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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Google Against Anti-Censorship Proposal

TechCrunch and report that Google has recommended a no vote against a proposed anti-censorship, as well as a human rights, shareholder proposal. The proposal titled Internet Censorship suggests Google should institute policies including the following minimum standards:

1) Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.

2) The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.

3) The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.

4) Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.

5) Users should be informed about the company’s data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.

6) The company will document all cases where legally-binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.

Google’s filing with the US Securities and Exchange commission reads:

Q: How does the board of directors recommend that I vote?

A: Our board of directors recommends that you vote your shares (1) “FOR” each of the nominees to the board of directors, (2) “FOR” the ratification of Ernst & Young LLP as our independent registered public accounting firm for the 2008 fiscal year, (3) “FOR” the amendment to our 2004 Stock Plan to increase the number of authorized shares of Class A common stock issuable thereunder by 6,500,000, (4) “AGAINST” the stockholder proposal regarding Internet censorship, and (5) “AGAINST” the stockholder proposal regarding the creation of a Board Committee on Human Rights.

Google in 2004 said that they started to censor Google News because some sites were blocked anyway, which left them with a “serious user experience problem”. In 2006, when Google started to censor web search results in China, they argued, that “severe quality problems faced by users trying to access from within China” had them believe that any other decision but the one including censorship would result in them more severely compromising their mission. In Germany, Google once signed the code of conduct by the Association for the Voluntary Self-Monitoring of Multimedia Service Providers; different results in Germany are missing for different reasons (and sometimes, apparently based on German requests, data is removed for all countries). In a technically related case but along the lines of copyright, in 2002 Google removed an anti-Scientology site from its US results after Scientology successfully utilized the Digital Millennium Copyright Act laws.

Update: Ionut in the comments notes that Google last year voted against the same anti-censorship proposal. [Thanks Ionut!]


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