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China cuffs 905 suspects in online black market purge

8,000 emporiums eradicated

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The Chinese authorities have gone on yet another web crackdown, shutting close to 8,000 websites, although this time the target appears to have been genuine criminal ventures rather than sites spouting politically incorrect sentiments or peddling smut.

State-run news agency Xinhua reported that 7,846 sites were axed by the Ministry of Public Security after being involved in “illegal commercial activity”. A further 1m+ posts were deleted and over 1,000 websites were reprimanded as part of the campaign against online black markets.

A whopping 905 suspects were nabbed and a grand total of 53 criminal gangs were effectively eliminated, the report continued. Not bad for a day’s work.

The crackdown was actually the culmination of a three-month operation, with popular sites including online forum Tianya, web portal Sohu and online community site Baidu Tieba all implicated, according to Penn Olson.

Such sites have become increasingly popular among cyber-criminals looking for ways to anonymously buy and sell black market goods - everything from weapons and explosives to phone tapping devices and illegally obtained personal information.

The trio weren’t shut down, but given a warning and told to monitor the content on their pages more closely in future, the report explained.

However, one never knows when it comes to official statements from the Chinese government or one of its propaganda-peddling news wires as to whether such operations are genuinely launched to clamp down on cybercrime or if there is an ulterior motive.

Penn Olson reports that the police were also looking for “illegal harmful information that seriously harms the stability of society”, which to all intents and purposes means information that would be otherwise be censored in the People’s Republic.

The Chinese authorities always lump the euphemistically described “harmful content” in with things like online fraud and pornography when they go on their periodic web-purging missions.

The reign of president Hu Jintao has ramped up online censorship in the country with a renewed vigour. Close to half of all Chinese websites were shut down in 2010, for example, according to a study by a leading think tank.

Meanwhile, last November, the government forced 40 of China’s biggest tech firms to practise greater self-censorship, partly in a bid to quell the growing noise coming from micro-blogging and social media sites like the hugely popular Sina Weibo.

The companies themselves, of course, have little choice but to comply. ®

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