Baidu over pornographic search results, following a row between authorities and Google earlier this year that peaked when Google services including Google.com were briefly blocked in the country.

The mobile porn crackdown especially reflects the extent of the latest government campaign against porn since it has harmed revenues not just for smaller companies, which may normally face less scrutiny, but also for highly visible companies listed on stock markets overseas, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting in Beijing.

China this year has already closed thousands of Web sites and arrested dozens over online porn. Authorities call the content harmful to children and appear to see porn as a scourge on traditional culture.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV last week criticized Google for pornographic search results that could be accessed in the country simply by visiting Google.com rather than Google.cn, the Chinese version of the search engine. The news program also slammed Chinese search engine Baidu for allowing pornographic links to appear in searches for seemingly neutral terms such as "adult."

Both Baidu and Google say they filter certain results from searches to comply with local laws. Google declined to comment on the CCTV report. A Baidu representative said in an e-mail that the company had immediately erased the search results from its database after being notified of them. The company also made improvements to its internal monitoring system for problematic search results, the representative said.

China's porn clampdown has also hit online games. Culture ministry authorities who have criticized violence and erotic content in online games have also called in recent days for a rating system to control access to games based on user age, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.

Mobile porn has also become a major focus for regulators, who have said they are designing content-filtering technology to help network operators block obscene content. One result of the clampdown has been a blanket suspension of third-party wireless Application Protocol (WAP) billing services by China's three big operators, meant to prevent the sale of mobile porn. But the move has also blocked users from buying other services via WAP, and that has affected listed companies that usually cooperate more closely with regulators, such as mobile media provider KongZhong, said Natkin of Marbridge.

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