Bravo: Google stickin’ it to the communist-man in China

posted at 3:43 pm on June 4, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

Besides the many disgusting physical human rights violations that occur on the regular in China — forced abortions and live organ harvesting and whatnot — the Chinese regime also keeps a lockdown on its people’s intellectual activity with various technological holds. The things you can do on that wonderful, highly powerful network of human idea-sharing, the Internet, are pretty well restricted in China, as the government doesn’t tolerate much of anything that could subvert people’s loyalty away from the state. (Hey, give ‘em a break, right? Communism is hard.)

A couple of years back, Google found itself in a major pickle when they were trying to expand their service to China: Abide by the Chinese government’s censorship rules, to which most Americans are morally opposed, or deprive the Chinese people of a useful service that makes people’s lives more efficient and convenient. Google decided to go for it, but it’s been an uphill battle — they had to move their web search and other services to Hong Kong to avoid working with the Chinese regulations.

Last week, Google announced that they’re implementing a way to let Chinese users know — without actually letting them know — what’s going on with their failed searches. This was news on Friday, but it is much too awesome to let pass without comment. Totally brill:

Google has begun notifying Chinese users when they are using search terms that can trigger China’s Internet blocks, in its boldest challenge in two years to Beijing’s efforts to restrict online content.

The search giant unveiled on its Chinese site this week a new mechanism that identifies political and other sensitive terms that are censored by Chinese authorities.

For example, when users search for keywords like “carrot” — which contains the character for Chinese president Hu Jintao’s surname — a yellow dropdown message says: “We’ve observed that searching for ‘hu’ in mainland China may temporarily break your connection to Google. This interruption is outside Google’s control.”

Google acknowledged on its official blog Thursday that users in China are having trouble accessing its services, saying failed searches can impair performance on the site. “Users are regularly getting error messages like ‘This webpage is not available’ or ‘The connection was reset,’ ” the post said.

Google says it hopes the alerts “will help improve the search experience in mainland China,” where Google’s search and other services have been unstable since it entered a public spat with Chinese authorities over censorship over two years ago. A Google spokesman declined to comment further.

Chinese officials do not discuss their Internet restrictions, and its search terms are treated as state secrets. In its post, Google said the trigger terms were identified based on reviews of the outcomes of the 350,000 most popular search queries in China, not an official list.

The post does not mention censorship, or explicitly say Chinese authorities are the cause of the blocks.

Nice one, Google. Who knows whether the Chinese government will let this continue — when the freedom-parties get too crazy, they tend to shut things down pretty quickly — but in the meantime, beating China at their own game feels like a brief, shining moment of poetic justice. Heh.


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