WASHINGTON—California–based Google has launched its China search engine, www.google.cn, revealing that it will go the way of other U.S.-based tech giants and adhere to Beijing’s censorship requirements to gain a slice of the country’s burgeoning Internet market.
The Chinese government already has a well-established Web monitoring and filtering system, partly relying on switching equipment supplied by U.S.-based Cisco Systems.
Filters are attuned to a long list of “bad words,” which include search terms related to pornography and online fraud. This also includes terms that are politically distasteful to the regime, such as “democracy,” “June 4, 1989,” “Falun Gong,” “independence” in relation to Taiwan, Tibet, and the country’s minority Muslim Uyghurs.
An initial search for “Falun Dafa” on Google’s U.S.-based Chinese-language search tool, http://www.google.com/intl/zh-CN/, the Chinese for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, yielded Falun Gong sites from around the world, where information provided by the movement about its philosophy and practices was freely available.
The same search conducted on the new China search engine, at http://www.google.cn, showed a series of government-sponsored sites criticizing the group as a dangerous and evil cult.
Likewise, with the search term “June 4,” denoting the 1989 crackdown that ended the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, yielded archived coverage of the crackdown from international news Web sites from the U.S.-based Chinese Google, while the China-based Google showed no mention of the incident.
One difference between Google’s self-censorship and that of Yahoo and MSN is the appearance of a message informing the user that filtering has taken place.
“In order to comply with local laws and regulations, some of your search results will not be shown,” the notice reads at the bottom of a page of search results using a censored key word.
Rights groups have already slammed Google’s move as a violation of free speech. Last year, Internet giant Yahoo! caused an outcry when the company handed over personal details of Shi Tao, who was subsequently jailed for 10 years for e-mailing a human rights organization overseas about government attitudes to memorial events for the Tiananmen crackdown.
And late in 2005, Microsoft removed a blogger from its blogging services who had irritated government officials with his controversial views.
According to an October survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Google has a slowly increasing share of the Internet search market in China, standing at 27 percent in 2005 compared with 24 percent in 2003.
Top Chinese search engine Baidu has 46 percent of the market, while the rest is split between 3721 (8.5 percent) Sohu (3.4 percent) and Sina (3.1 percent).
Original reporting by RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese services. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.