China's .cn cleanup shows politics behind Web rules

China’s Web domain agency has hired 600 temporary workers to help it vet all domain names ending in .cn for pornographic content and inaccurate records, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The major project comes after the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) late last year barred individuals from registering .cn domain names. That measure also appeared to be part of a national crackdown on porn, but such campaigns have often caused the censorship of non-pornographic content as well, including sensitive political information.

CNNIC previously announced its cleanup of .cn domains, but the scale of its hiring is a reminder that the center must bow to directives from the country’s authoritarian government. While lax regulation in China has been partly blamed for malicious activity on .cn domains, the government's crackdown has focused on porn more than Web security.

"As with so many cleanups in China, there is a very legitimate crime-fighting and law enforcement side of this," said Rebecca MacKinnon [cq], a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, in an e-mail. "But the flip side is that it also provides a very handy excuse to tighten controls on political and dissenting speech at the same time."

China has over 13.5 million .cn domains, according to CNNIC. The center has already worked with domain service providers to suspend 12,000 pornographic domains in its cleanup, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said this week.

Xinhua praised the results of the multi-level crackdown on porn China has launched in recent months, in which CNNIC has been one part.

CNNIC was ordered to launch its cleanup by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which oversees the center, one of the people familiar with the matter said. The new workers roughly quadruple the center’s employee base to over 800, the person said.

A CNNIC spokeswoman declined to comment.

CNNIC has also blocked all registration of .cn domains overseas since early last month, according to representatives of registrars outside China, including Go Daddy and Lexsynergy. Registrars are companies that offer setup services for domain names, like, so they will lead Internet users to the correct site.

In addition to porn, the new CNNIC workers are also checking for bad information used to register domains, such as false identity numbers or business credentials, so CNNIC can request new information from domain owners where needed, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

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