Google Blogoscoped

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Google China Now Shows Politicians

For political reasons, Google rarely to never communicates about the way it losens or tightens its implementation of censorship control in China. But by reverse-engineering the Google black box we sometimes see traces of what’s happening. For instance, just three months ago there was no single result in a Google China image search for politicians like 胡锦涛 (China’s president Hu Jintao) or 邓小平 (Deng Xiaoping). This was especially noteworthy not only because it hinted at a query-based blacklist (as opposed to a domain-based blacklist, which Google regularly employs – a blacklist including domains which can otherwise be reached fine in at least parts of China), but also because MSN China did show many image results for e.g. Hu Jintao.

But today, Google returns about 54,700 results for the Chinese name of Hu Jintao, and about 59,900 for Deng Xiaoping. The symptoms of this loosening of censorship are in plain sight, though its causes are unclear (and going by Google’s past actions, we have reason to doubt Google will start communicate them, though it would certainly be of interest if they covered these issues in their official Google Blog).

Now, this recent change ought not to be mistaken for a complete lack of censorship when you try to see Chinese politicians: in fact, both searches listed above carry Google’s censorship disclaimer in their footer, indicating that certain images have been removed due to “local laws and regulations” (added to the fact that you can’t turn off the SafeSearch filter in China, even if you’re a grown-up). Also note that if you don’t see a self-censorship disclaimer on the first Google results page, this doesn’t mean that all image results for the query at hand are unfiltered; a search for 毛泽东, for instance (Mao Tse-tung – a ruthless mass-murderer, according to this extensive biography), shows no censorship for the top 18 results, but does show missing results in result images number 19-36.

Also see the unofficial Google censorship FAQ.


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