China's Internet firms vow to tighten regulation of Web

Representatives of 39 Chinese companies attended the government-sponsored meeting on Internet development

China's top IT firms have pledged to step up the regulation of their services as government authorities have intensified calls to control the development of the nation's Internet.

Representatives from 39 companies made the pledge during a government sponsored meeting last week, stating that "Internet companies must strengthen their self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline," according to a report from state-run press agency Xinhua.

Attendees included the CEO of China's largest search engine Baidu, the heads of Chinese firms operating social networking sites, and executives from the country's three mobile carriers.

The public declaration comes as the nation's authorities have tightened control of China's online social media sites, going as far to detain Internet users who have allegedly fabricated rumors. Authorities have said they want to promote the "healthy development" of the Internet in fighting such rumors. But experts have said Chinese officials are in fact worried that the nation's Twitter-like social networking sites are becoming platforms to criticize the government.

Chinese companies are already required to abide by the country's strict censorship laws, which block content and websites deemed politically sensitive or anti-government. Foreign sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are currently blocked.

During last week's meeting, China's top IT firms also agreed to crackdown on Internet rumors, online pornography and scams. The head of China's IT authority, the State Internet Information Office, said the companies must also take the lead in enhancing the credibility of online media companies while also strengthening their management.

Chinese IT firms that attended the meeting, including Baidu, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, and social networking services provider Tencent, did not respond when asked to comment on the meeting.

Authorities are making the calls for better monitoring of the Internet as China's leadership is preparing to change hands in 2012, noted Mark Natkin, the managing director for Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting. Next year China's President Hu Jintao is expected to begin formally handing over power to his successor Xi Jinping.

"As with any other particularly important event, authorities want to make sure that the sort of information dialogues being conducted on the Internet are as healthy as possible," Natkin said.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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