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Google's Brin admits he under-estimated Chinese censorship

They've managed to put genie back in the bottle

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Google co-founder Sergey Brin has admitted he was wrong to question China’s long-term ability to restrict the free flow of information online, as the Communist Party’s crack down on internet rumours following suggestions of a failed coup continues.

Speaking to The Guardian, the billionaire said he didn’t believe five years ago that a country like China could effectively restrict internet freedoms for long, but added that he has now been proven wrong.

“I am more worried than I have been in the past. It's scary," he reportedly said.

"I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle.”

While Google still has a presence in China and has been adding to its team of engineers in the country, it has remained critical of the government’s hardline stance on web censorship ever since its high profile decision to relocate its search business to Hong Kong in early 2010.

As if to validate Brin’s words, Hu Jintao’s government has continued with a vengeance its unprecedented online crack down designed to quell any potential social disorder, or even worse, political protest, ahead of the Party’s leadership handover next year.

State Internet Information Office figures released at the tail end of last week revealed that some 210,000 posts have now been removed from the country’s popular weibos, or microblogs such as Sina Weibo, and 42 sites shut down as part of efforts to stamp out online “rumours” which spread last month of a failed coup.

The rumours centred around deposed Politburo member Bo Xilai as well as his wife’s alleged complicity in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

However, Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, who is under 24-hour surveillance at his Beijing home, was more optimistic of the future for the country's netizens.

Writing in The Guardian, he argued that the internet is fundamentally "uncontrollable" and likened China's web censorship to building a dam without any way to release the water pressure.

"It still hasn't come to the moment that it will collapse. That makes a lot of other states admire its technology and methods," he added.

"But in the long run, its leaders must understand it's not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can't live with the consequences of that." ®

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