Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Myanmar search engine competiton is probably a trap

Burma (Myanmar) launches a search engine contest. Pandia suspects it is a ploy designed to develop censorship technology.

According to Alt Search Engines The Myanmar Computer Professional Association (MCPA) has invited individuals and groups to compete for the MCPA Challenge Winner 2009 under the title of the Myanmar Search Engine Contest.

The Alt Search Engine article looks like a rewrite of a press release, and is fetched from It says:

“The research-based contest is held with the aim of encouraging the development of the country’s information and communication technology (ICT), expanding the use of the yanmar language in ICT sector and enhancing the youth’s interest in the creation and ICT research.”

The contestants are given six months’ time to prepare for the research and the best contributor will be awarded 3,000 U.S. dollars in cash. That’s a lot of money in a poor country like Burma.

This must be a ploy blessed by the Burmese military dictatorship.

Censorship in Burma

The Economist reports that in Burma (AKA Myanmar) access to the internet is so tightly controlled that the few people who are allowed to go online, mostly government officials, are easy to monitor.

The government restricts Internet access through software-based censorship, including software provided by U.S. company Fortinet.

There are apparently internet cafes that try to get around the government’s proxy servers, but they are having a hard time doing it. The government recently took over the second ISP of Burma, apparently for political reasons.

For the rest access to the web is banned. To enforce this, the country’s military regime imposes jail terms of up to 15 years for unauthorized use of a modem.

What do they want?

Such a competition could not have been launched without the blessing of the regime. The regime is not interested in developing an Internet infrastructure that gives people full access to the Internet. This means that the competition has been launched to help the regime control the use of digital technology.

As far as we can see, there may be two options:

One could be to smoke out young Burmese with computer skills. If you identify them, you can stop them from developing technology that threatens the regime.

We know of activists that have managed to get around the walls of the censors. The opposition often use proxy servers and special software to get access to information.

Another one could be to get the winners of the competition to serve the regime by developing a search engine that can be used to block any kind of unwanted information.

It seems like the competition is open for non-Burmese as well, which means that they could hope to enlist politically naive computer experts in their fight against democracy.

There is only one possible conclusion in our mind: a total boycott of this competition.

No comments:

Post a Comment