Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Brin was no expert on international diplomacy. So he ordered a half-dozen books about Chinese history, business, and politics on and splurged on overnight shipping. He consulted with Schmidt, Page, and David Drummond, Google's general counsel and head of business development, then put in a call to tech industry doyenne Esther Dyson for advice and contacts. Google has no offices in China, so Brin enlisted go-betweens to get the message to Chinese authorities that Google would be very interested in working out a compromise to restore access. "We didn't want to do anything rash," Brin says. "The situation over there is more complex than I had imagined."

Four days later, Chinese authorities restored access to the site. How did that happen? For starters, the Chinese government was deluged with outcries from the nation's 46 million Internet users when access to Google was cut off. "Internet users in China are an apolitical crowd," says Xiao Qiang, executive director of New York-based Human Rights In China. "They tend to be people who are doing well, and they don't usually voice strong views. But this stepped into their digital freedom."

The quick workaround: Chinese authorities tweaked the national firewall, making the new Google China different from the site that was turned off. Today, Chinese who use Google to search on terms like "falun gong" or "human rights in china" receive a standard-looking results page. But when they click on any of the results, either their browsers are redirected to a blank or government-approved page, or their computers are blocked from accessing Google for an hour or two. "They have a new mechanism that can block the results of certain searches," Brin says. Did Google help China find or obtain the filtering technology? "We didn't make changes to our servers" is all he'll say.

Seth Finkelstein describes how Google self-censorship works. Also, Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School have a paper on Localized Google search result exclusions which is quite interesting.

I can understand from a business perspective why Google would do this, but whenever I bring this up with people they deny it or can't believe it.

Does anyone else have any more information on this?

PS This has nothing to do with trying to hurt Google or their IPO. I've been trying to figure this out for the last few weeks and have reached a dead end in my research so I'm trying to understand more. How companies like this work with governments and how this information is then disclosed is very important.


Hi Joi, thanks for the link. What do you mean by more information? I have a follow-up paper planned, which I haven't written yet since I'm not on the A-list so nobody will hear it :-)

It's real easy to demonstrate it happens. Just compare

German StormFront search
US StormFront search

I have some ways to search more of the Google censorship blacklist, but again, some of them are legally risky.

Can you send any of money, (PR) guns, or lawyers my way? It'd help.

Sorry to be so crude, but this is not easy work.

I'm sure the Google people are shaking in their boots over the possibility that your blog will derail their IPO.

My point was that my intention was not to cause an "uproar" or anything. Just trying to figure out what was going on. interesting post by Dan Gillmor on a company trying to censor Google.

Not to single Google out, I think Yahoo and just about anyone working in China has to work closely with the censors.

In addition to blocking the search for information China appears to be blocking creation of information as well:

"Several press reports earlier this year said the government shut two blogging services and banned access to all Web logs by Chinese citizens."

The China Digital News weblog has good coverage of the annual China's Digital Future conference, that took place this weekend at UC Berkeley. Some of the speakers seemed pretty knowledgable on technology-government interaction.

It is better to get part of Google then none at all. There is no way can that they screen out everything. To paraphrase an old slogan “it is better to have a candle to light then to curse the darkness.”
Best wishes,
Barry O’Connell