Following Google’s announcement that it is to open an office in China, Reporters Without Borders has written to the company’s two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, asking them for a clear response to the following question: "Will you agree to censor your search engine if asked to by Beijing?"
Google’s press relations department told Reporters Without Borders that the role of the office in China would initially be limited
to research, in order to "better understand this complex market."
The letter says:
"We do not wish to question your company’s actions in advance, but we have seen how the Chinese government makes respect for its censorship policies a condition for companies such as yours to set up in China. It has demanded that other Internet search engines censor their own results according to a blacklist that is regularly updated by the Beijing authorities. This what your competitor, Yahoo!, agreed to do ever since setting up in China. You say the role of office you will open in China will initially be limited to researching the Chinese market. We nonetheless think you should confront certain ethical issues right from the start of this initiative. Reporters Without Borders therefore asks
you to give a clear response now to the following question: will you agree to censor your search engine if asked to by Beijing?
"Until recently, Google always refused to bend to the Chinese government’s will in this respect. But recent decisions have led us to fear that your commitment to respect freedom of expression is giving way to commercial logic.
"We were astonished to learn that you invested in July 2004 in a competing Chinese search engine, Baidu, which filters its search results. We find it hard to understand why you have become the partner of a website to which the authorities redirected your users in 2002, when Google was banned in China. We are even more disturbed by your agreement in November to withdraw news media considered "subversive" by Beijing from the Chinese version of your news search engine.
"We simply ask you to reject self-censorship. If the Chinese authorities want to block access to certain websites, they must do it themselves. Indeed, they do block many sites. But we would find it extremely disturbing if you yourselves were to participate in the Chinese government’s policy of suppressing press freedom. It is true that your main competitor in China, Yahoo!, bowed to China’s demands in this respect. But we expect a more courageous stance from Google, which has displayed a determination to respect ethical principles since its creation.
"Your company is sufficiently powerful to be able to impose certain conditions on the Chinese authorities. We therefore ask you to stand by your principles on free expression.
"Finally, we are convinced that acceptable solutions to these issues can be found through dialogue between companies and human rights organizations. We are therefore at your disposal should you wish to discuss this issue further with us."
The letter is signed by Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.