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Chinese Internet censors are preventing local programmers from accessing the newest version of the popular Node.js programming framework.
The problem is that the version number — 0.6.4 — corresponds to the date of the June fourth incident of 1989 when the Chinese government cracked down on protesters in Tiananmen Square. Mention of those events and their dates get snagged by filters running in the so-called Great Firewall of China.
Some Chinese programmers trying to locate and download the framework took to Node.js forums to request that the version number be changed. Others suggested workarounds, including use of the term “latest version” as opposed to the version number itself, a tactic that appeared to have worked.
Jason Hoffman, CTO and founder of Joyent, the San Francisco company that developed and open-sourced Node.js, confirmed the issue but said before folks get too self-righteous over Chinese censorship they take a look at what’s occurring in the U.S. with the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act under consideration by Congress.
If passed — a prospect that looks likely — SOPA would require big Internet service providers like Google (s GOOG) to police user-posted content that includes links to other sites. Proponents say the bill will protect owners of copyrighted material — movie studios, record companies, publishers etc. — from piracy. Those parties could file infringement claims and request that the U.S. Department of Justice get the site taken down. But, civil liberty groups as well as most of the big service providers — Facebook, Google, Twitter, Zynga and others — said SOPA could mean Chinese-style censorship.
Given all that, instead of freaking out about a software version number getting caught up in a Chinese date filter, it might behoove Americans to look instead at “how the U.S. government is trying to do the same thing to us right now with legislation,” Hoffman said via email.
“The average person assumes a certain amount of freedom on the Internet that doesn’t always exist and the U.S. is on the same path of having the same filters as China.”