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Students Complain About Privacy

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A new Internet monitoring system tested in the Shantou University network was not intended to interfere with students' privacy online, university authorities said on Tuesday.

"The testing of the new system was just part of regular network upgrading," a staff with the network center of Shantou University, surnamed Lu, told China Daily.

The new system, sinfor AC, was tested in the university network on July 31, but canceled a day later after strong protests by students.

Rumors among the students were that the system could monitor chatting information, control network flow, block P2P software and filter websites.

But in fact, the new system "only allowed us to see which websites students have visited and users' accounts. We could not see what they are saying on QQ or MSN," Lu said.

But to the students' surprise, they were required to enter passwords every time they opened a new website. And some websites they often visited before could not be opened during the testing period.

The network center is again using the old system because the new one had some defects, such as in calculating network flows.

"We have reported the defects to the system developer. But we have not yet decided whether to use it in the future," he said.

The new system, developed by a Shenzhen-based company, won bids for the university's network system upgrading project.

"But we did not sign contracts with the company. We will wait and see how the new system will be improved in the future," Lu said.

Students launched a strong protest on the university's online forum, saying the new system violated their privacy on the Internet.

"As far as we know, the new system could monitor activities we have on the Internet, like chatting records on QQ or MSN," said Chen Min, a student at the university.

"But to many students, who rely a lot on the Internet, it really disturbed their work that day. The network center should tell us about the system being upgrading before it is tested," Chen said.

The university's testing of the new Internet system came after the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's announcement to delay installation of the controversial Green Dam-Youth Escort filtering software on new computers a month ago.

The ministry said the software is designed to block violent and pornographic content on the Internet to protect minors, but users have repeatedly raised concerns about invasion of privacy.

(China Daily August 5, 2009)

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