Google Averts Censorship Showdown in China

China renewed Google's licenses as an Internet content provider for that country, according to Google's chief legal officer.

David Drummond indicated in a blog post, updated today, that Google will continue "to provide web search and local products to our users in China." The agreement appears to end a clash between Google and Chinese authorities over censorship of Google's search results in China, which is a government-mandated practice.

In January, Google had stated that it would no longer censor the results as required by government authorities. Instead, Google redirected search traffic to servers in Hong Kong that delivered uncensored results. That practice was deemed "unacceptable" by Chinese authorities, Drummond indicated. Meanwhile, Google's license was scheduled to be renewed on June 30.

The license agreement deal now keeps from going dark in China. In a sort of compromise, Google will still enable access to uncensored results, but Chinese users have to click a link to Google's Hong Kong servers to get those results.

Google has been alone in addressing the censorship issue. Back in January, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer asserted business as usual for Microsoft's operations in China while Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates commented that China's Internet censorship was "very limited." Microsoft has not announced any similar option to Google's approach for Chinese users to get uncensored Bing search results.

Internet content providers such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have banded together under the Global Network Initiative (GNI) to address censorship issues. However, the GNI appears to be more of a policy organization than an active participant in international disputes.

No comment was available from the GNI by press time. However, Cynthia Wong, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), which is a member of GNI, explained that companies work with the GNI to assess risks in certain markets. The GNI also provides conduct guidelines for companies.

"In this case, we think that Google is really trying to do the right thing according to their obligations under the GNI from CDT's perspective," Wong said. "They're trying to find a way to provide as much information as possible to Chinese users. Of course, they're in a hard position because China could not renew the license, but it looks like there's at least some give here in this instance."

The CDT takes the position that free expression is a protected human right, Wong said, and the GNI guidelines are based on human rights principles and norms. The key is for companies to practice "responsible engagement," she added.

"We really do believe that responsible company engagement, even in a market like China's, can lead overall to advancement of free expression and of human rights as a general matter," Wong said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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