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Without Fanfare, Google Removed Censorship Warnings from China Search in December

BY Julia Wetherell | Monday, January 7 2013

Google's Hong Kong homepage

Google China appears to have removed a feature that warned users of the search engine that they were querying words censored by the government. The change to the Google.cn homepage is believed to have occurred sometime early last month, after Chinese authorities blocked the search giant for 24 hours in November and increased censorship of Gmail. The feature, which came online in summer 2012, was formerly a component of Google’s stance against China’s Internet censorship; it went so far as provide users with a guide to circumventing government blocks.

Google has a tumultuous history within the bounds of the Great Firewall. After the international version of the site was intermittently censored by Chinese authorities throughout the early 2000s, Google.cn launched in 2006 with some concessions to the government, including blocks on certain websites. However, after suffering a 2010 cyberattack that originated from mainland China, Google announced it would end its complicity in online censorship, redirecting censored sites to its Hong Kong server and moving much of its physical operation to the semi-autonomous state.

As Wired reported, switching off censorship alerts may not be so much a capitulation to the government as an attempt to gain business ground in China, where Baidu holds a 74 percent market share in search to Google’s middling 5 percent.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt — who touched down in North Korea earlier today — has been openly critical of China’s Internet policies, claiming this summer it is the world’s only government that is “not shy” about its practice of active censorship. In the same report, Schmidt asserted that his company believes in “empowering people who care about freedom of expression.” But this soft compliance with censorship seems to belie that sentiment, indicating that, for now, Google’s business interests in China might override its free-speench agenda.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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