Building Their Own Clouds: China Introduces People’s Search Engine

One of the stories to watch in 2011 is the continued development of “information sovereignty,” or states pushing to becoming less reliant on Western technologies or products and launching their own.

Two examples from this week. China’s “People’s Daily” newspaper, which is the organ of the Communist Party, is launching the People’s Search Engine, From techblog86: Of course, this being the official search engine, controversial content is left out. Look for the date of the Tian’anmen crackdown in Chinese, for example, and if you’re in China, you’ll get hits – which are not one bit related to the controversial event. If you’re outside China, interestingly enough, you get your connection to cut.

Then there’s news that Iran is going to unveil a national open-source operating system soon: [E]fforts to develop the new project have been accelerated as the existing operating systems in the country are susceptible to becoming infected with malwares and other malicious software programs finding their way into the systems via networks.

In August, Iran announced that it will launch its own national search engine by 2012. According to “The Jerusalem Post,” an Iranian official “referred to the project as a domestic intranet, as opposed to an international Internet.” Vietnam’s government has blocked Facebook since 2009, but last year launched, its own answer to the global social-networking site. It works in the same way: you chat with friends, tag them in photos, but to use you must register with your national identity card.

China is pretty much the gold standard in terms of information sovereignty, with its own hugely popular search engine Baidu and YouKu, the country’s most popular video-sharing site. Last year, the Xinhua News Agency and China Mobile announced plans to build a joint mobile search engine and October saw the launch of Mapworld, China’s own version of Google Earth.

Countries like China don’t like the idea of their citizens’ information living in someone else’s cloud, where it might not be within easy reach. So they’re building their own cloud. They want ready access to their citizens’ data, instead of it being encrypted and inaccessible on some foreign server. (Their domestic businesses also do well when Western tech giants like Google are pushed out of the market.) It’s hard to say, with project’s like Iran’s OS, how much is hubris (having your own OS is a modern equivalent of having a boutique hydroelectric power plant) and how much, in a post-Stuxnet world, is due to reasons of security. I would think more the latter.

It’s also too simplistic to dismiss China wanting to control as much of their citizens’ data as possible as merely authoritarian paranoia. After all, can you imagine the uproar if a Chinese company provided U.S. businesses with the equivalent of Google Docs or if little Baidu Street View cars were mapping every elementary school in America?


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