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Google urges western governments to challenge foreign internet censorship

Posted by Author on November 16, 2010

Josh Halliday, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 16 November 2010 –

Google is urging western governments to challenge internet censorship in countries such as China, saying the economic implications of stifled trade will become more grave if nothing is done.

“More than 40 governments now engage in broad-scale restriction of online information, a tenfold increase from just a decade ago,” the US-based technology giant warns in a policy brief on internet trade restrictions published yesterday.
The warning follows an embattled 12 months in China, where Google has had to comply with state censorship rules or risk being kicked out of the world’s most populous internet market. Google yesterday denied its policy brief was sparked by developments in China, where the company lags some way behind the native Baidu in the search market, but said the country’s government was capable of “arbitrary and capricious behaviour” in its dealings with internet companies.

But in a rare public appearance the chairman of Baidu, the Chinese search engine which has the majority share there, said Google had failed to understand the market before it launched there in January 2006. “China is a very different market. Market conditions change every day. If you are not close, it is difficult for you to keep up,” said Robin Li at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

Bob Boorstin, Google’s director of public policy, said in a post on the company’s blog: “Governments are blocking online services, imposing non-transparent regulation, and seeking to incorporate surveillance tools into their internet infrastructure. These are the trade barriers of the 21st century economy.

“These actions unnecessarily restrict trade and, left unchecked, they will almost certainly get worse,” the briefing warns.

A row over hacking with China earlier this year led to the US technology giant withdrawing from its mainland offices and re-routing Chinese internet users via its Hong Kong service. The company later restored its original service, adding a prominent button to redirect users to the Hong Kong service and away from the so-called Great Firewall, when it renewed its Chinese business licence – a prerequisite for doing busines in the country – in July.

In March Google said it was stopping the censorship of searches that the Chinese administration had demanded, following a sophisticated cyber attack originating from China directed at the Gmail account of dozens of human rights activists and at Google’s internal systems.

Google’s share of the Chinese search market has continued to deteriorate since March, currently down from 24.2% to 21.6% in the third quarter, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. Baidu has continued to grow during this time. Google has accused China of tilting the market in favour of Baidu, and said authorities in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia and Pakistan have all blocked information online in some form.

Baidu’s Li said earlier this week that his company’s success, which saw it double its net profit to 1bn yuan (£98m) in the third quarter, had been aided by Google’s falling share of the Chinese market.

Li said he had urged the Google chief executive, Eric Schmidt, to spend at least six months in China when his company launched its service in China. A local domain version of Google, Google.cn, went live in January 2006. “Apparently, Eric did not take my advice,” he said. “I knew that, eventually, he would hand me a gift, and it happened.”

Google urged the governments in the US and European Union to take “concrete steps to ensure that rules in the next generation of trade agreements reflect new challenges of internet trade.”

– The Guardian

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