More options coming, but China's internet millions are kept under watch

The world's largest internet community has been experiencing mixed fortunes this week as China gets word that its biggest search engine is planning on expanding - and the government issues a warning on the dangers of web addiction.

The locally run Baidu search engine now has a 75.5 percent share of the Chinese market - according to a report released by mainland Chinese research firm Analysys International ( http://english.analysys.com.cn) - far outstripping the share held by US-based Google's Chinese operations, which only accounts for 19.6 percent.

And to celebrate the news, Baidu has announced it will expand its social networking services, massively popular in a country that has an estimated 457 million internet users.

Baidu's online video service, Qiyi.com, is one such service set for expansion, and its success since being launched eight months ago is being given as one of the reasons the company last year recorded fourth quarter net income of a record 1.16 billion yuan (128 million euros) - up a massive 171 percent from 12 months prior. Baidu's other popular social networking services include the Post Bar online forum channel and Knows, which is a query-based information service.

And while that's all very well and good in a business sense, the Chinese government has continued to voice its concerns about the actual effects the internet is having on its society.

A Parents' Guardian Project for Minors Playing Online Games will be launched on March 1, according to reports, in an effort to address the problem of the nation's estimated 33 million internet addicts.

Parents are being asked to monitor their children's use of the internet both at home and at any of China's estimated 200,000 internet cafes. Less than two hours per week for online games is the figure being touted.

But the move has its doubters. "How can you expect such a move to eliminate a family conflict," Shanghai University sociologist Gu Jun asked the China Daily newspaper.

MS

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