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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Google Yields to China's censorship demands - Q & A with me at protest

Written by Amy Chung, News Editor
Wednesday, 22 February 2006
Google yields to China's censorship demandsSearch-engine behemoth Google Inc. was served with divorce papers from angry protesters, criticizing the company's recent deal with the Chinese government to censor the Internet. On Valentine's Day, demonstrators around the world protested their dismay with the launch of Google.cn, that would censor contentious topics that would undermine the Chinese government. "They [Google] designed a search engine for the Chinese government . . . the search engine is designed so that the Chinese government has complete control of all the information . . . if they [Chinese] search online for things like Falun Gong, Tibet or Tiannamen Square, it would not show up," says Luke Madoni, a member of Students for a Free Tibet at George Brown College. Madoni was shackled to a table with a gag over his mouth. He was handing out "fast-track" divorce papers for bystanders to sign, symbolizing their dismay with the Chinese censorship, especially since the company has had a reputation for being socially responsible. Madoni and over a dozen Tibetan protestors and supporters braved the cold outside Google's offices in downtown Toronto, chanting "Freedom of information in Tibet" and "Google, Google, don't be evil." Madoni further adds that Internet users in China are constantly monitored and dissidents can potentially be prosecuted. He explains that people are being jailed for searching information that pertains to democratic rights, Tibet issues, Chinese democracy and political parties. "When they search about these issues, they [Chinese] will get lots of misinformation [in the results]," says Madoni. Other search-engine giants like Yahoo and Microsoft (msn.com) have also been criticized for their collaboration with the Chinese government by the United States Congress. It was revealed that Yahoo released user information to the Chinese government that led to the eight-year prison sentence of writer Li Zhi in 2003 and Shi Tao, who was sentenced for 10 years. Yahoo's counsel stated they did not know people were going to be imprisoned and were obligated to comply with Chinese authorities. "They [companies] have not made any attempt to stand up to the demands made to them by China. That's where the grounds have to be for changing the situation," says Carole Channer, China country co-ordinator for Amnesty Canada. According to Channer, Yahoo has come up with a revised set of principles they are going to be operating by, but suggests for change to happen, web companies need to stand up to China. "China is going to impose whatever censorship they deem is necessary to protect its power and its policies and it's up to the companies to stand up to this. Companies have just caved in shamelessly to China's demands," says Channer. She says it would be difficult in the short-term to do this, but the Chinese are not as advanced as Western countries when it comes to information technology and this is to the advantage of companies. "These companies need to get together — China would need to make some concessions, but if these companies don't even try, then of course, China's going to dictate the terms to them," says Channer. Critics say Google's deal with China defeats their motto of "Don't be evil" but representatives from the company say, "‘Don't be evil' means don't be illegal," saying they have to abide by the country's policies and it is better to have Google there than to not have it at all. However, Madoni disagrees, as there would be repercussions in the future. "[This is] dangerous because you will have a huge population that will have a lot of misinformation." Google was recently subpoenaed by the United States government for refusing to comply with their demands for Google to hand over more than a million search records to help them with a federal law called the Child Online Protection Act. Google said this would undermine their users trust and compromise their business secrets. -For alternative search-engines, visit www.noluv4google.com.

Article from Now Magizine (pic of me right hand corner) Students For Free Tibet protest

Protestors say Google was Tibet's last source of free info until it signed a deal with China's rulers.
By Alex Felipe
Gagging on Google
Web giant gets hit with boycott for bowing to Chinese censors
What do oral sex and the Dalai Lama have in common? Neither can be found on the new filtered Google in China and Tibet.
The pact between Google and China's rulers announced in late January means the company has finally succumbed to market pressures, joining Yahoo and Microsoft in limiting the flow of info for China's 100 million-plus Internet users.
Tibet activists the world over have responded by launching a boycott of everyone's favourite search engine. In Toronto recently, supporters of the Dalai Lama gathered at the windwhipped foot of the TD Tower, where Google has a local office, and called on the company to undo the agreement.
Tibet is now a "gagged state," Gompo Dorjee, head of Students for a Free Tibet, tells me, though I can hardly hear him over the shouts of "Don't be evil, don't be evil" as angry demonstrators mock the company's motto.
Indeed, anti-China types are having a field day with Google's high-minded code of conduct. "Being a different kind of company means... making sure that our core values inform our conduct in all aspects of our lives as Google employees," it states.
Core values or no core values, Tibet is now virtually isolated. "All radio stations have been jammed in Tibet," Dorjee says passionately. "The only source of information is published by the government. There are no independent newspapers in Tibet, not a single independent radio source. The Web was very much monitored, but sometimes we did get through accidentally. Now that is gone as well."
The technology required for such fig-leafing will be familiar to those who have checked parental controls on their Web browser or used a spam filter. Unfortunately, as the people of Tibet are finding out, this same technology when applied at the server end of the info flow can be used not only to bowdlerize any sensitive information, but also to completely disrupt connections via e-mail to the diaspora.
Prior to its recent capitulation, Google, unlike Yahoo and Microsoft, maintained an open if sporadic Web flow into China by keeping its servers outside the country. Under the new agreement, its new in-country servers provide a much more reliable flow – but only of censored material.
NOW left several requests for comment at Google's California head office, but no response was forthcoming at press time. However, a company statement puts its dilemma this way: "We aren't happy about what we had to do, and we hope that over time everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information. We are convinced that the Internet and its continued development through the efforts of companies like Google will effectively contribute to openness and prosperity in the world."
At present, all Net news about Tibet, Taiwan, the Falun Gong, the Tiananmen Square massacre, China's pro-democracy movement and even health info will be sanitized. And sending e-mail critical of corruption among local officials can get you serious time in a Chinese prison. Currently, there are 21 cyber-dissidents in Chinese jails, and and at least one of them was put there by info supplied by Yahoo.
Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang has confirmed his company' s cooperation in the case against Shi Tao, a Chinese reporter jailed for 10 years for criticizing corruption among local officials.
Says Yahoo media relations spokesperson Mary Osako, "All U.S. and international firms operating in China face the same dilemma of complying with laws that lack transparency, and that can have disturbing consequences inconsistent with our own beliefs. These issues are larger than one company or even one industry."
So what is left of the Internet after you've blocked pornography, freedom of expression, health care info and access to most Western media sites, including the BBC and CNN? Propaganda, actually.
A group called OpenNet Initiative illustrates the problem (http://www.opennetinitiative.net/) by showing dual results for searches, on one side of the page those obtained from the standard Google engine, and beside it those from Google.cn. I tried typing in "Falun Dafa" and discovered that while Google offers 1.98 million results in all languages, Google.cn whittles it down to 625. None of these appear to be in Chinese. A limited sampling of them suggests they're all denunciations of the group.
So is it time to start calling it the dis-internet? I hope not. So do Google and its fellow colluders Yahoo and Microsoft. But their Trojan horse argument – just get even a limited version of the Internet into the walled city and eventually its true potential will overflow – cuts both ways.
Just get a little totalitarianism into the Internet and suddenly your Web can be used to catch more flies. Repression, disconnection and moral sex for all.
While the freezing wind nearly rips the "Tibet will be free" placard from one of the demonstrator's hands, it's easy to feel helpless. But as Dorjee explains, Internet users need not be complicit in the policies of the offending search engines. Check the sidebar. Plenty of others would love your business.