Just a few hours after Google said it may pull out of China, I got a tip that the company had already uncensored parts of its Chinese search engine. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. But it seems Google’s self-censorship never was incredibly foolproof.
The Open Net Initiative has a great tool for comparing Google China’s results with the main site. Or you can check http://www.google.cn and do an image search for ‘Tiananmen Square Protests‘ The results pull up pictures of people who were attacked and the famous ‘Tank Man.’ ‘Tiananmen’ alone brings up highly censored results. If your results are affected, this will show up at the bottom. It translates to “According to local laws, regulations and policies, some search results are not shown.”
The company said earlier today that it would stop cooperating with the Chinese government amid restrictions on free speech and after hackers broke into its systems. The break-in was part of a coordinated series of attacks targeted at 34 companies that were mostly in technology and in Silicon Valley, according to The New York Times. Google has run a search engine in China since 2006 and controversially agreed to self-censor results in exchange for a chance to reach the Chinese market. But it struggled to gain a foothold in the China with roughly 31 percent market share to Baidu’s 64 percent.
We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”
Google censored a few sensitive terms, but it looks like many others were relatively unchanged. Here are a couple example searches:
1) Tank Man: Pulls up pretty much the same results.
2) The Chinese term for ‘Tibet Independence’ also brings up virtually identical results.
3) Corruption: News results are the same but the Chinese Wikipedia entry is mysteriously gone.
4) Tiananmen: It looks like two completely different versions of history.
5) Human Rights manages to pull up the Wikipedia entry. This one is harder to tell. A toss.
VB's research team is studying web-personalization... Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.