The Lesser of Two Googles: Reactions from the Worldwide Web

2006-02-01
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Jan. 26, 2006: A laptop computer screen in Beijing shows the homepage of Google.cn. Photo: AFP/Frederic J. Brown

HONG KONG—Bloggers and technology experts are slamming U.S.-based Google’s decision to censor keywords rejected by Beijing in its Chinese version—with some vowing to work around China’s ever more efficient campaign to control what its own people see and hear online.

Chinese bloggers greeted Google’s decision with a mixture of cynicism and anger.

“It is shameful that Google, Yahoo, MSN, and others are collaborating with a repressive regime in China—much in the same way that some firms did with Nazi Germany decades ago,” wrote one commentator on a blog based in the central Chinese city of Changsha.

We actually did an evil scale and decided [that] not to serve at all was worse evil.

“History will send those collaborators to court, and I hope, very soon,” said the commentator, identified as Erping Zhang.

Google sparks debate

“While Google hasn’t made public the contents of the censored search results, we can guess that they are probably related to anti-government movements, or to sex,” wrote blogger Feiyang1024 on Microsoft’s MSN Spaces.

“It is natural that Google would set such limits in a Chinese environment.”

Another commentator said Google was simply following the lead of many other Western Internet companies.

“Western companies always change their initial stance when they get to China,” the commentator, identified as “Watson,” said. “Cisco is actually much worse than Google.”

Commentator Danny O’Brien, writing on the Electronic Freedom Foundation Web site, called on Google to use its foothold in the Chinese market to protect Chinese citizens.

“Google stood up to the U.S. government when it asked for their records, but what threats—to their business, and to their employees—might China make to obtain similar information?” O’Brien said.

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Chinese authorities watch carefully over the online activities of the country's citizens. Photo: AFP

Anti-censorship tool promised

“Google should take this as the moment to reform its data retention practices.”

Tech-savvy bloggers rushed to try out Google.cn, the default version of Google for users in China. They quickly found that those requesting the overseas version would have access to it, but that they would have to know about it in advance. They also discovered that misspelled “bad words” yielded uncensored results.

Meanwhile, California-based Web privacy specialist Anonymizer said it was working on an anti-censorship solution aimed specifically at Chinese Web users.

“Anonymizer’s new anti-censorship solution for Chinese citizens will be available before quarter’s end,” the company said Wednesday. “The solution will provide a regularly changing URL that users can access to open the doors to unfettered access of the World Wide Web.”

Users’ identities would also be protected from online tracking and monitoring by the Chinese government, it said.

“Anonymizer is not willing to sit idly by while the freedom of the Internet is slowly crushed,” Anonymizer president Lance Cottrell said in a statement. “We take pride in the fact that our online privacy and security solutions provide access to global information for those under the thumb of repressive regimes.”

'Lesser of two evils'

Rather than relying on China’s sophisticated monitoring system to plug holes in the Great Firewall, Google’s new Chinese-language search engine carries out its own keyword, domain-name, and URL filtering according to a list of words forbidden by Beijing.

Online tech experts have already carried out multiple comparisons of Google’s overseas Chinese-language search results and the new, Beijing-approved service at google.cn.

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Google's message to Chinese users reads: "In order to comply with local laws and regulations, some search results may not be shown." Image: RFA See a larger version of this image

They found that while some filtering is done using forbidden key words, in some cases entire Web sites are removed from search results.

Banned Web sites include overseas news media such as Radio Free Asia, the Voice of America and the BBC, and Web sites run by followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Human rights sites, and images of the 1989 bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement are also blocked.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt defended the company’s decision.

“We concluded that although we weren’t wild about the restrictions, it was even worse to not try to serve those users at all,” Schmidt told attendees at a recent technology seminar at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“We actually did an evil scale and decided [that] not to serve at all was worse evil,” he said, referring to the company’s famous “don’t be evil” creed.

Original reporting by RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese services. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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