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China - United States 25 January 2006

Google launches censored version of its search-engine

Reporters Without Borders today accused the Internet’s biggest search-engine, Google, of “hypocrisy” for its plan to launch a censured version of its product in China, meaning that the country’s Internet users would only be able to look up material approved of by the government and nothing about Tibet or democracy and human rights in China.

“The launch of Google.cn is a black day for freedom of expression in China,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The firm defends the rights of US Internet users before the US government but fails to defend its Chinese users against theirs.

“Google’s statements about respecting online privacy are the height of hypocrisy in view of its strategy in China. Like its competitors, the company says it has no choice and must obey Chinese laws, but this is a tired argument. Freedom of expression isn’t a minor principle that can be pushed aside when dealing with a dictatorship. It’s a principle recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and features in the Chinese national constitution itself.

“US firms are now bending to the same censorship rules as their Chinese competitors but they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the Internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking. These firms’ lofty predictions about the future of a free and limitless Internet conveniently hide their unacceptable moral errors,”

The California-based Google announced on the 25th of January it would soon launch a China-based Google.cn to improve and speed up its service for Chinese customers. It admitted it would be censored in line with Chinese law but said that while such filtering was against its principles, it was much better that not providing any service at all.

Up to now, Google has only censored its news site, Google News, by removing material from sources banned by the Chinese authorities. It has not censored its standard US-based search-engine, accessible at www.google.com/intl/zh-CN, and is the last of the world’s major search-engines not to have done so inside China. Yahoo! has been working with Chinese censors for more than three years.

By offering a version without “subversive” content, Google is making it easier for Chinese officials to filter the Internet themselves. A website not listed by search-engines has little chance of being found by users. The new Google version means that even if a human rights publication is not blocked by local firewalls, it has no chance of being read in China.

Reporters Without Borders wrote to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in May last year asking if they were going to censor their tool for the Chinese market and expressing concern at some recent Google decisions.

In July 2004, the firm took a share in the Chinese firm Baidu, which operates a highly-censored search-engine. Soon afterwards, Google was allowed to open an office in China under a conditional agreement with the authorities.

Reporters Without Borders published six recommendations on 6 January for ensuring that Internet firms respect freedom of expression when working in repressive countries.


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