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12/02/2006

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Date Posted: 14:30 10/01/2006



New year fizzles out for China's Internet users

Trendier guest columnist, Running Doggie Dogg, sees his party information dry up


IN SHANGHAI these days most clubbers would hook up with one another via a site called Smartshanghai.com. Those of a more adventurous bent might visit a risque naked chatroom, while business types are just happy if their email functions properly. Still, all these groups have had a disappointing year-end as officials operating China's state owned telecom firms decided to turn off server IP addresses and also installed a new email and Internet monitoring system, which has caused havoc for affected online users.

One small Internet hosting company in Shanghai, with around 500 clients, got a surprise when their server, located in the state telecom company's IDC, stopped functioning. 'It happened at 7pm on Friday night, so there was nothing we could do over the weekend,' the company owner said after his server IP address was stopped.
'Losing your IP address is like having a telephone with no number,' he said.

The interruption of smartshanghai.com, currently the most popular site in the city for party and clubbing information, hit hard during the festive season. The site usually works at its best when users send in up-to-the minute information on which party is busy, or where free drinks are available or where celebrities are hanging out. The site forums, with thousands of registered users, are now offline, which has also led to some paranoid speculation. Some users think that the pornography and strong language on the forums has upset the authorities, while others have suggested that it could have been the recent introduction of Chinese language features. According to official guidelines, a website hosting a forum needs one million dollars in registered capital as well as eight qualified editors.

The state's justification for closing down these sites is that they have not acquired the correct licenses - all websites, even blogs, now need a registration number. This registration allows officials to track down the owner of any site, and makes the owners responsible for all content. This regulation has been widely flouted, and this current shutting down of sites en-masse is the government's response. Servers hosting hundreds of sites are still being shut down because one or two of the sites on the server have not filled out the correct paperwork, even though the majority has registered. No warning is given to the server owners.

Even Intel saw its Chinese domain name being turned off, as the company failed to register the site.

Over 5,000 naked chat rooms have also been shut down in the run-up to the New Year, according to an official announcement. Naked chat rooms are a recent popular phenomenon among Chinese Internet users, but have not met with official approval.

The downfall of these Internet sites are often that they are a victim of their own success- not only does popularity draw the attention of the authorities – competitors also come out of the woodwork and try to close them down. One local media entrepreneur said that his competitor 'engaged the local cultural police' to close his operation down a couple of days before Chinese New Year - 'I had to call in our partners from Beijing to sort things out,' he said.

By closing down sites during the holiday period authorities know that site owners will have little chance to correct the situation at least until after the holiday period is over. With Chinese New Year just around the corner the 'rectification' of the online environment- especially as many students will spend a lot more time online- is becoming something of an annual tradition.


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