Google and the Chinese Government
Bill Xia of DIT says that on September 15 a volunteer working with DynaWeb noticed that Google's Chinese news was returning different results depending on whether the search was conducted in China or in the United States.
Sep 22, 2004 6:00 AM PT
Bill Xia, CEO of Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), a company which runs services aimed at allowing Chinese people to access unfiltered news, says Google is helping Chinese authorities to maintain an online "matrix" that keeps people from finding out what's happening outside the country's borders.
DIT was founded in 2001 to provide low-cost, reliable Internet services for people living under repressive regimes such as China's. DIT's DynaWeb is a constantly updated, free proxy network designed to circumvent Internet blocking.
Xia told me that on September 15 a volunteer working with DynaWeb noticed that Google's Chinese news was returning different results depending on whether the search was conducted in China or in the United States.
Blocked Web Sites
"We were able to confirm this report through proxies in China," says Xia. "Search results inside China do not contain news from blocked sites such as www.epochtimes.com.au."
He says the search started with a news.google.com search on the name of a Chinese poet living in America. In the U.S. it returned three entries, two from epochtimes.com.au and one from chinesenewsnet.com.
But, Xia says, "When we used a proxy in China to simulate the search from inside China, zero results were returned." The search was made at 5:50 p.m. Eastern time on September 16. Other keywords were tested as well.
A Google spokesperson told me, "In order to create the best possible news search experience for our users, we sometimes decide not to include some sites, for a variety of reasons."
A Google spokeswoman told me, "In order to create the best possible news search experience for our users, we sometimes decide not to include some sites, for a variety of reasons." For example, she said, "they may display improperly in our service, or be inaccessible to users. We have not included links to a number of sources that are not accessible to mainland China Internet users."
Google and the Matrix
That answer does not satisfy Xia. "The Chinese government controls the media and the military and through them, is able to create a 'Matrix' that hides Web sites that relate to civil rights and opinions the Chinese authorities don't want people to see," he says.
Xia added, "And of course, these are the only places people can find this kind of 'forbidden information' and by excluding [it], Google is actively helping the Chinese government to enhance its 'Matrix.' This exercise is no different to Yahoo China's exclusion of oversea sites when words such as 'Falun Gong' are searched.
"I condemn it and urge the public to demand that Google explains how it's able to justify the practice."
Xia also said that he has demonstrated that Google is using geographical differentiation to display different results to different locations.
Chinese Search Engines
Google also has a minority share in Baidu.com, a Chinese search engine.
"Baidu is the largest independent search engine, but much smaller than the leading portals Sohu.com and Sina.com," according to Poynteronline, which continues:
"Two years ago, Baidu put itself on the media radar and angered many Chinese Internet users. China's censors had installed new filtering software to keep unwanted information out of the country. For [as] yet unclear reasons, Google was very prominent on the hit list of those new IT-goodies and people who wanted to Google ended mostly up in the Baidu.com Web site."
Internal Google documents obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle reveal that in Europe Google is the clear search leader, but Asia is "an entirely different story," the paper wrote. The company's search engine ranked third in Hong Kong and tenth in Japan.
"China is also considered to be particularly tough," according to the Chronicle. "Many Chinese companies already dominate the search market there. In June, Google invested a reported $10 million in one of them, Baidu."
The Chronicle story also points out that wherever Google has offices, "it faces a variety of laws. In some cases, that includes filtering Web sites for illegal content. Google has blocked more than 100 such Web sites in France and Germany, according to a study by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Google insists that it is merely complying with the law and that the filtering does not affect search results elsewhere in the world."
Do It Yourself
If you're planning to emulate the DynaWeb search, don't use high-profile keywords such as "Falun Gong" or "religious freedom" because they'll trigger the national firewall in China and disconnect you from Google or from the proxy you're using, depending on where you are and how you're doing the search.
"Use dissidents' or writers' names who publish articles or are reported on oversea Web sites," suggests Xia.
He adds, "If you triggered the keyword blocking, you can try to find another proxy and change your IP by restarting your computer or logging off and logging back in."
If you're Chinese and you're looking for a way to access independent Internet news sources, try Freegate, the DIT program written to help Chinese citizens circumvent Web blocking outside of China. Download it here.
Jon Newton, a TechNewsWorld columnist, founded and runs p2pnet.net, a daily peer-to-peer and digital media news site focused on issues surrounding file-sharing, the entertainment industry and distributed computing. p2pnet is based in Canada where sharing music online is legal.