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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google in China, in the Past

According to CNN, Google on its censorship in China said:

“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.”

Is this argument valid? Did Google so far provide no information in China? And were the Chinese so far left without a search engine?

No. was usable in China. You could perform searches, and you could find information. Because of the Great Firewall of China, not all pages you clicked on in the results actually worked (including the Google Cache for those results) – but you could see those results were there. Google was sometimes slowed down on purpose by the government, some sources say, or even completely banned for days. But from my trip to China in late 2005 I can say that was indeed working. There was a Google and you could clearly see which result sites the government censored, because once you clicked on them you hit a dead end. (Whether you can still discern censored results in remains to be seen.)

And: no. China already has search engines which comply to government censorship requests, like Baidu (in which Google owns a stake). One can imagine the added value in having another censored search engine in the country is small to those Chinese fighting for freedom. But it is of great monetary value to Google the company to be in China, with over 100 million users. Only this has little to do with a mission to bring information to people.

If you were a Chinese fighting for freedom in your country, how would you feel about Google working with the Chinese government in censoring your site? Wouldn’t you feel that the government just made a very powerful, hi-tech partner in its quest to silence you? Would you still trust Google?

The Reporters Without Borders organization on this writes:

“The launch of is a black day for freedom of expression in China (...) The firm defends the rights of US Internet users before the US government but fails to defend its Chinese users against theirs.

“Google’s statements about respecting online privacy are the height of hypocrisy in view of its strategy in China. Like its competitors, the company says it has no choice and must obey Chinese laws, but this is a tired argument. Freedom of expression isn’t a minor principle that can be pushed aside when dealing with a dictatorship. It’s a principle recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and features in the Chinese national constitution itself.

“US firms are now bending to the same censorship rules as their Chinese competitors but they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the Internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking. These firms’ lofty predictions about the future of a free and limitless Internet conveniently hide their unacceptable moral errors”

I think Google in 2004 might have wholeheartedly agreed to this. Look at what they proudly proclaimed back then (my emphasis):

“Google is committed to providing easy access to as much information as possible. For Internet users in China, Google remains the only major search engine that does not censor any web pages.
-- The Google Team, September 2004.

If will force a redirect to from users accessing it within China, then; no, Google, not anymore.

The following reminder was directed at Google’s Dr. Schmidt and AltaVista’s Barnett, and it is signed by the Executive Director of the Human Rights Watch in 2002:

“As you know, search engines such as Google and AltaVista play a critical role in ensuring the free flow of information to millions of users in China. Chinese users who want to read objective news, and educate themselves on such restricted topics as human rights, Tibet, religion, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, often rely on your search engines. (...)

We strongly urge Google and AltaVista to continue to resist any censorship pressure from the Chinese government. In the past, Google has resisted pressure from interest groups to censor content (...) As you continue these commendable efforts, you will have the support of nongovernmental organizations, as well as allies in the U.S. government and the broader private sector. History has shown that coordinated action can be effective in forcing the Chinese government to back off from efforts to censor the Internet. When the Chinese government tried to clamp down on the commercial use of cryptography in October 1999, coordinated efforts by various companies and trade agencies forced the Chinese government to drop the requirement that encryption codes be turned over.”


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