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Google fine-tunes its China weather vane
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Written by Daniel   
Friday, 09 July 2010 18:08

From C/Net News

A simple change to Google.cn that forces Chinese-language searches to click through to uncensored results was enough to get Google's license in China renewed.
Is Google learning how to read the wind in China?

 



Back in 2006, when Google was just getting into China for the first time, The New York Times published an inside look at the complicated process Google was required to follow in order to make sure it was censoring its search engine in line with Chinese law. The problem is that there is no real stated law as to what's banned and what's allowed; instead, sensitive topics would get hashed out in meetings with government officials termed "wind-blowing meetings," as in, the answer is blowin' in the wind.

Perhaps Google has learned how to take a hint. It announced Friday that the Chinese government has renewed its Internet Content Provider license, earning it another year of business in China but only after it agreed to make changes to the way it redirects users to its Hong Kong Web site, where Web search can be unfiltered under China's "one country, two systems" approach to Hong Kong.

Google's first solution to its China problem--which kicked off in January when Google declared that it no longer intended to censor search results in China--was to simply move Chinese-language search to Hong Kong in March. At the time, it admitted that it didn't know whether or not this would actually work, with Google co-founder Sergey Brin citing a "lack of clarity" around what exactly Google was allowed to do and what it wasn't.

Last week, Google showed signs that it has figured out how to read the Chinese government's wishes. When it became clear to Google that the government didn't like its method of automatically redirecting Google.cn users to Hong Kong, it changed course, requiring them to actively click through to a special version of the Google.com.hk site while on Google.cn.

Sure, that was actually the only thing they could do on Google.cn, dominated by one gigantic hyperlink to the new site, but the requirement that Google.cn visitors make a decision to click over--rather than having that decision made for them--was apparently enough to mollify the government.

So continues Google's odd dance in China. It's a particularly vexing problem for a company in which just about every decision--including where to put the soda machines in its offices--is determined by hard data.

There is no data set that Google can rely on to know whether or not its approach will appease the Chinese government. There's no algorithm that determines how government officials will receive Google's products.

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