Regulation v. Freedom: China v. Google

Abstract

color-china-v-google.jpg

The relationship between American search giant, Google, and the Chinese government has been uneasy to say the least. As a search engine Google strives to provide information to millions of people around the globe, while China’s policies on what information is allowed to be made public should be considered strict at best. In China, Google has gone from being blocked and/or crippled, to having a self-censoring Chinese domain, to re-directing to an uncensored page in Hong Kong, to finally waiting to hear from the Chinese government about whether or not they can continue to do business there. We believe that Google should be allowed to operate in China uncensored, and that it is unfair that the Chinese government can push them around as it has been. China is known for its tendency to censor the media and has been very harsh in the past with citizens and companies that do not cooperate by passing out jail time, fines, and disbanding organizations. While Google does censor in places other than China it does so unwillingly and is the only search engine to tell you if pages are being censored. After moving out of China, Google has begun rallying support in countries such as the United States hoping that pressure from other nations and its own citizens will cause the Chinese government to loosen their control of the media. Government officials and business leader in the United States have taken a variety of stances from Hillary Clinton’s adamant anti-censorship view, to Barrack Obama and Bill Gates view that speaking out against the Chinese government is an unwise choice as it will strain an already tense relationship between the two countries. [1]


Background Information

The relationship between search giant Google and the Chinese government has always been tense. China is well known in the western world for its strict policies on what needs to be censored, and Google has always been an advocate of free speech and would prefer their results go uncensored, so when the two met it was a relationship bound to end poorly.

Timeline of Events

September 2002:

China blocked access to Google for its lack of censoring information that the government had declared must be censored. A large outcry was heard from free speech activists as well as researchers in China who use Google to do research for their projects. [2]

January 2006:

In order to increase the quality of its presence in China, Google launches Google.cn. Until this time searching on Google.com in China was flaky at best, many aspects of Google.com such as Image search and Google News often caused browser malfunctions and were slow as they were being monitored. By launching Google.cn, Google hopes to fix these problems but to do this they have “agreed to remove certain sensitive information from our search results” [3] Google made it clear that this was not something they really wanted to do, but that it was something they felt they must do because although “Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world's population, however, does so far more severely.” [3] Google felt that offering their services as a search engine to the millions of people in China was a good move for Google, and in the end the Chinese people because they would be able to provide results that other search engines in China could not.

January 2010:

Google states that due to the Chinese government’s attempts to limit free speech and computer hackers from within China attacking the Gmail accounts of human rights activists, Google would consider not censoring itself any more and/or shutting down it’s Chinese operation altogether. [4] This news was met with praise from the free speech community but was by no means an easy decision for Google as China is one of the most populous nations in the world and losing it’s stake there would not only be bad for business, but would also go against Google’s vision to bring easy search to everyone. In response to these accusations and the threat that Google may stop censoring or leave China, the Chinese government said that “China like other countries administers the internet according to the law” [5] and that Google was responsible for operating within the laws of China.

March 2010:

In response to cyberattacks in earlier months and what Google deemed unfair censorship and involvement by the Chinese government, Google has began re-routing all traffic from Google.cn to Google.com.hk. By doing this the Chinese people are now receiving uncensored search results from Google’s simplified Chinese website based in Hong Kong. In response to this action a state official in China said that “Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service” [6] While Google was praised for its efforts to stop censoring many people in China are worried that by leaving they will lose access to information vital to their research, “In January, when Google first threatened to leave China, many young people placed wreaths at the company headquarters in Beijing as a sign of mourning.” [6]

June 2010:

Google submitted an application to renew its license to do business in China as it stopped re-directing traffic to google.com.hk and said it would create a google.cn landing page which would allow users to link to the uncensored Hong Kong site if they desired. This came after Chinese government officials told Google that the re-direct to Google.com.hk was unacceptable and would likely cause them to revoke Google’s license to operate in China. [7]

