In war against the internet, China is just a skirmish

In the beginning, there was one internet, born from American research and embraced by academics around the world. It was in English and homogeneous, operating according to Western standards of openness. As the internet grew, it became fragmented and linguistically diversified. It developed borders, across which it now works in different ways. In Spain, for instance, you can share music and movies with virtual impunity; in France, doing that is likely to cost you your Internet connection. In China, meanwhile, it may soon be nearly impossible to use Google. The company, saying the security of its eMail had been breached in a campaign to spy on Chinese dissidents, announced last week that it would stop censoring, its Chinese web site, and might have to withdraw from China. China is not the only country where Google is bumping up against political or cultural opposition to the laissez-faire practices that internet companies prefer. In South Korea last year, Google blocked users of the local version of its YouTube video service from uploading material after the government imposed rules requiring contributors to register with their real names. Ostensibly, the law is intended to curb anonymous abuse that is said to have contributed to suicides, but critics say it stifles political dissent. In Italy, four Google executives have been charged with privacy violations in a case involving a video posted on YouTube showing schoolboys bullying an autistic classmate. Google says a guilty verdict could make it hard for YouTube to continue operating in Italy, because it might mean the site is responsible for its content; currently YouTube relies on users to flag anything potentially inappropriate.

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