Reporters Without Borders yesterday deplored the “irresponsible” policies of major US Internet firms Yahoo ! and Google in bowing directly and indirectly to Chinese government demands for censorship and called for a code of conduct to be imposed.
Yahoo ! has been censoring its Chinese-language search-engine for several years and rival firm Google, which recently took a share in Baidu, a Chinese search-engine that filters a user’s findings, seems ready to go the same way. In their efforts to conquer the Chinese market, the two firms are “making compromises that directly threaten freedom of expression,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The US government is supposed to be at the cutting-edge of the fight for online freedom, especially since the Global Internet Freedom Act was voted,” the organisation noted in letters to two top US officials. “Yet it places no restrictions on private-sector activity even when firms work with some of the world’s most repressive regimes. We condemn this hypocrisy and demand that companies such as Yahoo ! and Google drop their irresponsible policies and pledge to respect freedom of information, including abroad.”
Some combined key-word searches, such as “Free Tibet,” do not display any results. For others, only official sites appear. The top results of a search for ‘Falungong” produces only sites critical of the Chinese spiritual movement in line with the regime’s position. The same search using a non-censored search-engine turns up material supporting Falungong and about the government’s repression of its followers.
In June this year, it acquired a substantial share in one of China’s biggest search-engines, Baidu, which carefully filters out all “subversive” content. When Google was blocked in 2002, Chinese Internet users were redirected to baidu.com. A search in Baidu for “Huang Qi,” a cyber-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.
A search for “independence Taiwan” shows only sites critical of the island’s government, while Google’s Chinese version (www.google.com/intl/zh-CN), which is not censored, comes up with pro-Taiwan sites.
Censorship of search-engines is a core issue for freedom of expression. The latest survey by the official China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) says 80% of Chinese Internet users get online data by using them. Access to some, such as Altavista, have already been blocked inside China.
Source – Reporters Without Borders