Controversial Position

With that in mind the issue at hand is whether or not it is ok for governments to regulate search results or if it should be up to the discretion of the company. We feel that it should be up to the discretion of the company and support Google’s move towards fully uncensored results in China. Although Google is making anti-censorship movements China is not the only place where it has censored search results. In fact the United States government has requested Google censor search results the fourth most of all other countries excluding China. [8] Google is by no means the only company which censors it’s results, both Yahoo and Microsoft have been criticized for cooperating with the Chinese government in censoring results. [9]. All three companies have a good reason for wanting to work with the Chinese government in order to continue doing business there, as “the Chinese internet search market is growing by 40% a year”. [10] The question is, where should the tradeoff be, is it better for the Chinese people to not have Google, or is it better for them to have Google with censored results? And more importantly is it fair to have to choose between the two.

Video from Reuters[11], June 30, 2010:


Chinese Government Censorship

As part of the communist government in the People’s Republic of China, censorship in the media is mandated. The main censored topics are democracy, independence, anarchy, pornography, financial variations, and corruption. While most of China must follow these rules, Hong Kong and Macau govern themselves differently and allow more lenient policies. [12] This explains why Google specifically started routing their Google.cn traffic to its Google.hk server in order to allow for less restrictive searches.

Below is an example (broken down by occurrences in 2002) of blocked sites from Google searches while on the Google.cn server. The chart comes from Harvard Cyber Law[13]:

google-kw2.gif

Methods of Censorship

Below is a list of censorship methods used by the government[14]:

  • imprisonment
  • fines
  • disbanding publications
  • self censorship (through incentives)
  • firing/demoting
  • claiming libel
Funny_Pictures_7392.jpg

[15]

Censorship Organizations

The Central Propaganda Department (CPD) controls the two largest monitoring agencies to ensure consistency. The first agency is the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), and the second is the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). Both agencies have the power to prohibit and disband their specific media outlets. [14]

As part of their censorship of the 2008 Olympic Games, China established the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) to regulate foreign press from reaching Chinese citizens. Several correspondents were threatened of non-renewal of their press visas. China has been noted as having arrested the most reporters and “dissenters” in the world. From 2006 to 2007 alone, the number of arrests of political prisoners increased by 35% to 761 people. [16]

Reporters Without Borders

While it is interesting to note that the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees citizens freedom of speech and press, citizens are not necessarily protected from criminal prosecution by the government. [17] China recently ranked 168 out of 175 countries by Reporters Without Borders for its lack of press freedom. [18] According to the most recent report by Reporters Without Borders:

…tens of thousands of cyber-police and cyber-censors constantly monitor the Web to purge it of “immoral and subversive” content. All this while the government bolsters its propaganda output by throwing money at a multiplicity of official media, particularly the Xinhua news agency and the broadcast group CCTV.

All the while, internet users slip through the cracks:

Despite strict laws and the self-censorship imposed on companies in the sector, the Internet is a freer space than the press. Bloggers and Internet users in general post news that is not printed by the media and help to shape public opinion.

Economic Protection

In 2006, a law was written preventing reporters from publishing “sudden events” (or news, in other words) without authorization. [19] While this censorship may claim to protect the government and culture, many argue that the censorship also protects China’s economy through domestic protection.[20] However, Frank Ching from the Korea Times [19] disagrees:

Muzzling the press will even affect economic growth and foreign investment. A sterile environment does not foster the emergence of entrepreneurs. Without a free flow of information, foreign businesses will be less likely to pour money into the country. Business executives will be less willing to bring their families to live in a country where they won't know about public health hazards.

Group 5 Response to Government Censorship

We believe that no government shall impose strict censorship upon its citizens, especially cases that involve severe health concerns or financial risk. In our research of government censorship, Chinese censorship has proven to harm citizens through misinformation or lack of distribution more than it has proven to protect citizens from differing cultures, religions, and governances.


Google Terms of Use

Many people may think that Google only censors results in China; however this is not the case. Google has been censoring search results in the United States and in other countries around the world for many years[12]. Google must follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States. Any material that is not compliant with this act may be censored by Google. An example of this was in 2002 when Google censored websites with information pertaining to Scientology[21].

