Google Blogoscoped

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Google China Self-Censors Carrefour

Many Chinese are currently reportedly angered at France for an attack against a wheelchair-bound Olympic torch bearer that took place in France, as well as Paris awarding honorary citizenship to the current Dalai Lama of the Tibetan Buddhists... so some people in China wanted to boycott French hypermarket chain Carrefour. And now, a search for 家乐福 (Carrefour) in does not show any of the 6+ million results it shows in – instead, Google China returns a nearly blank page with a single message that (if an automatic translation is to be believed) roughly means, “You cannot access information of this search result, please return to for other information.” While censorship of selected domains is common for Google China, keyword-based censorship is more rarely to be seen. Plus, this specific filter covers not only web search but other services, like news or video search, as well.

If (as is likely) this censorship was ordered from the Chinese government – finding a helping implementor in Google Inc, as well as other search engines, like Chinese Baidu – it may perhaps not so much aim to censor Carrefour... but to quiet down evolving mass protesting against Carrefour. A little patriotism may be wanted by Chinese authorities, but angered masses getting together acting in unity may be too much for the government, as this may be a risk to their own system which normally tries to prevent such demonstrations.

Google in China removed other kind of information before, too. In Google Maps, satellite imagery is missing; in Chinese web search, whole domains are blacklisted (including those of news organizations, or human rights watch organizations); in Google Book Search China, foreign publishers are missing; in Google News for China, Google removed several government-unfriendly sources. Google also agreed to censor information in other countries, like Germany and France, often referring to local laws and policies, sometimes with and sometimes without disclosures printed on the specific search result (e.g. in Germany they didn’t always show it but now we have reason to believe they always show the disclosure for web results, whereas in Google News China or Chinese book search no such censorship disclosure is visible in search results; even in web search, where there is a disclosure printed at the end of results, the disclosure will not tell users just what it is that’s missing).

[Thanks Www!]

Update: Ludwik Trammer, who is very surprised about this censorship, comments, “There is alway a slight chance Chinese Government did that without consulting Google via some automatic or semi-automatic system they established.” I’m currently investigating whether such a thing is possible and applied here; if you have more information in regards to this bit, please comment. In the past, messages from Google with the Google logo showing were indeed by Google. If Google replies with anything official or more information comes in I’ll update. Pinging Garett Rogers of the Googling Google blog, Garett says he wonders if it’s possible “to figure out if the government is intercepting the request and doing what they want to the response” (something which often happens from within China, nonetheless, but even then usually in the form of some non-branded connection error message, as far as I know). [Thanks Ludwik and Garett!]


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