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Posts tagged ‘China’

Google Censorship in China

As a follow-up to yesterday’s entry, I thought I would explore the censorship that Google was enacting in order to appease the Chinese government. The protests and ensuing violence that took place near Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989 are a taboo topic in China and only the views of the party are allowed to be disseminated. Many of you would think this would be one of the first things to be censored.
Search Engine Watch posted a side-by-side comparison of images.google.com and images.google.cn doing a search for tiananmen using the western character set. Yes, there seems to be some censorship going on there. They suggest that you mis-spell tiananmen (change the a’s to e’s) at which point you will have defeated the english censorship. While that is interesting, it’s not realistic of how a Chinese gal sitting behind a computer is going to do a Google search.
I think I have my translation proper that Tiananmen = 天安門 – it’s the gate of heavenly ascension. When you execute this search, you will notice towards the bottom of the first page what looks like stain in the shape of a human body. If you click through, you will find a Japanese page with all sorts of images of crushed bicyclists, tanks, the access road to Tiananmen Square, etc. Based on the results, I guess my Chinese translation is correct.
So what is being censored? Based on my non-scientific approach, it is hard to say. My assertion yesterday was that the Chinese wanted to preclude its citizens from creating and viewing sites that promote unrest and revolt against the government. There is probably more to it, but I don’t think it is as clear cut as the paranoid American society wants to make it.

The Difference Between America and the Rest of the World

Google has received a lot of flack over the past week regarding their refusal to hand over information to the US Department of Justice and their agreement with the chinese to censor search results. I think it is unfair to characterize these decisions as greedy. Rather, it is smart business that is merely observing the laws of the jurisdictions they wish to operate in.
For those of you in the United States, if a police officer came to your home (without a warrant or any prompting of any kind) and asked you if he could look around, would you let him? Probably not. Does that mean you have something to hide? No. It just means that in the United States, we have some level of a right of privacy from governmental intrusion without probably cause. If you were a US citizen staying in the Beijing International Hotel and an officer came to your room and asked if he could look around, would you let him? The fact is, you probably wouldn’t have a choice, but you would be saving face by allowing it and would end up with a lot less hassle in the end.
My point is that businesses are just like people in that they have to operate according to the laws of the juridictions they are operating within. If the DOJ could come up with a good reason other than “you have a lot of data and we sure would like to look at it”, it would be a different matter. But simply wanting to look at their data isn’t a good enough reason for them to hand it over in the United States.
Conversely, while China is the site of increasing demonstration and protest activity, speech is not a freedom like it is in the United States. The Internet has opened the world to the Chinese like nothing else could. Information flows freely much the same as it does here. My understanding of what the Chinese government is trying to censor is access to sites that incite political unrest that goes beyond civil disobedience. Some sites offer viewpoints and suggestions that are the equivalent of yelling FIRE! in a movie theatre.
I imagine they will eventually reach the same level of freedoms we are at (after all, nirvana is central to the buddhist faith). If Iraq has taught us one thing, it should be that governments cannot change their forms overnight. It is a slow and sometimes painful process. We are used to getting things on demand, but changing the way of life for 1.5 billion people can’t be one of those things. So let Google help them censor some stuff – just imagine how the rest of what is in their indexes can benefit from having China engaged in the conversation.

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