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Search engines turn into collaborators of pornography

(People's Daily Online)

08:23, August 07, 2012

A photo of Sogou search engine.

Search engines provide hotbeds for Internet pornography to grow

On July 17, CCTV Live News program broadcast a piece of news “Internet pornography revives once again and search engines turn into collaborators,” exposing the situation that some search engines, including Baidu and Yahoo, are incompetent in filtering out pornographic links or even deliberately including them. After the exposure, Baidu cleared up its links of problematic websites timely, but Yahoo did not respond. By Aug. 2, the two search engines had both filtered out their improper links, but links of pornographic websites could still be found in other search engines, such as the Sogou and Soso. According the program, the search engine Bing ranks first in spreading pornographic links.

There had been many news reports of search engines hosting links to pornographic content long before the broadcast of the July 17 CCTV news. In 2009 alone, China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center publicly criticized Google China three times for providing a large number of links to vulgar and pornographic content. Two questions arise from frequent reports of such incidents: Why are search engines always turning a blind eye to porn links? Why does Internet pornography remain rampant despite repeated government crackdowns?

Almost all of China’s Internet clean-up campaigns have been directed at pornographic websites since the widespread introduction of the Internet in the country in 1995. Search engines have been criticized during almost every such campaign. A survey conducted in August 2008 found that of more than 10 million visitors to the pornographic site “Lilacs Community,” nearly 9 million, or nearly 90 percent of the total, visited the site via various search engines. In addition to providing direct links to porn sites, many search engines have been walking a fine line on pornography. For instance, when one enters the Chinese characters of “niuniu” into Sousou’s search box, the search engine will provide an indirect link to the pornographic site “Niuniu Forums” on the right side of the Web page. After clicking on the indirect link, the searcher will find a direct link to the site.

Search engines normally sort search results according to the frequency of keywords. Porn sites that have a large number of visitors tend to be ranked high in search results, making search engines their best promotional tool. In fact, all search engines are technologically able to block porn sites, but just choose not to for their own benefits. Advertisers favor highly trafficked websites and search engines. Adult sites with huge traffic could mean handsome profits for search engines as these sites are often willing to pay heavily for a higher search engine ranking. Industry insiders revealed that major porn sites could even pay a popular search engine 20 percent to 30 percent of their revenue to gain a good position on the search engine, forming a “win-win” business model.

Search engines play a role in adding fuel to the flames, which brought difficulty to the Internet censorship. According to sources, the search engines often treat the pornographic sites with two ways, immediately shielding the keywords and filtering porn links once encountering censorship and public opinion pressure but conniving to them once the censorship blows over. Such behavior is difficult to form a strong blow to cyber pornography.

In order to get rid of control, a lot of pornographic sites transferred their servers to foreign websites and so China's relevant laws are difficult to restrict them. Once being shielded, these sites will come back online by changing the IP address. Such diversionary tactics also are a major obstacle on completely eradicating the porn links.

The existing laws and regulations have no ways to punish these search engine service providers, the accomplice of pornographic sites

Since the Internet was launched in China in 1995, cyber pornography has been targeted by the crackdown campaigns and the search engine service providers will be blamed for containing porn links almost every time. The profits urged the search engine service providers to collect the porn links and the lack of legislation also provided an opportunity to them.

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