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Google's China Problem (and China's Google Problem)

Author: Clive Thompson, New York Times Magazine, Published on: 23 April 2006

...Google's conduct in China has in recent months seemed considerably less than idealistic. In January...the company announced it would be introducing a new version of its search engine for the Chinese market. To obey China's censorship laws, Google's representatives explained, the company had agreed to purge its search results of any Web sites disapproved of by the Chinese government, including Web sites promoting Falun Gong...; sites promoting free speech in China; or any mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre... Intimidation and "self-regulation" are...critical to how the [Chinese Communist] party communicates its censorship rules to private-sector Internet companies... [No] master list [of words & sites Internet firms must censor] exists. Instead, the government simply insists the firms interpret the vague regulations themselves... The penalty for noncompliance with censorship regulations can be serious... As a result, Internet executives in China most likely censor far more material than they need to... [Google's] officials figured it could do better than the local Chinese firms, which acquiesce to the censorship regime with a shrug. Sure, Google would have to censor the most politically sensitive Web sites... But...Google could still improve Chinese citizens' ability to learn about AIDS, environmental problems, avian flu, world markets. Revenue, [Google co-founder & President of Technology Sergey] Brin told me, wasn't a big part of the equation... [Political blogger Zhao Jing, also known as Michael Anti] ranked the [US Internet] companies in order of ethics... Google, he said, was at the top of the pile. It was genuinely improving the quality of Chinese information and trying to do its best within a bad system. Microsoft came next... Yahoo came last... The difference, Zhao said, was that Yahoo had put individual dissidents in serious danger and done so apparently without thinking much about the human damage. (Yahoo did not respond to requests for comment.)... perhaps the distorted universe [shown by companies censoring the Internet in China] is less of a problem in China, because — as many Chinese citizens told me — the Chinese people long ago learned to read past the distortions of Communist propaganda and media control... I encountered [a circular logic] again and again while talking to China's Internet executives: we don't feel bad about filtering political results because our users aren't looking for that stuff anyway. They may be right about their users' behavior. But you could just as easily argue that their users are incurious because they're cowed. [also refers to Cisco Systems, Baidu, Sohu.com, Sina, Alibaba.com]

Read the full post here

Related companies: Alibaba.com Baidu Cisco Systems Google (part of Alphabet) Microsoft Sohu.com Yahoo! (part of Verizon)