China blocks AltaVista search engine
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Chinese Internet police have apparently blocked a second search engine, AltaVista, in an effort to eliminate pornography and "unhealthy material" from reaching Chinese citizens online.
The move comes a few days after the Google search engine was blocked, marking an escalation of policy that once applied only to locally-based Internet companies.
Both Google and AltaVista are based in the United States.
A semi-official news service quoting "officials in the know" earlier reported that several search engines will indeed be blocked indefinitely.
The Chinese ministry responsible for Internet policy could not confirm the report.
According to the news service, China would not allow search engines to become "vacuum cleaners" which indiscriminately suck in information without a filter.
It added that Internet users and Internet service providers (ISPs) had demanded measures to eliminate pornography and "unhealthy material" -- a phrase that usually refers to political views not shared by the Communist Party.
The report also pointed out that blocking search engines based outside China is the only way to deal with companies not beholden to China's self-censorship rules.
Internet analysts agree that there is an aspect of commercial retribution to the move.
"The challenge for companies such as Google is that they have no entity in China. There's absolutely no leverage that the government has over them except to block them," said Duncan Clark of bda China Limited, an Internet and telecommunications consultancy with offices in Beijing.
On August 1, authorities strengthened censorship by imposing on ISPs what is described as a voluntary pledge to eliminate sensitive content.
Some 300 local companies signed on, including Yahoo!'s China operation. A spokesman for Yahoo!'s corporate headquarters told CNN that Yahoo! considers the new rules to be a continuation of previous policy, and stressed that the company complies with local laws in all the markets where it operates.
Beijing's relationship with the Internet is conflicted. On one hand, it actively promotes Internet use for commerce and has hosted several international conferences with that aim in mind.
On the other hand, the government is deeply uncomfortable with the Internet as a forum for any form of political debate or views which challenge those of the government.
The government is also keenly aware that dissident groups such as the banned Falun Gong sect -- particularly its exiled leadership -- tend to spread messages inside China.
Observers say the latest limit on the Internet may be politically motivated, ahead of a major Communist Party Congress during which a new panel of leaders will emerge.
"In the run-up to the Communist Party Congress later this year, inevitably there is always a period of tightening," Clark said. "It's almost like the weather -- it's seasonal."
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