The crack down on Internet sites — including this time search engines Baidu and Google — in the name of stamping out pornography has some new software at is service. But these new tools are intended to help authorities “to spot risks of subversion much earlier and root it out more efficiently,” according to an FT report quoting Beijing TRS Information Technology, China’s leading provider of search technology and text mining solutions.
He Zhaohui, marketing manager at TRS, told the FT that his company is now increasingly selling text-mining software that lets censors monitor and forecast public opinion rather than take down dangerous talk after it happened. Speaking more frankly than is probably prudent for someone selling surveillance software (one market niche he identified was for government departments that wanted to spy on others), He touted the software as making censors much more efficient, productive and analytical in their surveillance.
He claimed that such technology could have prevented the Shanxi brick kiln slavery scandal causing the damage it did to the country’s image. It was internet postings by parents searching for their kidnapped children that first led to the discovery that hundreds of children had been sold into slavery at illegal brick kilns. The software could have picked up on that early.
No doubt it could have been applied to the postings on the kidneystonebabies web site set up by the parents of children afflicted by the melamine-tainted infant formula scandal. The site has become a focal point for parents unhappy with the compensation they are being offered. Its founders were briefly detained late last week.
Software, of course, has no moral compass of its own. Dissidence among desperate parents is much the same to it as dissidence among students, democratic-minded intellectuals and human rights activists.