What censorship looks like: Google and China

Google Inc. is coming under fire in some quarters for agreeing to tailor  — censor, is the operative word for some — its services so that they do not offend the government of China. China is the world’s second largest Internet market and Google is keen to be a part of that market:

Google said on Tuesday it will block politically sensitive terms on its new China search site and not offer e-mail, chat and blog publishing services, which authorities fear can become flashpoints for social or political protest. Those actions go further than many of its biggest rivals in China.

“I didn't think I would come to this conclusion—but eventually I came to the conclusion that more information is better, even if it is not as full as we would like to see,” Brin told Reuters in an interview in Switzerland.

Google, whose high-minded corporate motto is “Don't be evil,” had previously refused to comply with Internet censorship demands by Chinese authorities, rules that must be met in order to locate business operations inside China—the world's No. 2 Internet market. [ Source: Reuters via PC Magazine, Jan. 26, 2006]

To illustrate the “information distortions” that Google is allowing as it seeks to expand in China, Sidney Karin, director emeritus at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, takes a look at the results returned when you search for images with a “tiananmen” tag at Google China and compares that to the results you get with the identical search at the Google everyone else in the world uses. Remarkable.

The syntax, incidentally, is nearly identical for both searches but a different Google server is being queried each time.

The syntax for Google China:

The synatx for Google everyone else:

Oddly enough though, as Sam Smith points out, the query returns identical results, regardless of the server, if you capitalize Tiananmen.

These results seemed identical at 6:30 pm EDT on Jan. 29:

The syntax for Google China:

The synatx for Google everyone else:

Google’s senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin tries to explain the rationale behind the company’s decision. “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,” McLaughline writes.


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