Bloggers condemn Google’s Chinese service

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Internet bloggers on Wednesday reacted with outrage to Google’s launch of a China-based version of its search service that actively censors results to avoid angering the country’s Communist government.

The new website, www.google.cn, has fuelled fierce debate about the degree to which foreign companies bow to Beijing’s censors to operate in the fast-growing Chinese internet market.

Google, famous for its “Don’t Be Evil” motto, sought to soften criticism by promising to inform Chinese users when search results are censored, something other China-based search services do not do.

But a search for online comments using Google’s own global blog search on Wednesday showed many bloggers were deeply opposed to a move the search company says is necessary if it is to operate within China’s “Great Firewall”.

A British blogger who topped a search on the service yesterday noted that the US company – which is officially dedicated to making information “universally accessible” – would bar searches related to Beijing’s suppression of dissent and other sensitive topics.

“I wonder if they’ve banned ‘spineless’, ‘hypocritical’ and ‘cowards’ while they’re at it?” the blogger noted. “I feel quite nauseous right now about my blog being hosted by a company which supports state terrorism against its own citizens.”

Such comments, echoed by many other online commentators from Europe and the US, underlined the danger to Google’s reputation among western users of its embrace of censorship – a risk of which it is keenly aware.

In its announcement of the move, the company argued that basing its servers in China would give users faster and more reliable access to its services.

“While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission,” a senior Google executive said.

Google’s overseas-based services have long suffered from the attentions of Chinese internet censors, who have disrupted access to its news service and disabled its “cache” function for viewing defunct websites.

However, despite such limitations, Google is easily used for non-sensitive internet searches in China and is already highly popular, with a market share second only to locally based but Nasdaq-listed rival Baidu.com.

Google’s China strategy contrasts sharply with its willingness to resist government fiat elsewhere. The company this month refused to comply with a US government subpoena for information on how people use its service and on the website addresses it has compiled.

By providing greater disclosure of its actions in China, however, Google may yet escape criticism as fierce as that directed at US portal Yahoo and software giant Microsoft, which also censor material in China but have avoided detailed comment on their policies.

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