US Internet company GoDaddy announced during a US congressional hearing yesterday that it will stop selling websites with Chinese domain names (those ending in the .cn suffix) because of the radical controls being demanded by the Chinese authorities.
“We welcome the fact that another US company is following the example set by Google and is resisting the demands of the Chinese censors,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We now call on Microsoft and Yahoo! to be courageous and follow their example. This decision shows that the situation has become untenable for Internet companies. Censorship and Big Brother controls do not favour business activity.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The World Trade Organisation should take a close look at this subject. China cannot continue to benefit from international trade relations without accepting the accompanying obligations, which include access to freely reported news and information, a requirement for evaluating and monitoring investments.”
GoDaddy chief legal counsel Christine Jones told yesterday’s congressional hearing: “We decided we didn’t want to become an agent of the Chinese government.” The company will continue to administer the 27,000 .cn domain name websites it has already sold.
Jones said the demands being made by the Chinese authorities to allocate .cn domain names had increased significantly since the end of 2009. Individuals and companies wanting a website must now personally provide the authorities with copies of photo IDs and business licences as well as fill out and sign forms. The authorities are insisting that all of GoDaddy’s existing clients also comply with the rules.
Jones told the hearing that only 20 per cent of GoDaddy’s clients had provided the requested documents and that, as a result, thousands of websites could be shut down by the Chinese authorities. “We are concerned about the security of the individuals affected by [the] new requirements,” Jones said. “Not only that, but we are concerned about the chilling effects we believe the requirements could have on new domain name registrations.”
GoDaddy also revealed that it has been the target of dozens of cyber-attacks since the start of the year and blamed the Chinese authorities: “We believe that many of the current abuses of the Internet originating in China are due to a lack of enforcement against criminal activities by the Chinese government.”
GoDaddy’s announcement came just two days after Google, chafing at Chinese censorship and cyber-attacks, announced that it was ceasing to censor the Chinese version of its search engine, Google.cn. Its users are now being automatically redirected to Google’s Hong Kong-based search engine, Google.com.hk, which gives results in simplified Chinese characters that have not been censored by Google.
However, it seems that the Great Firewall of China is being applied to Google.com.hk and that its filters are for the time being intermittently preventing users from seeing information that the regime regards as sensitive.
Democratic senator Byron Dorgan, the head of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, which examines human rights, complimented Google and GoDaddy. Republican representative Chris Smith said GoDaddy’s decision was a “powerful sign that American IT companies want to do the right thing in repressive countries.” But he accused Microsoft – which is censoring the results of the Chinese version of its Bing search engine and has said it will not withdraw from China – of “enabling tyranny.”
Smith is the author of a bill called the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), which aims to prevent US companies from being forced to cooperate with online censors in countries that restrict Internet access. Reporters Without Borders supports the GOFA, which needs more than ever to be adopted.
Google, the Computer and Communication Industry Association (CCIA) and several US congressmen yesterday urged the US administration to be more energetic in its efforts to combat Chinese censorship from both the commercial and human rights viewpoints.