There aren’t many markets left where Google isn’t the dominant player (in fact, we’re down to three or four, depending on how you look at it; Google runs the search results for Yahoo Japan, which leads in Japan). There’s one country, however, where Google isn’t likely to take the lead any time soon: China. That’s largely because Google withdrew from China due to concerns over censorship demands, but you can also blame Google’s lack of efforts on Baidu – the Chinese search site that has more than half of all search traffic.
Baidu obeys the Chinese governmental restrictions, which means blocking a long list of websites from their results. These have included historical items such as writings, pictures, and other content on the Tiananmen Square protests; content that openly opposed the Chinese government; and anything else the Chinese government deems to be “socially destabilizing.” According to a group of New York activists, however, this isn’t only bad news – it’s illegal.
This group of pro-democracy activists are aiming to sue Baidu for $16 million U.S. dollars, claiming that their writings – which are blocked to their content – should be protected, even in China, thanks to U.S. laws on freedom of speech. The group is not trying to change any Baidu policies because, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyer Stephen Preziosi, “It would be futile to expect Baidu to change.”
Baidu is based in the People’s Republic of China, but operates in both China and Japan and has shares traded publicly in the U.S. stock market. Thanks to the complexity of international law involved, this is the first case of its kind. The results will set an important precedence on U.S. legal involvement in the affairs of foreign groups who trade in the U.S. The court case was opened in the Southern District of New York under the case number 11-03388. Baidu representatives have yet to comment.