Google Blogoscoped

Monday, June 18, 2007

Google China Removed Cache Feature

Google in China removed their cache feature a while ago. This feature was available during the launch of, as the link reading “网页快照” (“cache”) below the result snippet in the “before” screenshot from January 2006 shows*. According to a report by Pacific Epoch, the feature was removed on April 26 this year, with Google China stating that this would be relaunched after an upgrade.

The Google cache of web pages is one of those features known to be widely blocked for Chinese users thanks to China Mainland internet service providers, outside of the responsibility of Google. The missing “cache” link however is now in the responsibility of Google. It’s another form of self-censorship Google has committed to in China, and the reasoning for this may be similar to previous forms of self-censorship; Google may argue they aim to provide a better user experience with that feature removal, as people clicking on the cache link before weren’t ending up on the actual web page cache. This also means that indirectly – and whether or not the Chinese gov’t actively pressured Google to remove the feature – it’s another step in becoming the kind of search engine the Chinese government (more precisely, its ministry of information) would like to see. Through control of one side of the technology – ISPs – the gov’t exerts indirect control over Google, as going by Google’s logic of “we need to shield Google users in China from broken links/ services"**, they can block certain features of Google to then have Google remove them on their end, too.

Blocking parts of Google is not the only way the Chinese gov’t can potentially influence Google; they can also escalate the issue of Google’s lack of their own required Internet Content Provider number (Google operates under the ICP license of its local partner

Currently, additional to web search, Google in China agreed to censor parts of Google Books, Google News, Google Maps, as well as Google Images. Google says that if they censor, they do so “in response to local laws, regulations, or policies.”

*The screenshot shows a search for [human rights china] from then and now. On a side-note, this query returns one of Google’s self-censored results.

**In 2004, Google admitted to omitting certain news sources for Google News China. “For users inside the People’s Republic of China, we have chosen not to include sources that are inaccessible from within that country.” Google argued that “Leaving aside the politics,” showing links which are known to be blocked presents them “with a serious user experience problem”.
Quality problems were also the reasons behind Google’s web self-censorship move, according to Google in 2006: “Google users in China today struggle with a service that, to be blunt, isn’t very good. appears to be down around 10% of the time (...) the level of service we’ve been able to provide in China is not something we’re proud of. This problem could only be resolved by creating a local presence, and this week we did so, by launching, our website for the People’s Republic of China. In order to do so, we have agreed to remove certain sensitive information from our search results.”


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