WASHINGTON—GoDaddy.com, the world's largest Internet domain registration firm, will stop registering new Chinese domain names in response to Beijing's new requirements for personal data from customers, the company announced Wednesday.
"This is the first time a registry has asked us to retroactively obtain additional verification and documentation of individuals who have registered a domain name through our company," GoDaddy General Counsel and Executive Vice President Christine Jones said in a statement to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
"We are concerned for the security of the individuals affected by CNNIC’s new requirements, as well as for the chilling effect we believe the requirements will have on new .CN domain name Registrations," she said.
"For these reasons, we have decided to discontinue offering new .CN domain names at this time. We continue to manage the .CN domain names of our existing customers."
Internet giant Google this week said it will redirect most China-based search functions to Hong Kong, where Chinese censorship rules don't apply.
Google said two months ago that it would quit the mainland market if it were required to continue to submit to censorship following cyberattacks originating in China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said his government would handle the Google case “according to the law” and any repercussions wouldn’t damage Sino-U.S. ties, already strained over a currency dispute and other issues.
Jones said recent cyber-attacks on Google and other U.S. companies "are troubling, but they reflect a situation that The Go Daddy Group has been combating for many years."
She said the Arizona-based company now manages some 40 million domain names globally, and has repelled cyber-attacks in the past that originated in China, as well as other illegal activities interfering with customers' online security.
Jones said GoDaddy's decision had been made amid a general perception that Chinese surveillance and monitoring of its netizens’ Internet activities were on the increase.
GoDaddy's permission from Beijing to register top-level domain names, meaning those that end with .cn, had been regarded as a significant step toward establishing a presence in China.
Initially, Chinese regulations only required that the company collect names, addresses, phone numbers, and an e-mail address for each registrant.
But new regulations announced in December 2009 now require all new registrants of .CN domain names to provide “color headshot photo identification, business identification (including a Chinese business registration number), and physically signed registration forms.
"This information was to be collected by the registrar, and then forwarded to CNNIC for its review prior to the activation of the registration,” Jones told the committee.
"GoDaddy is the first company to publicly follow Google's example in responding to the Chinese government's censorship of the Internet by partially retreating from the Chinese market," Rep. Christopher Smith, a Republican, said in a statement.
"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people."
Smith has sponsored a bill that would prevent U.S. companies from sharing personal user information with "Internet-restricting" countries.
Chinese bloggers and online activists have lashed out at the new requirements, saying they are tantamount to treating potential Web site owners like suspected criminals, and add further limits to online freedom of expression in China.
News often reaches a wider audience than the closely controlled official media via blogs, forum posts, and social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and their Chinese equivalents, before being censored by the authorities soon after posting.
Chinese netizens have slammed a new raft of proposed controls that will further concentrate control of the Internet in the hands of government-approved firms and agencies, saying they take away the right of ordinary citizens to make full use of the Internet.
They are also disgruntled at the increasing failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around the Chinese government’s sophisticated set of blocks and censorship filters, known collectively as the Great Firewall.
Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.