“To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country’s government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisions on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.”
CNN posts this statement straight from Google:
“In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy. While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.
As an emerging economic powerhouse, China is developing rapidly, thanks in no small measure to the Internet. We firmly believe, with our culture of innovation, Google can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of development in China.”
Yes, Google argues their decision is the lesser of two evils... yes, China is taking off fast, and Google wants a piece of the huge market... and yes, there won’t be more Google results when Google is banned completely itself. So, Google, if everything is shiny and happy in the Googleplex, please hand over the list of banned words or sites for every country. It’s a gray zone for sure, so we need transparency. Put that list on a public server in the US, where freedom of speech prevails.
Now, this kind of search censorship isn’t anything new for Google. In fact, the search results in my own country, Germany, have been censored for years; in Google France, something similar is happening. Certain Nazi-related websites like Stormfront.org, for example, are simply missing in Google.de. (Also, in the US some results are removed from Google.com due to complaints received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act – but at least, on those pages you see what you’re missing and you’re pointed to an explanation.) This German and French censorship is already bad, in particular because Google doesn’t clarify this on the results pages. They only have this statement up, admitting they do change results based on a country’s laws (my emphasis):
“Our search results are generated completely objectively and are independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google. Some people concerned about [a specific Googlebomb] have created online petitions to encourage us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Because of our objective and automated ranking system, Google cannot be influenced by these petitions. The only sites we omit are those we are legally compelled to remove or those maliciously attempting to manipulate our results.
What makes this recent case even worse is that, well, while everyone agrees that buying Nazi memorabilia or reading up on “white power” websites is a stupid thing to do in the first place – so it’s “only” an issue of censorship itself (as if that would make it good) – the kind of searches or sites Google now blocks in China might be to promote human rights; to educate people on evil-doings of the Chinese government; or to bring news of recent events in China. Also, in Germany and France you can at least openly protest against the censorship your government is asking from companies like Google. In China, you risk your freedom trying to protest against the government.