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Google, China and Censorship: A Wired.com FAQ
April 2, 2010, Wired.com
In 2006, Google started operating a mainland China-based search engine at Google.cn — agreeing to censor search results, so long as it could mention on censored search results pages that it was blocking content at the request of the Communist government. Then in January 2010, Google announced publicly that it was sick of censorship and seeing hacking attempts aimed at government critics and would no longer abide running a censored search engine in China.
So just two business weeks ago, Google abruptly redirected all Google.cn traffic to its uncensored servers in Hong Kong, an arrangement that seems to have reached a sort of stable peace with the Chinese government.
But it’s still sort of a confusing mess …
So did Google shut down its Google.cn search engine?
Technically, yes. As of March 22, all users trying to reach Google.cn are being redirected to Google.com.hk. That url uses different servers — ones not hosted in China’s mainland.
So, the Chinese government won?
Yes, maybe. Google is not operating a search engine in China proper that is not complying with its internet censorship law. Google has been shown to be an interloper meddling in China’s internal affairs, which won’t be tolerated on a .cn domain.
But, wait, Chinese users going to Google.cn are being re-directed to an uncensored Google search engine — also in Chinese — that doesn’t censor and shows ads. So Google won, no?
Yes, maybe, exactly. Google is running an uncensored search engine that is providing mainland Chinese users an unfiltered set of search results. Hong Kong, a part of China since the British turned it over in 1997, retains a large measure of independence and does not censor political dialog online.
So can Chinese users learn all they want about Falun Gong and Melamine-tainted milk and the Tienanmen massacre?
Well, users will now see many more links in their search results than they used to. But that doesn’t mean they can actually open them, since they many are blocked directly by China’s collection of firewalls.
How can I check on what the Chinese government is censoring?
Google now has a page where it lists what services it says are blocked. You can test web search yourself using WebSitePulse’s service. Currently, many formerly blocked searches, such as one for the banned religion Falun Gong, return full search results to Chinese users. However, many of the results, such as Falun Gong’s Wikipedia entry, are blocked by the firewall.
So wait, why did Google go to China in the first place?
First, there’s money. China will eventually have more citizens online than any other country. Secondly, Google thought that by providing a local search engine, even a censored one would lead, eventually, to a reduction in censorship.
So Google gets off scott-free?
Not likely. The company is set to lose some deals where it powers the search for portals and mobile devices in China.
So will companies like Baidu push for the Chinese government to let up on its censorship policies or will they push for more censorship of Google.com.hk?
That’s an answer for tea leaf readers.
Does this mean that there is no illicit content available in China
Well, Google users can certainly see the existence of content they couldn’t see before — even small snippets. And people of means, especially Westerners, have long used for-pay VPNs to tunnel outside of the wall, while others use cloaking tools like TOR to evade the filters.
So will China use this opportunity to dismantle its Great Firewall and stop paying sock puppets to flood comment boards with pro-government postings?
That’s something only pot leaf smokers think will happen.
So when will Google.cn start operating again?
That’s not likely for a long time. Moore’s law does not apply here. But perhaps China censorship will actually lighten up over time. Just not in internet time.