Google Inc. plans to launch a search service aimed at Chinese usersthis week that will block results deemed sensitive to Beijing, adecision the company struggled with before deciding it’s better toprovide some service rather than none at all.
The site, Google.cn, will block results of Internet searches deemedlikely to offend Beijing, but will tell users the search has beenblocked because it is politically sensitive. Pornography will alsobe blocked on the site, as it is in several other countries.
The move will likely irritate die-hard fans of Google’santi-corporate philosophy “Don’t Be Evil” and could raise protestsfrom a growing number of organizations sensitive to free speechissues in China. Microsoft Corp. has been criticized for censorshipin China, and Yahoo Inc. came under fire late last year for turninge-mails over to Chinese authorities that helped land a localjournalist a 10-year jail sentence.
“In order to operate from China, we have removed some content fromthe search results available on Google.cn, in response to locallaw, regulation or policy,” said Andrew McLaughlin, senior policycounsel at Google, in a statement. ” While removing search resultsis inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information -or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to noinformation – is more inconsistent with our mission.”
A fierce internal debate took place over the issue, but ultimatelythe Mountain View, California company decided to play by Beijing’srules so it could compete in China, said one source.
All companies offering Internet services in China must comply withlocal law or face being shut off by authorities in Beijing, whichalso monitor data crossing international communications networks.Google has operated a search engine aimed at users in China fromthe U.S. for a while, but decided to open a server center insideChina to speed up searches, since Chinese government firewalls andcensors mean download times from outside the huge country tend tobe slow.
Google also faces stiff competition from China’s number one searchprovider, Baidu.com Inc., which displays a minimalist home pagesimilar to Google’s and launched a hugely successful public stockmarket offering last year, filling its corporate war chest withfunds to use in the battle against encroaching U.S. Internetgiants.
Google is currently rolling out the service, so some of it is stillrun from servers outside of China, and some searches appear blockedand others don’t. Searches for some politically volatile issues,such as independence for the democratic island of Taiwan, whichChina regards as a renegade province and has vowed to take over,came up with nothing. But a search for ‘free Tibet’ led to a hostof links, including The Government of Tibet in Exile: http://www.tibet.com/, and a FreeTibet group: http://www.freetibet.org/.
The spiritual movement Falun Gong, which Beijing has worked so hardto stifle over the past two decades, was also available on http://www.google.cn/. One linkfrom a Google.cn search led to a Falun Gong site: http://chinese.faluninfo.net/fdi/gb/index.htm,host to a funeral wreath with revolving pictures of Falun Gongmembers allegedly killed under Chinese persecution, and a totalbody count of 3008 – not exactly the kind of information Beijingenjoys making available to its citizens.
To balance what can often be heavy handed censorship from Beijing,Google intends to disclose to users when information has beenremoved from its search results in response to local laws andregulations, as it does in other countries such as Germany, France,and the U.S. The company also plans to move slowly on introducingother services in China, such as Gmail and Blogger, to make sure itcan balance the user experience with its legal responsibilities.