Search Faces Congress Today

    February 15, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations, and the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, hosts Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco in Washington, DC.

Search Faces Congress Today
Congress Has Some Questions For The Search Industry

Lawyers for the four companies who have entered the Chinese market will face Congressional critics and representatives from various rights groups over their business practices in China. Though the commercial appeal of the fast-growing Chinese Internet userbase is very apparent, there are concerns that tech companies have yielded on censorship and controls in exchange for entry to that market.

The hearing taking place today comes in the wake of Google’s establishing servers local in China to better serve users there. To establish the presence, the company had to agree to filter certain search results, a decision that Google has said they debated for years before finally agreeing to do so.

Many critics called that decision a sell out, even though Google’s place in the market has arrived well after Yahoo and Microsoft established local services in China and Cisco began selling equipment to China that the government uses to control the flow of information on the Internet.

Google did make a decision not to offer services that can keep personally identifiable information, such as Blogger and Gmail, in China. Yahoo has been vilified for its role in providing such information when legally requested to by Chinese authorities; the information led to the jailing of journalists in two separate cases, a point the Reporters Without Borders representative will certainly bring up during the hearing.

Whether the hearing today will feature meaningful discussion of approaches to doing business with countries that aren’t as open as the United States, or simply provide a platform for political grandstanding in an election year, will be known after the hearing takes place.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has made some suggestions to the Subcommittee Chairs on how the issues with China and countries with similar regimes can be approached. One issue they bring up, for example, touches on notifying users when information has been removed or filtered from a search.

Google and Microsoft do that now. The EFF wants them to go a step further, and detail “under what power the government forced them to act to remove content or hand over data.” Also, the EFF suggested search engines offer their services over encrypted HTTPS connections as well as standard HTTP.

That would protect the traffic from government eavesdropping, but it seems more likely China would explicitly request that search engines specifically not do this. And to be effective, all search traffic would need to be encrypted, to prevent the government from simply focusing on IP addresses generating that secured traffic.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.