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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tibet Missing on Google News China Homepage

The current news stories evolving around Tibet are the breaking headlines on Google News in many localizations of the service around the world – including Google News for Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even their China version at However, any mention of “西藏” (Tibet) is suspiciously missing from Google News China at at this time, as French Google blog Zorgloob found out.

(A search for the word will yield stories, albeit much official “party line” point of views. Note reports of Google News being blocked entirely were released recently, though I don’t know whether these reports referred to or

Google News China on

Google News Taiwan

The reason for the omission? Back in 2004, Google decided to omit certain “sensitive” news publications from their site in order to have the service not be blocked. Google does not tell people (not me, and likely others who asked) which sources they wanted to include but decided to omit based on government pressure. That information seems to be exclusively between them and the Chinese authorities.

Google’s choice to agree to censor their Chinese presence, however, is just one of the many bricks making up the Chinese censorship wall. Even articles which Chinese sites do link to may be censored based on other companies’ decisions to agree to censorship, such as those by internet service providers. And every part of the system will lower the responsibility of the other parts; when a social forum blacklists certain words before they appear (like Google partner Tianya does), then Google is later not required to remove those pages from the index. And everybody agreeing to the censorship can point to the other party. Google can (and did) say they are only excluding news sites which are inaccessible anyway*. An ISP today might well reverse it and argue: we’re mostly just blocking the sites you won’t find in search engines anyway.

Google in 2006 argued they are hoping their web search censorship compromise was the best for their overall mission to make information universally accessible. They said they asked themselves, “how can we provide the greatest access to information to the greatest number of people?”, coming to the conclusion that “Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world’s population, however, does so far more severely.”

[Thanks TomHTML!]

*In web search, Google also excludes some sites which are otherwise accessible though.


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