Google Blogoscoped

Friday, February 23, 2007

Google Images China Censors Friend and Foe

“For Internet users in China, Google remains the only major search engine that does not censor any web pages.”
The Google Team, 2004

Google Images China censors hundreds of thousands to millions of photos – from friend to foe. For example, no single photo shows for politician and “friend” Deng Xiaoping in a search for his name, 邓小平. China’s current leader Hu Jintao gets the same massive censorship treatment, as a search for 胡锦涛 reveals. This may well be more than a plain domain blacklist, because it’s of such broad scale.*

On the other hand, the image of “foe” Chen Guangcheng is missing in the top results in a search for 坐牢 (“jailed”). Wikipedia explains that Guangcheng is an activist who focused on human rights issues in rural areas in China, describing the kind of trial he got:

His trial was scheduled for July 17, 2006 but authorities delayed the trial because Chen supporters gathered at the court house. With only a few days notice, officials announced his trial would begin on August 18, 2006. On the eve of his trial, all three of his lawyers were detained. None of them were allowed in the courtroom. Authorities appointed their own public defender who had not read the file prior to trial and did little to protect his client. The trial lasted just two hours. On 24 August, 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic”.

*In a web search, the results for these two politicians are “merely” partially censored – based on specific domains and the pages contained on them, from what it looks like – but not completely removed. In all but Google News searches, the censorship is disclosed on result pages (note Google never calls what they do “censorship” though – they only spoke of censorship when they discussed what the competition does... when they do it themselves, they use words like “filtering”). It’s likely that in Google News, the censorship is so intricate to the system that excluded sources won’t even be crawled, so there is no “knowledge” of censorship on the system-side, so to speak.
In comparison, Yahoo China also censors all images in a search for Hu Jintao’s Chinese name, but decided to completely delete your query from the search box, omit the censorship disclosure, tell you there’s no occurrence of these words on the web, and show women in bikini instead.


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