Consultancy welcomes authorities' rules against 'electronic heroin'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 12:00am

Research group Gartner has come out strongly in favour of the new regulations governing mainland cyber cafes.

The firm said the authorities intended to control student behaviour, rather than to restrict general public access to the Internet.

'The Internet is considered highly addictive in China, with media and parents referring to it as 'electronic heroin',' Gartner said.

Last week, China's Ministry of Culture, responsible for Internet bars and service providers making money from cyber technology, announced regulations to tighten control over Internet cafes in the country, which were seen as hotbeds of illegal activity.

Under the rules, youngsters under 16 must be accompanied by an adult when they enter an Internet cafe. They can only visit the centres between 8am and 8pm on non-school days and stay online for a maximum of three hours.

The People's Daily reported that government investigators found some Internet cafes offered online games featuring pornography, gambling and violence, while certain unlicensed premises allowed in teenagers without restrictions.

The ministry said it would join other government bodies in developing software to safeguard China's Internet services.

While some observers criticise the regulations as further restricting mainland Internet surfers, Gartner Asia-Pacific research director Dion Wiggins was positive about the measures.

'This is not a measure designed to censor the Internet as many of the other Chinese Internet regulations are. Rather it is designed to promote responsible use of the Internet, by encouraging students to study rather than play games,' Mr Wiggins said.

'[The Government] is still allowing basic access but that access is managed by the parents rather than by the police.

'This will remove students from the computers during daytime and weekday evenings when they should be studying but will not completely prohibit them from using computers.'

Since most of the young people in China do not have access to computers at home, their only opportunity to use the Internet is through schools or cyber cafes. However, Gartner's analysts said the time was not always well spent.

One of the primary activities at cyber cafes was not educational or surfing but playing games. The regulations were designed to curb game-playing, not educational activities, Mr Wiggins said.

Lane Leskela, GartnerG2 Asia-Pacific research director, also said the announcement was primarily about student behaviour.

'Parents in Western countries might similarly welcome this kind of move on behalf of their own family's welfare,' he said.

China Internet Network Information Centre found that more than 67 per cent of Internet users in China were of the junior-college level or below.

The centre said because students in other countries were found to neglect their studies due to computer games and Internet activities, the Chinese Government decided to impose strict control over cyber cafes.

This year, 40,000 police were mobilised and 25,000 cyber cafes shut down. About 72,800 others were ordered to install government-mandated monitoring software.

Another round of crackdowns on computer crimes was launched early this month and would last till October 1.

However, Gartner warned excessive surveillance and control would hinder technological development in the mainland.

'Enforcement in too much of a draconian manner will risk stifling China's needed growth in computer use and associated skills, both of which are required for the country's development into a World Trade Organisation-era economy,' it said.