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Software companies have denied reports of a government ban on Web browsers that allow users to cut ahead of others when buying train tickets online.
Popular software providers Beijing Kingsoft Software and Qihoo 360 both had the controversial programs available for download on Sunday.
The browsers have add-ons designed to help people buy seats at 12306.cn, the Railways Ministry`s official ticketing website, and have been popular before the Spring Festival travel rush.
However, critics say the software gives some people an unfair advantage, while media reports suggested officials were considering a ban.
Jin Lei, a marketing manager at Beijing Kingsoft Software, which makes the Liebao browser, said on Sunday that business was continuing as normal.
He confirmed that company representatives had met with ministry officials, but declined to disclose more details. "The issue is still under discussion," he said.
A spokesman for Qihoo 360, who gave her name only as Zhao, also dismissed talk of a ban. She said the company had received a notice on Friday night from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology urging software developers to ensure the security of 12306.cn and to not do anything that may cause a system crash.
However, according to a female receptionist at 12306.cn headquarters on Sunday, customers are being advised not to use such browsers or plug-ins due to privacy and security concerns.
"The Liebao browser and the plug-ins are totally safe," said Jin at Kingsoft. "We only help customers search for ticket information, which will not affect the servers of 12306."
He added that users merely get an optimized search result.
Zhang Peng, a Beijing business consultant, bought a ticket to Jinan, using the Qihoo 360 browser on Friday.
"I thought it was ‘game over’ when the software told me there were only a dozen tickets left, and about 200 people in the line ahead of me," she said. "But just several seconds later, the magic happened.
"The software helped me jump ahead of the others and I got a ticket."
She endorsed the software。
"It makes up for drawbacks in the official ticket website, improving the things the official site should have done, but somehow did not," Zhang said. "For example, the browser automatically tells you how many people are waiting ahead of you when you click on a train number, so you can decide whether to change to another train or wait."
Beijing lawyer Xiao Wenbin said while the software is unfair, it may not be against the law.
The majority of migrant workers, who make up a large number of rail passengers during Spring Festival, are not familiar with the Internet and may not even know how to use such software, he said.
"Trains are part of the public transportation system and should give equal opportunity to each citizen, no matter if they can use the Internet or not," Xiao said.
Li Shikai, 25, a graduate student in environmental science at Shanghai Ocean University, plans to travel home to Kaili, in Guizhou province, for Chinese New Year in February.
On Saturday, he tried to buy the ticket for his trip returning home on Feb 8 but failed after numerous attempts. On Sunday, with the help of a special browser, it took just two minutes to get a sleeper ticket.
"The software really works, but for those who cannot use the Internet, that`s a problem," Li said. "The ministry should keep a balanced ratio between the tickets sold online and those sold in ticketing office to ensure fairness."