Archive for January, 2006

Memo to the blogosphere re Google China

January 27, 2006

Get over it, already. Take a deep breath, and repeat after me:

“China censors the internet. China censors the internet. It is actually CHINA that is censoring the internet.”

If you are in China and surfing the web for pictures of the massacre at Tiananmen Square, you either need a fabulous proxy server and a few other tricks up your sleeve, or you are out of luck. This is not Google’s doing, no matter how much we’d like to blame them.

You see, China is run by an authoritarian regime that tries – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to control the flow of information in and out of the country. For the sake of preserving the position of the Communist Party and preventing a revolution, they often exercise tight restrictions on potentially destabilizing issues. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Most of the time, people in China are not searching the internet for pictures of Tiananmen Square. For one thing, they don’t want anyone to find out that they are looking for said pictures. For another, there are other ways to communicate about democracy, protest, and tanks – code words, text messages, word of mouth, through the massive Chinese diaspora abroad, and so forth.

When googling for information on whether or not hunky Taiwanese Mandopop megastar Ashin has a girlfriend,** however, you can wait a very, very long time before the search has been cleared of any unsavory results. A very long time. For these people, there is now a new service: a locally based Google search engine that has already been sanitized.

The difference is between having the censoring done all at once from the start, so all you have to do is search and find your results, and having it done on an ad hoc basis, so that each time you open Google, you have to wait through the censors. It’s not a choice between a censored search and an open one.

The beauty of the pre-censored search, beyond the shorter wait times, is that it is labeled as being censored. A little line appears at the bottom that says: 据当地法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示. That is, “According to local laws and policies, some of the search results are not displayed.” This is a good thing. This means that when you search for Tiananmen and find only tourist information, you also discover that there are things about Tiananmen that you aren’t allowed to see. Chances are, at some time in the last 16 or so years you heard about a little disturbance taking place there, but you can see that whatever it was, it was sensitive. If you so desire, you can go elsewhere to fill in the blanks.

I’m missing the part here where Google is evil for complying with this. I get the “government censorship is evil” bit, just not the part that puts it all on Google’s head. Google made a decision about how they were going to be censored. Not whether they would be, but how.

** Sadly, he does.