Google to censor China Web searches

Search giant agrees to censorship laws, reasoning that people getting limited access to content is better than none.

Google said Tuesday it will launch versions of its search and news Web sites in China that censor material deemed objectionable to authorities there, reasoning that people getting limited access to content is better than none.

The new local Google site, expected to be launched Wednesday at Google.cn, will include notes at the bottom of results pages that disclose when content has been removed, said Andrew McLaughlin, senior policy counsel for Google.

"Google.cn will comply with local Chinese laws and regulations," he said in a statement. "In deciding how best to approach the Chinese--or any--market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interest of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions."

Google will not initially offer Gmail or Blogger in China until executives feel they can strike that balance adequately, McLaughlin said.

Web surfers in China have had difficulty accessing the Google service, reporting frustratingly slow connections and time-outs, Google said. Human rights groups have accused China's government of blocking access to Web sites that do not adhere to the government's restrictions.

Reporters Without Borders, a France-based group that defends freedom of the press, blasted Google, saying the company was taking an immoral position that could not be justified.

"By offering a version without 'subversive' content, Google is making it easier for Chinese officials to filter the Internet themselves. A Web site not listed by search engines has little chance of being found by users," the group said in a statement. "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."

With a population of 1.3 billion people and more than 100 million Internet users, China's largely untapped Internet market is very attractive to technology companies. Google is opening a research and development center in China and owns a stake in Baidu.com, the most popular search engine in that country.

Google is not the only U.S. search firm targeted with complaints about censorship in China. Previously, Google censored its news site in China, removing material banned by the authorities, but it had not censored its U.S.-based search engine accessible in China and was the last of the major search engines not to have done so, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Meanwhile, earlier this month Microsoft admitted removing the blog of an outspoken Chinese journalist from its MSN Spaces site , citing its policy of adhering to local laws. Last June, Microsoft acknowledged censoring words like "freedom" and "democracy" from its Chinese MSN portal site.

And in September, Reporters Without Borders accused Yahoo of providing information that helped Chinese officials convict a journalist charged with leaking state secrets. Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Angered by such reports, some politicians have threatened to pass laws restricting U.S. companies from cooperating with the Chinese government on censorship. Hearings are planned for the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human Rights and in the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

Ironically, Google was praised by privacy advocates and consumers last week for fighting the U.S. government's request to hand over random Web search data. Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN and America Online had complied with the request.

 

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