Google must comply with whatever laws the originating country has set forth. To operate in China, Google needs to have an Internet Content Provider License[22]. Since Hong Kong is an entity recognized by international treaty, it does not have to follow the censorship of information laws in China. This is why Google is able to redirect traffic from Google.cn to uncensored servers in Hong Kong[23].

Google has recently developed a tool that shows government censorship requests. The map tool shows countries that have requested information be removed from Google. Google stated that they believe the new map tool will lead to less censorship in the future. This is believed to be true because the public will be able to see who is censoring the available content. China has still managed to slip under the radar and is not shown on the Google map tool. China considers their censorship as confidential information and has not allowed Google to disclose their requests. If the requests from China were made public they would more than likely be at the top of the list on their new map tool. Currently, Brazil has the top spot on the list and the United States holds the fourth position[24].

Terms of Service relating to current issue

Google identifies the rules and regulations they abide by as its terms of service[25].

Google users are expected to understand that by simply using their features they are accepting the terms of service agreement. Users are not permitted to use Google if the country they are currently located in does not allow them to do so. Also, if terms of service are provided in any other language besides English, it is just for the user’s convenience. The English version of Google’s terms of service overrides any other version.

Google also has the right to stop their service to any user at any time without notice. Perhaps this is why Google was able to choose not to provide service to China at their discretion. All information that a user may acquire through the use of Google is not Google’s responsibility. All content accessed from using Google is the responsibility of the originating source.

Google refers to the various formats of information simply as content. Examples of content include pictures, videos, data and text files, and audio. Google specifically states in the terms of service that user’s may encounter content that is objectionable. A user is also responsible for any content that they create or display and the consequences for doing so.

Google lists many reasons in their terms of service that give them the right to end their legal agreement with a user. A few of these reasons may pertain to the justification Google used to discontinue their services in China. One of the reasons is if Google is no longer allowed to provide services to a user’s country. Another reason may be if the partner that Google has provided its services with no longer has relations with Google.

Google seems to also hold the privacy and security of its users as an extremely important guideline to their services and actions. Some of their top priorities include making users aware when personal information is being collected and also giving users options to protect their privacy[26].

Google clearly labels its terms of service and privacy principles while giving many examples dealing with different sections of their user agreement. The previously mentioned interpretations of Google’s policies may be the motivation or grounds for which Google took its actions involving China.


American Response

cam012109_google_chinacol.jpg?pictureId=4247835&asGalleryImage=true

[27]

Many Americans have been angered by China’s extreme efforts to censor what its citizens are able to view on the American. It is a sensitive situation, because although Americans have a much more liberal freedom of speech than the Chinese, censorship in America has increased since the September 11 attacks. Many Americans believe that the Chinese government needs to be taking a greater stand against the hijackers. Americans are also feeling particularly threatened because Chinese hijackers targeted American computers. The United States government feels that the Chinese government needs to be more proactive about determining the culprits of these attacks. The Chinese’s government relationship with the United States has soured due to the Chinese dispute with Google as well as the hijacking attacks. While many Americans have something to say about this conflict, there are still differing opinions within the United States.

Due to its newly strained relationship with China, Google is now trying to rally support from other countries such as the United States[28]. In an effort to bring unwanted press to China and rally support from other countries, Google has reached out to the United States to interfere in the dispute under the grounds that China’s censorship is affecting global trade and other markets. Google feels that if the United States takes a stand against the Chinese government, then the Chinese will ultimately change the censorship laws. The United States is not the only country that Google has contacted about the matter. A lawyer for Google has recently said that he believes the United States will be cooperative in the matter, and will inevitably convince China to decrease its censorship.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has been particularly vocal in regards to the Google China situation. Clinton immediately stated that she stood with Google in the matter. She believes that media companies in the United States need to be more hands-on in regards to censorship and foreign countries. She believes that American companies should not bow under pressure from foreign countries to censor their media. In a a very dramatic speech at the Washington newseum, Clinton said,

The private sector has a shared responsibility to help safeguard freedom of expression. And when their business dealings threaten to undermine those freedoms, they need to consider what's right – not what's simply a quick profit.

