China, Censorship & Google Redux

In the wake of the 20th anniversary of the Chinese Government’s crackdown on democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, the issue of Google’s (self) censorship of search results in China has come around again. CNET has a lengthy and critical article on the subject:

Google was going to help democratize data in China. Instead, about three years after entering the Middle Kingdom, the search company still finds itself in an uncomfortable working relationship with government censors.

There’s also an O’Reilly Rader interview with Google’s Marissa Mayer that touches on Chinese censorship, among a wide range of other topics:

[W]e only remove results in the event that there’s a particular page that has been deemed illegal due to its content in a particular area . . . when we remove something, we note on the bottom that it’s been removed and put in a link in with the complaint. And there’s also instances where in order to provide a good user experience, we really feel that we need to do this. So, for example, China’s a very interesting case where the websites that would be removed from the result page aren’t accessible from inside of China anyway. So if we put them on the results page, users can’t click through and read them anyway. And so we do note when they’ve been removed so people can see that. We ultimately think we’re really hoping to achieve the best possible user experience because it’s not a great user experience to get ten results, none of which you can actually click on. And if you do click on any of them, it shuts down your internet connection.

So we think it’s not a great outcome. And we also felt that it was more important to engage with China and get the benefit of Google to Chinese users, especially given the choice of our policies that are in China, we think is a better user experience in terms of search.

Google gets into big trouble with its “don’t be evil” motto/mantra against the backdrop of aiding Chinese censorship of the Internet. The CNET article credits Google with doing some positive things there however:

In some ways, Google has improved the flow of information in China. Upon entering the market, it made sure to include a disclaimer like the one above alongside search results for sensitive queries, something even Baidu does now. That decision allowed Chinese Internet searchers to know they weren’t getting the full extent of what was available on the Internet for a given query.

Instead of saying things like, “We also felt that it was more important to engage with China and get the benefit of Google to Chinese users” it would be refreshing to hear Google say something like: “China is a huge and strategic market that we can’t ignore and our shareholders don’t want us to ignore; so we’re doing the best job we can to comply with the laws there but still bring as much information to Chinese users as possible within that legal framework. We believe over time there will be improvement and less censorship.”

The seeming unwillingness to acknowledge that Google wants to make money in China is really at the heart of this persistent discussion.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Critics | Google: General | Google: Outside US

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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