Monday, January 30, 2006

The "Google Chinese Censorship" Issue

Why Google helps China to censor online searches
BY FRIDA GHITIS, Centre Daily Times, PA -- Fri, Jan. 27, 2006

A few years ago, I walked into an Internet room in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. There were no Chinese soldiers in the room, and no visible government censors nearby.

A sign on the wall, however, reminded Web users that even after entering the stateless world of the Web, China's all-seeing eye had not disappeared. ''Do not use Internet,'' the warning instructed crassly, "for any political or other unintelligent purposes.''

Since then, China's ruling regime has perfected the science of controlling what the Chinese can read or write on the Internet to such a degree that it has become the envy of tyrants and dictators the world over. We might have expected that from a regime that has proven it will do whatever it takes to stay in power.

What we never expected was to see Google, the company whose guiding motto reads, ''Don't be evil,'' helping in the effort. Google's decision to help China censor searches on the company's brand new Chinese website is not only a violation of its own righteous-sounding principles, and it's not just an affront to those working to bring international standards of human rights for the Chinese people.

No, Google's sellout to Beijing is a threat to every person who ever used Google anywhere in the world. That means all of us.

That's no exaggeration. Google saves every search, every e-mail, every fingerprint we leave on the Web when we move through its Google search engine, its G-mail service or its fast-growing collection of Internet offerings. Google knows more about us that than FBI or the CIA or the NSA or any spy agency of any government. And nobody regulates it.

When a company that holds digital dossiers on millions of people decides that profits are more important than principles, we are all at risk. Google will now participate actively in a censorship program whose implications, according to Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, ''are profound and disturbing.''

The Chinese government blocks thousands of search terms -- including censorship. To be fair, Google is hardly alone in its decision to capitulate to Beijing's rulers to gain a Web share of China's 1.3 billion inhabitants. That tantalizing market has tested the ethics of many a Western corporation -- and almost all have failed the test. That is particularly true in the Internet business.

Just last year, Yahoo helped Beijing's Web goons track down the identity of a Chinese journalist who wrote an e-mail about the anniversary of the 1994 Tiananmen Square massacre -- a massacre of thousands of Chinese democracy advocates perpetrated by the same regime whose efforts Google now abets. The journalist, Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Reporters Without Borders labeled Yahoo an ''informant'' that has ''collaborated enthusiastically'' with the Chinese regime. Microsoft, too, plays by the dictatorship's rules. Bloggers on MSN's service cannot type words such as democracy or freedom. Internet users cannot read or write about anything that even hints of opposition to the ruling Communist Party.

Even pro-Western commentary can trigger a block. And forget anything about Tibet or the Dalai Lama. Chinese bloggers, incidentally, must all register and identify themselves to authorities. Neither Yahoo nor Microsoft claim to have higher ethical standards than the competition. The often-stated desire to ''do good'' and make the world a better place was one of the traits that endeared Google to the public.

It was one of the reasons we trusted them to guard the precious and valuable contents of their thousands of servers. Now Google has become a company like all others, one with an eye on the bottom-line before anything else. The company has decided to help China's censors even as it fights an enormous request for records from the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of online child pornography.

Skeptics had claimed that Google was resisting the request to protect its technology rather than to protect users' privacy. That explanation now sounds more plausible than ever. We've long known about China's disdain for individual freedoms. But, Google, we hardly knew you.

It's definitely time to rethink that G-mail account and demand some safeguards from a potentially dangerous company. Perhaps here, too, we will need to heed the Tibetan cybercafé warning, ``Do not use Internet for any political or unintelligent purposes.''
Frida Ghitis writes about world affairs.


Congress invites Google; Questions arise over allowing censorship in China
Verne Kopytoff, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle -- Saturday, January 28, 2006

Google Inc.'s recent decision to censor search results in China has raised eyebrows in Congress, which has invited the company, along with its chief competitor, Yahoo Inc., to answer questions about excluding political material that the Beijing government deems subversive.

Both companies have been asked to speak before members of Congress in the coming weeks, as part of a broader look at freedom of speech and the Internet in China. Neither firm has indicated what level of cooperation they will provide.

Human rights groups have leveled intense criticism against U.S. Internet companies for their role in limiting access to information online, particularly after Google introduced a Chinese search engine earlier this week that filters results about the Tiananmen Square massacres and the Dalai Lama, among other things.

