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Monday, February 06, 2006

Questions For Google About Its China Partnership

Becky Hogge of OpenDemocracy.net asks important questions about Google's deal with China. While there has been much talk about what Google is doing for China by censoring search results, there hasn't been much about the broader picture of this partnership. What happens when a ubiquitous search engine that stores data from millions of user searches a day opens a service inside a totalitarian regime with a thirst to know what every one of its citizens is doing at all times? What steps does Google take to protect the information on the location and identities of users inside China who search for "politically sensitive" censored terms?
As Andrew Brown recently reported on openDemocracy, Google collects mountains of IP-address-linked data about the search behaviour of all its customers. The more services you sign up for with Google (Gmail, Desktop, Homepage) the more Google knows about you, knowledge that it shares with third parties, for example, to make better-targeted ads. This is its core business model, and the reason why small ads are so successful. To keep our information flowing into the Googleplex, Google relies on a high level of either ignorance or (one hopes, more likely) trust from its users.
But what Google's privacy policy actually states is that "Google only shares personal information with other companies or individuals outside of Google [if, among other things] we have a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request."
So our next question should be, how much data are you logging about your new Chinese customers, Google? And what will you do when the Chinese authorities ask you to hand it over? In fact, this question has already been put privately to a senior contact at Google by British web commentator Bill Thompson, who is awaiting a response.

One clue might lie in the feature of google.cn that sets it apart from the other global search providers, like MSN and Yahoo!, operating inside China. This feature – much lauded in the official statements given by Google on the day of the launch – is that google.cn tells its customers when their search results have been "filtered". How Google got that concession from the Chinese authorities might go some way to explaining why it took so long to release google.cn. But the question then has to be, what did Google offer in return?

China has plenty of technical know-how of its own, and is clearly prepared to use the network for its own ends. The Chinese authorities currently stand accused of endorsing attempts to hack into British and US government files, in what the UK Guardian called "a massive hit and run raid on the world's intellectual property to aid their booming economic growth". This heightens suspicions that denial-of-service attacks on Japanese websites, such as the official website of the controversial Yasukuni shrine, emanate from China and have the tacit approval of the Chinese authorities. China's censorship machinery goes far beyond the well-documented 50,000 officials and volunteers that watch the web to censor content, and incorporates choke points in the communications network that allow data to be filtered packet by packet.

Back in May last year, I asked this question: "If these two experts in internet traffic – Google in cataloguing it and China in censoring it – start working together, what can we expect?" The time for an answer approaches. In the meantime, we need to make sure we're asking the grown-up questions – about privacy, about data retention, about aspects of the deal Google have struck with the Chinese authorities that aren't hitting the headlines, and about the activities that will take place in Google's new research and development lab in China. And we need to ask them not just for the sake of the people of China, but for the sake of the internet as a safe space for free speech across the world.

Google must begin to answer these questions, especially if they expect us to believe their statements about commitment to the free access to information. Where does their data go? Do Chinese officials ever ask for and/or receive access to Google.cn's search logs, including IP addresses and private personal information? What level of disclosure does Google feel it is obligated to heed if and when the Chinese government requests information? Does Google feel it is obligated to inform Google.cn users when they release information to the Chinese government or any other government?


  • At 4:03 PM, Anonymous tenzin said…

    I just want to add here that in No love for Google on feb14 site, in google alternative I have noticed two of the best search engine are missing. I am not sure if its affiliated with google or not. it www.altavista.com and www.AskJeeves.com

    Lets start using these search engines.

  • At 4:11 PM, Blogger technologos said…

    I judge that Google's autocracy style corporate Rat King consensus ultimately defines appeasement policy mandate towards China's censors mandarines and creates moral corruption mindset legacy which challenges Google ethos as unique universal pseudo moral
    authority brand - 'Don't do evil'.

    Unfortunately, at stake the fate of truth values or absolutes of Intellectual integrity of global Internet Freedom Empire of Good doomed to collapse as would be world Commons Ethos initiated as far as US originated (D)Arpanet MIT/BBN military science research launched in 60s-70s original webnet global leadership totally contradicts to rat king mindset consensus of Google corporate elite reached not just on China Internet policy as professed by Google's founder Sergey Bryn in Davos to Fortune but assumed as global policy is technological drama Google plays with global audience with yielding result a genuine cognitive fallacy trauma.

    To explore the issue further I'd refer to my blog on
    Intellectual Freedom Paradygm which I post here

    Human Rights paradygm is alternative approach to view
    Internet as ultimate medium of
    intellectual freedom media and my objective is to
    discuss the essential problem how to define and how to
    defend intellectual freedom as fundamental human
    rights paradygm for internet media due to latest
    Google’s values compromise or controversy in China as
    well as with US government reveals that even
    entrepreneurial culture is morally corrupted with
    dominance of corporate authoritarian governance that
    plays well with dictatorian style draconian rules of
    China government China’s jailed leader of Tiananman
    Sq. Wang Dan who’s our test expert on China’s
    intellectual freedom thinks the internet has two
    influences. One is a good influence: Chinese people
    can have more information and have more contact.
    But the second influence is a bad influence because it
    helps the government to control people because they
    can censor the internet. So it’s very important for
    the international community to try to stop
    government’s using the internet as a tool to censor
    the people.

    NB Visual experience of Cultural revolution theater:

    Cultural revolution execution and celebration clips:
    Clips of T-Squire:


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