In the speech, Clinton seemed very adamnant in stating her position against censorship. She stated that a government program would be developed in order to help other countries decrease the amount of censorship in the media[29].

Barack Obama

While Clinton has been the one of the first to step up and state her position against the Chinese government, there are many differing opinions within the United States government due to its complicated ties with China. Barack Obama does not want the Google conflict to interfere with its business with China and is therefore attempting to take a neutral stand in the conflict. Obama believes that if the United States does take a stand against China, then it will cause a lot of unwanted conflict between the two countires. While the Obama administration is trying not to cause any other disputes with China, they have been aware of Google’s actions since the incident. While they are attempting to be neutral in the matter, there are other factors not related to Google that could strain the relationship between the United States and Chinese governments[30]. Hillary Clinton’s very vocal response in regard to the dispute is opposite to what the United States is attempting to convey to the Chinese government. Her decision to be so vocal about the matter puts the United States in an awkward position.

Bill Gates

Obama is not the only American to choose against taking a side in the Google China dispute. Bill Gates does not feel that the censorship of Google is a violation of rights. As the founder of the worldwide software company Microsoft, Gates disagrees with Google’s decision to go against the Chinese government. His view is that the censorship is not extreme, and can be easily avoiding. In regards to this he has been quoted, saying “It's easy to go around it, so I think keeping the internet thriving there is very important." Another Microsoft executive also criticized Google’s position with China, solidifying Microsoft’s position against Google[31].

International Relations

The Google China dispute has been discussed extensively worldwide, and it is apparent that there are many consequences to Google’s decision to protest against China. While there are some in the United States who have chosen to stand by Google in their decision to rally for increased freedom of speech, there are others who choose not to put themselves in the middle of the conflict. By choosing to stay neutral in the matter, Obama hopes to avoid any backlash that might come with criticizing China and its censorship laws. The matter has had a great affect on the United States- Chinese relationship, and has made ties between the two countries much more sensitive[32].


See Also

Google Suggested Search FTL
People's Republic of China
Google
Google China
Google Terms of Service


References

Bibliography
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Responses from classmates

Google's objective is like any other company's, to expand and make money. Every year organizations are looking to increase their revenue. Google's main objective is not to "spread the word" or give people information, but to make money. China should be allowed to censor Google because Google is trying to get access to the billions of dollars that can be generated from China. China can be seen as a consumer and consumers should always get what they ask for. Google should follow the rules of the country and censor what China asks to be censored. The quote that many people have heard of "The customer is always right" can be applied to this situation between China and Google. If Google does not want to do what China says, then Google should just leave China and let other search engines that will oblige to China's requests take over and make money.

For example: If you were a customer and wanted your pizza with no anchovies, and the pizza company would not cater to your likings and always put anchovies in your pizza. Would you want to get pizza from this company? or get it from someone who will cater to your request? This is basically what Google is trying to do, supplying uncensored websites to China who does not want it.


John Kizer

I think the main thing to remember in this situation is that not every country is like the United States, and not every country has freedom of speech and freedom of press. While I disagree with China’s form of government and the amount of material they censor, it is ultimately up to them to decide what they want to do. It is not Google’s right to tell a country how they want to operate and run their business. For example, an international tourist does not get to bring his own set of laws with him from his home country. He must abide by the laws of whatever country he is in. Therefore, Google needs to understand that while they may censor a minimal amount of material in the U.S., they will have to be much more conservative in China. I found the article interesting, especially with regards to the search terms which were blocked. I was particularly interested in why they would block so much information about AIDS and other STD’s.


Faris Alkordy

There are many advantages and disadvantages in censoring websites for governments. For example, a lot of countries ban some political websites due to some political reasons. In any case, no one can blame a government for any action they take in order to prevent their nation. On the other hand, one of the disadvantages of censoring websites is that some of the people may feel less freedom of speech inside their country. I believe that the Chinese government has the right to censor websites that violates the laws of the country. I know that some of the banned websites do not violate government rules, but I believe that the country has the right to censor Internet websites however they like.

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