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Google to censor sensitive terms in China

SAN FRANCISCO/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Internet search giant Google Inc. will block politically sensitive terms on its new China site, bowing to conditions set by Beijing in return for access to the world's number-two Internet market.

The voluntary concessions laid out on Tuesday by Google, which is launching a China-based search site as it officially enters the market, would parallel similar self-censorship already practiced there by most multinationals and domestic players.

Homegrown giants like Sohu.com Inc. and Baidu.com Inc., along with China sites operated by Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft, all routinely block searches on politically sensitive terms such as the Falun Gong spiritual movement and Taiwan independence.

"In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn in response to local law, regulation or policy," Andrew McLaughlin, Google's senior policy counsel, said in a statement.

"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission."

Google, known for its "Don't do evil" mantra, is developing its China approach as it seeks to strike a balance between the freedom of information it champions and the censorship demanded by Beijing, which controls access to China's 111 million Internet users.

The company added that at least for now, it will stay away from e-mail and blogging in China, which have been the source of recent controversies after Beijing demanded information on an e-mail user from Yahoo, and Microsoft pulled down a politically sensitive posting from its China-based blog service.

Google said it will also stay away from chat rooms, another popular form of expression over the Internet.

OFFERINGS

Instead, it said it would initially offer four of its core services -- Web site and image search, Google News and local search -- while working toward introducing additional services over time.

"Other products -- such as Gmail and Blogger -- will be introduced only when we are comfortable that we can do so in a way that strikes a proper balance among our commitments to satisfy users' interests, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions," McLaughlin said.

The first glimpse at Google's new Chinese offerings comes less than a week after it resisted the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to get information about commonly used sex search terms. That government demand was met by Yahoo and Microsoft, spokesmen for those companies said.

"China is the most repressive censorship regime on the Internet," said John Palfrey, one of the principal investigators on a joint university research project on global Internet censorship known as the OpenNet Initiative.

He estimated that through active and passive censorship tens of thousands of search terms are blocked for Web users in China.

Google has long offered a full-featured Chinese language version of its Google.com service available to users worldwide and run from computers in its California headquarters.

But the company is preparing to run the service from China under a site with the local suffix ".cn", after getting a business license to operate in the market last year, hiring two key executives to head its China operation and signing up an initial round of partners to market some of its ad services.

Google officials said they planned to notify users of its Google.cn service when the company has restricted access to certain search terms or the Web sites behind them.

In different political circumstances, Google also notifies users of its German, French and U.S. services when it blocks access to material such as banned Nazi sites in Europe.

(Additional reporting by Scott Hillis in SAN FRANCISCO)

Date posted: January 25, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 9