Censorship: Google's newest business strategy

Feb. 23, 2006, midnight | By Lois Bangiolo | 18 years, 3 months ago

The lure of money proves greater than integrity

"In line with local laws and policies, parts of the result are not listed." Written in Chinese characters, this message appears across the bottom of a web page after a search. Unfortunately Google, a company that has prided itself on its accurate, unbiased web searches, has hypocritically decided that censorship is acceptable when there is money to be made.

This blatant display of censorship appears when Chinese web-goers search any terms from a list of 20 broad topics, such as "Tibetan Independence" or "Taiwan," on Google China, Google's latest attempt to personalize and globalize the Google service.

Google China, the new Chinese-based version of Google, was designed to improve speed and accessibility of the internet to Chinese and was launched Jan. 25. Google had been available in China before but was censored by the "Great Firewall," a system of government instituted blocks that made it difficult to access and use the site. But this time around, not only is the government censoring Google, but Google is censoring itself.

All of this restriction has come from a company whose corporate philosophy states the opposite: "Google has steadfastly refused to make any change that does not offer a benefit to the users who come to the site." Censoring information benefits only the Chinese government.

But what Google really wants is to maintain a place in China. Cooperating with the Chinese authorities gives Google access to the second-largest market of internet users in the world. The number of internet search engine users is expected to increase from 100 million to 187 million in two years, a growth that is coupled with a predicted burgeoning of the value of China's search engine market from $87 million to $370 million by 2007, according to Analysis International. Maintaining a hold in China's lucrative market is a business opportunity that Google does not intend to pass up.

Google also faces competition within the China. Baidu, China's own search engine, is quickly taking over the Chinese market. It holds 52 percent of the search engine market in Beijing, 44 percent in Shanghai and 48 percent in Guangzhou. Google only has 33, 38 and 29 percent, respectively, a significant gap that Google must be eager to close — especially since only three months ago, Google had the biggest market share, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

Google says that cooperating with Chinese government authorities allows it to provide some functionality to Chinese users, which they argue is better than providing no search service at all. According to the statement issued by Google, "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."

Google China does provide information to Chinese users, but with this censorship in place, the quality of the information is greatly at stake, coming dangerously close to the "heavily degraded user experience" that Google says it is trying to avoid. A Google China search reflects solely the viewpoint of the communist regime since only search results that survive the government-chosen blocks appear. While this limited search engine does provide some information, this bias prevents it from providing information that is accurate, which can essentially amount to no information at all.

The Tiananmen Square protests — a series of student-led demonstrations against the Chinese government in 1989 — are a sensitive topic, and, therefore, Google China does not allow users to view information about them. Violent repressions by the military caused the death of 2,600 protesters, according to the Chinese Red Cross. Yet, a Google China image search does not reveal a single image of blood or the massacre. Gone are the pictures of tanks and protestors; they are replaced by innocent celebrations, buildings and maps of the area. If a user enters Tiananmen Square into uncensored Google, the first images show the tanks rolling in.

In stark contrast to their China policies, Google recently demonstrated the value of freedom in the United States when they refused to release users' personal information to the U.S. Department of Justice. But in a country ruled by democratic principles and people's rights, this show of integrity was an easy move to make. Google's American users would be outraged if Google violated personal privacy. Under China's communist government, the situation is quite the opposite and Google, rather than sticking to the ideals it can safely embrace in the United States, took the profitable and hypocritical way out, choosing to block freedom of expression to stay in business.

Google's founder letter states, "search results are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating." In China, though, users can wave goodbye to "unbiased and objective" search results, because Google, apparently, willingly trades integrity for money and freedom for censorship.

Lois Bangiolo. Lois Bangiolo was born on March 14, pi day, an auspicious date as she is now in the math-science magnet. In addition to writing for Silver Chips Online she runs track and is secretary of the MBHS Key Club. More »

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