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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google Censors Its Results in China

Google now works together with the Chinese government in censoring the web for Chinese users. According to Reuters, Google removes some of the search results available from, Google’s new foray into the Chinese market. Typically, anything connected to such things as the Tiananmen Massacre or Falun Gong is censored in China. And now, the Googleplex engineers deliver further building blocks to this Great Firewall of China, as it’s called, thereby indirectly strengthening the politics of the Chinese government. AP writes:

“To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country’s government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisions on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.”

CNN posts this statement straight from Google:

“In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on, in response to local law, regulation or policy. While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.

As an emerging economic powerhouse, China is developing rapidly, thanks in no small measure to the Internet. We firmly believe, with our culture of innovation, Google can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of development in China.”

Yes, Google argues their decision is the lesser of two evils... yes, China is taking off fast, and Google wants a piece of the huge market... and yes, there won’t be more Google results when Google is banned completely itself. So, Google, if everything is shiny and happy in the Googleplex, please hand over the list of banned words or sites for every country. It’s a gray zone for sure, so we need transparency. Put that list on a public server in the US, where freedom of speech prevails.

And while you’re at it, please, offer every other country in the world – never-mind its economic size or internet market share – an easy way to ban their own things too in Google. Now that you’ve set the moral precedent, that would only be fair, and algorithmically balanced, wouldn’t it? It would prove that you’re not changing your morals depending on the size of a market, and it would allow every dictator, every repressive regime, and every government restricting human rights to work with you. Your market share would be growing even more, and by your argument, you’d be making positive contributions at the same time.

Words banned in China

So, can we test this censorship? I can’t test it from here, as Google force-forwards to (this doesn’t happen when you enter e.g. for Switzerland, and when the automated redirect happens from to, I can at least switch back to It might be Google was sneaky enough to make sure no one outside China sees the censorship. It might also be this redirect happens for another reason. I appreciate if some of the Chinese readers could give me their feedback on what they see at and its search results. Here is a list by Xiao Qiang of censored words which circulated in 2004; whether or not the terms still are or were correct, I can’t tell, but it might be a start (note these might need to be entered as Chinese, not English). Strong language ahead:

Bitch, shit, falun, sex, tianwang, cdjp, av, bignews, boxun, chinaliberal, chinamz, chinesenewsnet, cnd, creaders, dafa, dajiyuan, dfdz, dpp, falu, falundafa, flg, freechina, freedom, freenet, fuck, GCD, gcd, hongzhi, hrichina, huanet, hypermart, incest, jiangdongriji, lihongzhi, making, minghui, minghuinews, nacb, naive, nmis, paper, peacehall, playboy, renminbao, renmingbao, rfa, safeweb, simple, svdc, taip, tibetalk, triangle, triangleboy, UltraSurf, unixbox, ustibet, voa, voachinese, wangce, wstaiji, xinsheng, yuming, zhengjian, zhengjianwang, zhenshanren, zhuanfalun.

Other sources report the list of terms given to net companies who want to work in China are changing depending on current news. (Read: whenever the Chinese government screws up or disrespects the human rights of its citizens, the keyword connected to this even could end up on the blacklist.) The Wikipedia offers a list of banned terms as well.

When I was in China last year, I had to hand over my passport in the internet cafe. My passport number was carefully written down by the operator of the cafe. I assume this was to either actually connect my surfing to my passport number, or to just scare me by pretending this would happen now. Many websites, consequently, I couldn’t access in China (at least not by taking the normal routes); while this blog for example was working, Nathan Weinberg’s blog wasn’t. All of Blogspot was censored as well, and many news sites too.

Google already censors German, French results

Now, this kind of search censorship isn’t anything new for Google. In fact, the search results in my own country, Germany, have been censored for years; in Google France, something similar is happening. Certain Nazi-related websites like, for example, are simply missing in (Also, in the US some results are removed from due to complaints received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act – but at least, on those pages you see what you’re missing and you’re pointed to an explanation.) This German and French censorship is already bad, in particular because Google doesn’t clarify this on the results pages. They only have this statement up, admitting they do change results based on a country’s laws (my emphasis):

“Our search results are generated completely objectively and are independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google. Some people concerned about [a specific Googlebomb] have created online petitions to encourage us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Because of our objective and automated ranking system, Google cannot be influenced by these petitions. The only sites we omit are those we are legally compelled to remove or those maliciously attempting to manipulate our results.

What makes this recent case even worse is that, well, while everyone agrees that buying Nazi memorabilia or reading up on “white power” websites is a stupid thing to do in the first place – so it’s “only” an issue of censorship itself (as if that would make it good) – the kind of searches or sites Google now blocks in China might be to promote human rights; to educate people on evil-doings of the Chinese government; or to bring news of recent events in China. Also, in Germany and France you can at least openly protest against the censorship your government is asking from companies like Google. In China, you risk your freedom trying to protest against the government.

Will Google notify its users?

While the LA Times (AP) reports that Google will add notifications to censored Chinese search results, it also claims the same already happens in Germany:

“When Google censors results in China, it intends to post notifications alerting users that some content has been removed to comply with local laws. The company provides similar alerts in Germany and France when, to comply with national laws, it censors results to remove references to Nazi paraphernalia.”

And this is wrong. doesn’t alert me at all when I search for (a “White Natuonalist Community” which likely falls into the “illegal hate sites” category in Germany). It only puts up such alerts for some searches. Whether or not decides to put up notifications for all result pages which lack censored sites remains to be seen.

It’s not Google’s dirt, but they decided to walk through it

Already, Google with Google News agreed to remove those sources deemed not Government-friendly. Now it turns out, despite protest, this wasn’t the last step in that direction. By bowing to the Chinese government, instead of rejecting them, they implicitly support the government’s decision to restrict human rights and freedom of speech in China. If the censorship in will work like that in, then the Chinese surfers won’t even know at all times they’re being cheated, and they may trust the positive Google brand. Google has entered very muddy waters here. So muddy, in fact, they’re up to their necks in dirt.

[Thanks Brinke Guthrie.]


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