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China's model for a censored Internet

Some worry China's controls could be copied elsewhere.

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As China began to go online, observers made brash predictions that the Internet would pry the country open. Cyberspace, the thinking went, would prove too vast and wild for Beijing to keep under its thumb.

Now these early assumptions are being sharply revised. Under an authoritarian government determined to control information, China has grown a new version of the Internet. As former US President Bill Clinton noted recently, China's Internet is very unlike the cauldron of dissenting voices that is the hallmark of the Internet familiar to Americans. Instead, it's heavily filtered, monitored, censored, and most of all, focused on making money.

The success of Beijing's strategy - to harness the network's business potential while minimizing it as a conduit for free speech - has some concerned that it has established a medium and new censoring tools that other countries can adopt.

"The biggest danger is that China creates a very large market and testing ground for surveillance and filtering software," says Danny O'Brien with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

As Chinese Web companies seek to enlarge their markets particularly in developing countries, the question looms about whether they will export their values as well. Chinese tech firms have an eye on emerging markets in Africa, South America, and India. These firms are probably peddling censorship tools, says the free-speech advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

The Paris-based organization releases a new report Thursday filled with tips for bloggers and others to avoid censorship and monitoring. The report available on the group's website, which is blocked here, crowns China the "world champion" of Internet censorship.

"China was one of the first countries to realize it couldn't do without the Internet and so it had to be brought under control," reads the report. "It's one of the few countries that've managed to block all material that criticizes the regime while expanding Internet facilities."

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