Google Blogoscoped

Friday, May 2, 2008

Carrefour Censorship on Continues

Three days ago I sent a first email to Google in regards to the Carrefour query censorship we see on – searches for 家乐福 (French hypermarket chain Carrefour) are turning up no results (see the end of this post for an update). I’ve also sent follow-up emails to Google press US and Germany and asked employees of the company. Google press support is keeping quiet on this topic though, making no comment so far (perhaps they’re busy or need more time, and are overwhelmed by requests).

However, in the meantime one good source told me the censorship is indeed by Google, and not due to some direct technical interception. If the message is by any chance deceptive, this person may have been deceived too, though. Until Google gives out an official word on this, it’s hard to tell for sure. But here’s a recap of the scope of this censorship (note that sometimes, different data centers return slightly different result counts; also note that some numbers overlap so they can’t be added up at all times, e.g. a blog post is a also a web page):

Search type Result count estimate for 家乐福 on (Google China) Result count estimate for 家乐福 on, Chinese language
Web pages 0 7,160,000
Images 0 242,000
News articles 0 10,692
Videos 0 2,397
Blog postings 0 977,110
Books 0 602

I had problems testing some services, like Google Maps. Google also has services to which there is no direct US counterpart – like Google Dao Hang and Rebang – which are completely censored too for this query. Other search engines in China show censored results too (according to some reports, even the Chinese Carrefour homepage was down for days due to being hacked). Variants of the query in question, like writing [家乐福 test], do not result in the near-blank page but show results (though they may still return partly censored results due to the ongoing domain censorship, which becomes active when you search for e.g. [家乐福 democracy]).

If Google did not do this censorship themselves, then a question that arises is how they feel about their brand being kidnapped by interceptors. If Google indeed censored this term based on some government instruction, then I’m curious about the following things, to begin with:

Google states they’re doing the China censorship as a compromise to give a better offering to Chinese users. But it seems only if we have more transparency on the issue can we make up our own minds and evaluate their moves. Back in 2006, Google’s director of research and former director of search quality, Peter Norvig, said:

And sure they [Chinese] want to know about democracy and Falun Gong and so on, but really they want to know about their day-to-day information. And they want to know about things like outbreaks of bird flu and so on.

And so we’re giving them that and we think that’s the most important. (...)

Some of the people will want to query about democracy, but most of them just want to know about their pop stars.

Incidentally, not only was [bird flu] partly censored in 2006 and still is partly censored in Google today (to follow-up on the English query of Peter’s example, though many Chinese queries are censored too), but it may also be likely that the current more complete censorship of Carrefour was picked precisely because it was a query of such frequent and recent interest among some Chinese.

Update: The censorship of this word on has now been lifted (at least in the services I checked). The ban is also gone on Baidu, though still shows nothing. [Thanks Orz86, Hong Xiaowan and Aguyinchina!]


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