Google Unveils Censored Search Engine in China

Google has launched a new version of its search engine Web site in China. The site censors material about Tibet, human rights and other topics considered sensitive by the Chinese government. The move comes shortly after the company was praised for not complying with a U.S. federal subpoena for its records.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block. The search engine Google has been blasted by human rights groups. The criticism came after Google announced it would launch a censored version of its search engine in China in order to comply with Chinese regulations. NPR's Laura Sydell has the story.

LAURA SYDELL: Last week Google refused to hand over millions of its search queries to U.S. government officials. The Justice Department wants the search queries so it can defend a controversial anti-pornography law. Civil libertarians were pleased but this week's announcement that Google's new search engine in China would be censored angered human rights groups.

KALAL DAWAT: This Communist régime in China tortures members of its civil society, detains and jails journalists for up to 10 to 20 years in prison.

SYDELL: Kalal Dawat-Shahi is with the group Reporters Without Borders. She says Google's decision to offer a censored version of its search engine helps strengthen China's repressive regime.

DAWAT: The Chinese government will continue to try to infringe on the human rights of its citizens as long as these big business deals continue and that these U.S. corporations are agreeing to these big business deals.

SYDELL: Google is not the only Internet company to bend to the will of the Chinese authorities. Both MSN and Yahoo have censored versions of their products in China. Yahoo drew loud criticism when it handed over the name of a Chinese dissident journalist to authorities there. Chinese Internet users have been able to access Google's regular search engine at Google.com. Google was once number one in China but not any more. Chinese search engine BAIDU is attacking foreign companies like Google.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAIDU COMMERCIAL)

SYDELL: In this ad a Chinese man is meant to represent BAIDU and a western man with a red beard is representing companies like Google. They are vying for the attention of a young Chinese woman. They each claim to know more about China. In the end, not surprisingly, the Chinese man wins the girl. Elliot Schrage of Google says Chinese users were abandoning Google because its normal Google.com service was being delayed and blocked, probably by the Chinese government.

ELLIOT SCHRAGE: And as a result they've just simply started using other services that we think provide less information.

SYDELL: Google, the company with the corporate motto "don't be evil," believes that even its censored version will be better than what the Chinese would get from local providers. Schrage says they had a choice, either no service in China or...

NORRIS: We had to decide that well perhaps there are ways and sacrifices and yes compromises we might need to make in order to serve that market.

SYDELL: Schrage says Google is going into the Chinese market carefully. The company will not be offering its email or blog services because it does not want to find itself asked to hand over names to the Chinese government. Richard Baum, a professor of political science at UCLA who has taught in China says his students there have found Google to be a very important source for finding information.

RICHARD BAUM: It is extraordinary what you can get there. Major newspapers and magazines have full text linkages and you can really do serious major research using the existing Chinese version of Google.

SYDELL: With such hot button search terms as democracy, Tibet and the Dalai Lama automatically blocked, its not clear if Google's new censored version will be as helpful. However Baum notes that while fighting for free access to information is important, most of the Chinese on the web are apolitical young men.

NORRIS: They are looking for game playing opportunities, they're looking for jobs, they're looking for romance.

SYDELL: And like in the U.S., says Baum, there are also many hackers in China who have found and likely will find ways to get around government censors or in this case, perhaps Google censors. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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