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UPDATED: December 14, 2009 NO. 50 DECEMBER 17, 2009
No More Mobile Porn
Authorities work to curb cellphone vice that is spreading through Internet-enabled devices

HOT TECH: Internet applications on cellphones are showcased at a fair in Hubei Province's Wuhan City. Authorities are working to stifle the spread of pornographic content using advanced cellphone technology (XINHUA)

China is beginning to develop the country's first cellphone Internet filter software to counter pornographic content spreading rampantly through cellphone websites, a high-level Chinese information engineer has revealed.

The software will be developed by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), telecommunications carriers and other technology companies, said chief engineer Su Jinsheng of MIIT, the regulator of telecom, Internet and information-technology development.

There is already all kinds of anti-virus and anti-porn software to filter illegal content on computers. In the Internet-on-cellphone environment, there is anti-virus software but no anti-porn tools to be found, according to experts.

The decision to develop a green cell-phone environment was made as part of a nationwide campaign to crack down on cellphone porn that has been ongoing since late November.

There are many children among the nearly 650 million cellphone users in China. More than 50 million primary and high school students use cellphones and almost all have SIM cards that can access the Internet. It is extremely difficult to censor young users' access to harmful content.

"It's much easier to access porn on a cellphone or through a mobile device. It is also hard to detect when others are using their phones for porn," a Beijing high school student told Beijing Review.

Minors can be tempted easily and consume harmful content like porn, violence and religious cults, said Tang Hongxin, a veteran criminal lawyer based in Beijing. He said the result from having no restrictions on Internet services to minors with cellphones could be unexpected and negative.

Break the chain

According to MIIT, the key to curbing cellphone porn is to break the chain, including direct pornographic wireless application protocol (WAP) sites, telecom carriers, online advertising agencies and third-party payment providers.

Some big telecom operators including China Mobile, the country's largest wireless carrier, are being blamed for spreading pornography via the Internet on phones. Online sites accessible only through mobile phones are becoming a popular new method for distributing porn, since the technology makes it harder for the government to track and shut them down.

On some WAP sites there are connections to China Mobile services, such as those that allow users to download video or games onto their phones. The more popular porn websites are, the more profits they will bring to China Mobile.

Wireless carriers are the major beneficiaries of pornographic sites, China's Xinhua News Agency reported, citing officials from the Ministry of Public Security. These telecom operators charge subscribers for wireless access to the Internet. The companies also take a cut of the fees for extra items such as pictures and video clips.

"Profits are the biggest incentive for cellphone websites to carry porn," said Shi Xiansheng, assistant to the secretary general of the Internet Society of China.

News coverage of the pornographic WAP sites has yielded some results. China Mobile has blocked access to certain sites and stopped doing business with companies that were exposed by media reports. China Telecom, another giant wireless operator, also pledged to work with the government to clean up porn services. The company said in a statement that it has taken multiple measures to assist the government to close down 130,000 unregistered sites, rectified and reformed 362 sites and terminated services with 226 others.

The nationwide campaign to block cellphone porn showed no mercy on either illegal content or providers and is currently upgrading its tools to catch up with sly porn business operators.

The majority of skin-peddling WAP sites have deployed technological tools to block visits from the Internet or they have forged two different Web pages to slip past Internet monitoring. Some operators have even transferred their wireless servers to foreign countries.

Authorities have also been using other countermeasures. In Guangdong Province, the local branch of China Mobile and the area's security department have developed a WAP illegal information monitoring system to patrol the cellphone Internet environment around the clock. So far the system has detected more than 800 porn-related WAP sites.

Government departments are calling to work together to develop a long-term and effective system to enhance the daily surveillance of wireless operators, online advertising agencies, cellphone Internet search engines and others.

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