Google vs. China: Google draws line at censorship in prize market
Google challenged China censorship rules Tuesday – saying it would stop filtering its search engine results or leave the country – after it uncovered a vicious cyberattack on human rights activists.
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Instead, says Mr. Sullivan, Google engineers might turn to “trying to help the Chinese get to Google” on servers outside the country, by punching a hole through the “Great Firewall” that blocks content unacceptable to Beijing.Skip to next paragraph
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Google CEO Eric Schmidt was one of several top American IT executives who met United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week as she draws up plans to help citizens abroad get uncensored access to the Internet. She is due to unveil a technological policy initiative on Internet freedom next week.
“Our policies on Internet freedom in part are a response to the fact that there are countries around the world that systematically stifle their citizens’ access to information,” Clinton aide Alec Ross told Reuters on Tuesday.
Cordoning off cyberspace
This could pit the US government and US companies directly against China, take the battle to new heights, and transform the nature of the Internet.
If China went beyond simply censoring search-engine results to block Google’s ability to search and index resources on the Chinese Web, “we would be entering a completely new era for the Internet,” says Rafal Rohozinski, a researcher with SecDev, a cyber-investigative consultancy based in Ottawa, Canada.
Google and other search engines can currently index the whole of cyberspace. Should China or any other government establish “sovereign space in cyberspace, where companies cannot play except by their rules … the paradigm of the Internet begins to shift quite fundamentally,” Mr. Rohozinski argues.
The official news agency Xinhua quoted a Chinese official as saying that authorities were "seeking more information on Google's statement that it could quit China."
China’s leaders use their tight control over information as a key tool with which to shore up their power. They see the Internet as a potentially dangerous conduit of information that “Western subversive forces” use to foment dissatisfaction in restive parts of the country such as Tibet and Xinjiang, says Wenran Jiang, a China expert at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Since ethnic riots in the Xinjiang capital, Urumuqi, killed more than 200 people last June, Internet access has been all but cut off in the region. Social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been blocked throughout the country.
While Beijing accepted international trade rules to join the World Trade Organization and a globalized economy, it will not adopt international standards on information freedom any time soon, predicts Professor Jiang.
“In the long run, they cannot control information, and they will have to find ways to accommodate dissident views,” Jiang says. “But at the moment, they have no other way but censorship."