China’s Control Over Search Engine & Blog Content
After 12 years of the Internet in China, China is keeping a tight grasp on the information which is available via the Internet to its citizens. More importantly, the potential and current billions of dollars available to Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft in the Chinese Internet market have given China the upper hand of final say over controversial and anti-Chinese information which is indexed in their search engines and available via blogs and user driven media, which is the future of Yahoo.
The argument over free speech online and Chinese internal law was revisited this New Year when Microsoft’s MSN Spaces shut down the blog of a popular Chinese blogger who rubbed Chinese government censors the wrong way. Zhao Jing, also known as Michael Anti, is a researcher for the New York Times who wrote the Beijing based blog. Apparently such subjects as cat murders (almost as bad as kitten juggling) and questionable stories about Chinese government behavior led to China working with MSN to delete the blog on New Year’s Eve.
Following the censoring of Mr. Anti, Microsoft came under fire by free speech, anti-China, and human rights groups. Jessica Crozier, an outside spokesperson for Microsoft, did respond to the controversy to Red Herring.
“Microsoft operates in countries around the world,in line with Microsoft practices in global markets, MSN is committed to ensuring that products and services comply with global and local laws, norms, and industry practices.”
“Most countries have laws and practices that require companies providing online services to make the Internet safe for local users,” continued the statement. “Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements.”
Funny thing with this story is that the blog was not housed on a Chinese server. However, the Chinese version of the MSN portal, along with the blog tool, were launched as a joint venture with a local state-controlled company, Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd (SAIL).
Reporters Without Borders, an organization to protect the rights of reporters and bloggers against censorship and aggression, has also confirmed when a Chinese blogger attempts to post a message containing terms such as “democracy”, “Dalai Lama”, “Falungong”, “4 June” (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), “China + corruption”, or “human rights”, a warning displays saying, “This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression.” Generally “subversive” messages are displayed on Chinese-hosted forums and blogs but the banned words are automatically replaced with blank spaces.
Yahoo also had similar experiences with activist groups after it chose to grant access to the Yahoo Mail account of a Chinese reporter, Shi Tao, who last year was accused by Chinese authorities of leaking sensitive internal government information to external news organizations.
Yahoo was forced by the Chinese government to hand over the information on the email address Shi Tao used to break Chinese law. In this matter Reporters Without Borders reported that Yahoo had illegally done so since the Yahoo Mail service was controlled by Yahoo Holdings, which is based in Hong Kong. The servers for the Chinese Yahoo address that Shi Tao was using are in Mainland China, not Hong Kong, which gave China jurisdiction over the Yahoo Mail address.
Looking into Yahoo Search, Yahoo has been censoring its Chinese language search engine for several years for questionable terms such as ‘free tibet’ or ‘falun gong’ (a banned controversial & possibly anti-government prayer group).
Additionally, Baidu (which Google is an invested partner of) serves censored results as a search for Huang Qi, a Chinese dissident imprisoned for posting criticism of the government online, produced : “This document contains no data,” even though hundreds of articles in Chinese have been posted about him. Additionally a search for “independence Taiwan” shows only sites critical of the island’s government.
In today’s New York Times there is an interesting article about Chinese pressure for American run companies to censor search results and blogs within China. The article has a great comparison of results for ‘falun gong’ from Yahoo.com and then Yahoo China.
Despite controversies outside of Chinese borders, in reality US companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are going to have to respect China and its laws in order to operate within the country. China has the second largest online population with about 103 million users. With those numbers only representing 8% of a population of 1.3 billion, China may soon overtake the US in Internet usage. With Google, MSN, and Yahoo working to not only operate in these countries but to also set up shop with MSN adLab, Yahoo China and Google China – those concerned with the ways companies operate in China may want to focus on ways to influence the change of Chinese law, as it is law which controls such decisions.