First up on Capitol Hill for Google and Yahoo is a briefing Feb. 1 in front of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Members are expected to probe the firms about the measures they take to block sensitive information in China and the amount of pressure they are under to do so by the Chinese government.

"We don't know to what extent that they have been under pressure and what they have done to resist that pressure," said Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who co-chairs the caucus.

On Feb. 15, the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations will hold its own hearings. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who chairs the subcommittee and has been a longtime advocate of civil rights in China, excoriated Google for agreeing to censor its search results. "It is astounding that Google, whose corporate philosophy is 'don't be evil,' would enable evil by cooperating with China's censorship policies just to make a buck," Smith said in a statement.

China requires Internet companies to block access to all online material it deems objectionable. Complying with the law is a compromise U.S. businesses feel they must make to get access to what is potentially a lucrative market.

The invitations to Google and Yahoo went out before the latest round of controversy on the Internet in China. Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. were also invited to Capitol Hill. But it's unclear whether all of the companies will attend.

Cisco and Microsoft have already declined to speak before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which has no formal legislative or subpoena power, according to Weil. Google and Yahoo have yet to respond. Google did not return phone calls seeking comment.

A posting on its corporate blog Friday didn't address Congress' interest in China, but rather reiterated its hand-wringing over censorship in China and its hope that "over time everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information."

Mary Osako, a Yahoo spokeswoman, said about Congress: "We take this matter very seriously and look forward to addressing the issues raised by the subcommittee on Feb. 15."

Also invited to Capitol Hill were several human rights groups. Mickey Spiegel, senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, one of those groups, said she supports legislation that would block Internet companies from censoring results but is doubtful such a bill would pass.

Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Smith, said that the congressman is considering drafting legislation that would put some restrictions on Internet companies that could include rules about censoring search results, and require them to locate e-mail servers outside a country that limits free speech. As a result, it would be harder for a government like China's to subpoena e-mail records that could implicate critics.


US Internet Giant Google Criticized for Agreeing to Internet Search Restrictions in China (VOA)
By Chris Simkins, Voice of America
Washington, D.C. -- January 31, 2006

Executives from the U.S. Internet giant Google have been called to testify next month before congressional lawmakers in Washington. Google has just launched a China-based version of its search-engine website that censors information the Chinese government deems sensitive.

Internet search giant Google is up and running in China. But the company is facing harsh criticism from human rights activists and some U.S. lawmakers for its new China-based website which launched January 25th. They accuse Google of using poor judgment by cooperating with the Chinese government.

Phillipa Carrick, with the Tibet Society, says when Chinese users try to search for topics such as independence for Tibet and Taiwan or type in Tiananmen Square, scores of sites are omitted and users are directed to government sites that condemn certain topics.
"I think they are showing an extremely bad example and it is denying a huge population access to finding out about the world and making up their own minds," she told us.

In order to obtain the license to operate in China, Google agreed to omit content that the Chinese government finds objectionable. Previously, Google users in China were simply blocked from using the search engine or encountered lengthy delays in response time.

Google maintains its decision was difficult and may be viewed as inconsistent with its mission to make information universally accessible. But Google spokesman Andrew McLaughlin says the company did not want to risk becoming irrelevant or useless in China, the Internet's fastest growing major market.

"In the final analysis we decided that the best thing for our users, our business and for the principles we are trying to uphold is to create a service for China that will be filtered," said Mr. McLaughlin.

Google is not the first company to agree to the Chinese governments demands. Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco have also made compromises. Analyst Linda Yeuh, with the London School of Economics, says it's all about profits. "When you think about Internet users and the numbers of searches they do every single day, this is undoubtedly the world's biggest market and Google's current market share just doesn't look like it is making enough headway into this tremendous economy."

The Chinese government also blocks some radio broadcasts and access to several Internet news sites including the Voice of America and the BBC. Bill Baum, Chief of VOA's Chinese Branch, says China began blocking both its Chinese and English language web sites in 1999.

He says complaints to the Chinese government have been fruitless. "The Chinese either deny that they are jamming our radio frequencies or blocking our web sites or sometimes they will simply complain to us that western media coverage of China is unbalanced."

Analysts say despite the controversies over China's free-speech restrictions, more and more media and Internet companies will find it difficult not to comply with Chinese government demands, in light of the country's rapidly growing economy and more than 100 million Internet users.