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Google’s Chinese website criticized for censorship

WASHINGTON (BP)–Although Google is fighting a U.S. Justice Department probe into Internet pornography, it has begun acquiescing to the Chinese government.

Google announced Jan. 24 that “it will block politically sensitive terms on its new China search site,” as reported by Reuters, “and will not offer e-mail, chat and blog publishing services” -– restrictions that “go further than many of its biggest rivals in China.”

Google’s stance prompted protest from various quarters, including the president of a Washington-based religious liberty institute.

“Google has turned its back on freedom of information in favor of profits” and has contradicted the convictions it had espoused “throughout the world since its inception,” Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, charged in a letter to Google President Eric Schmidt that was circulated to news media.

“It would be in the best interest of not only Google but also the Chinese people for your company to educate itself further on the hardships faced by so many in China,” Grieboski said. “Google could be the leader of a free distribution of all information, not just that which provides financial benefit.”

Grieboski also stated, “With a censored Google website, only propaganda speaking against minority groups will circulate, expurgating any unbiased information from the Chinese public and further forcing underground faiths to smuggle information out of the country.”

Citing the Google philosophy of “There’s always more information out there,” Grieboski wrote that “if this agreement [between Google and China] remains as is, the only information ‘out there’ will be information the Chinese government deems acceptable.”

Grieboski credited Google, until now, for having been “a champion of the free flow of ideas and information. In its ‘Ten Things Google has Found to be True,’ the company stresses that ‘the need for information crosses all borders,’ ‘democracy on the web works,’ and that there is an ability to make money ‘without doing evil.’ With Google, Inc.’s self-censorship agreement in China, it has violated its own body of beliefs. There will be no information without borders, no democracy of the internet.”

While it has embarked on its pro-Chinese course, Google has been fighting a Justice Department subpoena for a range of material from Google’s databases to bolster efforts to revive an Internet child protection law that the Supreme Court struck down two years ago.

Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, defended Google’s China decision in an interview with Reuters, saying, “I didn’t think I would come to this conclusion — but eventually I came to the conclusion that more information is better, even if it is not as full as we would like to see…. The practical matter is that over the last couple of years Google in China was censored — not by us but by the government, via the ‘Great Firewall.’”

Brin also observed, “France and Germany require censorship for Nazi sites, and the U.S. requires censorship based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These various countries also have laws on child pornography.” Even so, he told Reuters, those who disagree with Google’s decision have “a reasonable point of view.”

Frida Ghitis, author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television,” wrote in the Boston Globe, “China’s ruling regime has perfected the science of controlling what the Chinese can read or write on the Internet to such a degree that it has become the envy of tyrants and dictators the world over. We might have expected that from a regime that has proven it will do whatever it takes to stay in power. What we never expected was to see Google, the company whose guiding motto reads ‘Don’t be evil,’ helping in the effort.”

Ghitis said Google is “hardly alone in its decision to capitulate to Beijing’s rulers in order to gain a Web share of China’s 1.3 billion inhabitants…. Just last year, Yahoo helped Beijing’s Web goons track down the identity of a Chinese journalist who wrote an e-mail about the anniversary of the 1994 Tiananmen Square massacre — a massacre of thousands of Chinese democracy advocates perpetrated by the same regime whose efforts Google now abets. The journalist, Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Reporters Without Borders labeled Yahoo an ‘informant’ that has ‘collaborated enthusiastically’ with the Chinese regime. Microsoft, too, plays by the dictatorship’s rules. Bloggers on MSN’s service cannot type words such as ‘democracy’ or ‘freedom.’

“Neither Yahoo nor Microsoft claims to have higher ethical standards than the competition,” Ghitis wrote. “The often-stated desire to ‘do good’ and make the world a better place was one of the traits that endeared Google to the public. It was one of the reasons we trusted them to guard the precious and valuable contents of their thousands of servers. Now Google has become a company like all others, one with an eye on the bottom line before anything else.”

Ghitis suggested that Internet users “rethink that Gmail account and demand some safeguards from a potentially dangerous company.”

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