Google, Yahoo Accused of Irresponsible Chinese Censorship

    July 28, 2004

In what Brett Tabke calls “the China Syndrome” Google and Yahoo! are being accused of censorship. French-based international press freedom group Reporters sans Frontires (RSF), also known as Reporters without Borders, claims both search engines gave into the Chinese government’s demands of controlling search results.

The move “directly threatens freedom of expression,” the group claims, saying it “deplores the ‘irresponsible’ policies of major US Internet firms Yahoo! and Google in bowing directly and indirectly to Chinese government demands for censorship.”

Learn To Walk The Straight and Narrow Young Search Engine...
Learn To Walk The Straight and Narrow Young Search Engine…

RSF responded by writing the United States government calling for “restrictions on private-sector activity.” Calling the government hypocritical, the group demanded the search engines change their ways and “pledge to respect freedom of information, including abroad.”

Both Yahoo! China and Yahoo’s Yisou give into Chinese government demands, the group says. Sites frowned upon by the Chinese regime are not displayed. A search on Yahoo! China for “Taiwan independence” returned only mainland sites criticizing the Taiwan Independence Party.

Although Google will block illegal content, Sergey Brin told Reuters, “The objectivity of our rankings is one of our very important principles.” Though Google has been accused of unnecessary censorship in the past it also went under fire by Jewish groups for NOT censoring an anti-Semantic site, which ranked #1 for the term “Jew.”

Google’s open information stance went as far as getting it blocked for a week by the Chinese government last year. In June, however, Google bought shares in the Chinese search engine Baidu, which is said to filter certain results. However, the Chinese version of Google ( still appears to be uncensored.

The Chinese government is notorious for its efforts to limit web access among its citizens. Web sites are “strictly regulated,” according to this Harvard Law School report. Sites such as AltaVista and Amnesty International are blocked. In 2001, the government shut down thousands of Internet cafes, which were believed to be threatening.

If China is committed to controlling its citizens’ information access, it makes sense for the government to view search engines as a threat. “The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) says 80% of Chinese Internet users get online data” through search engines, according to RSF.

RSF believes Yahoo! And Google are going against the Global Internet Freedom Act, which was voted by the House of Representatives a year ago in an effort “to develop and deploy technologies to defeat Internet jamming and censorship.”

Webmasterworld members are quick to point out there are two sides to every story.

“I have mixed feelings on this,” said one member, pointing out that if the search engines hadn’t agreed to censor certain content, Chinese individuals wouldn’t have been granted access to Yahoo! and Google’s search powers. The point was also made that filtering isn’t foolproof. “If we can’t block porn from our children with a 100% guarantee, the Chinese cannot block alternative political views with a 100% guarantee.”

Another member added, “They’re both trying to gain ground on each other there in a huge potential market. Their choice is presumably between doing as they’re told or being blocked altogether by the authorities.”

Nonetheless, Google and Yahoo! might one day find their actions coming back to haunt them. “Brad” warns, “It is dangerous to become too entangled with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.”

Are Yahoo! and Google doing the right thing for Chinese citizens or are they making a huge mistake?

Or could this just be part of an effort to gain access to China’s estimated 80 million web users for advertising clicks?

Share your views at WebProWorld, the WebProNews forum

Brittany Thompson is an administrator for and contributes to the Insider Reports with her regular articles and interviews.