UPDATE (August 17, 2018): Google Admits It Has Chinese Censorship Search Plans – What This Means
UPDATE (August 9, 2018): Google Must End Its Silence About Censored Search in China
UPDATE (August 3, 2018): Google Haters Rejoice at Google’s Reported New Courtship of China
UPDATE (August 2, 2018): New reports claim that Google is also now working on a news app for China, that would similarly be designed to enable censoring by Chinese authorities. Google has reportedly replied to queries about this with the same non-denial generic statement noted below.
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A report is circulating widely today — apparently based on documents leaked from Google — suggesting that Google is secretly working on a search engine interface (probably initially an Android app) for China that would — by design — be heavily censored by the totalitarian Chinese government. Want to look at a Wikipedia page? Forget it! Search for human rights? No go, and the police are already at your door to drag you off to a secret “re-education” center.
Google has so far not denied the reports, and today has discouragingly only issued generic “we don’t comment on speculation regarding future plans” statements. Ironically, this is all occurring at the same time that Google has been increasing its efforts to promote honest journalism, and to fight against fake news that can sometimes pollute search results.
There’s no way to say this gently or diplomatically: Any move by Google to provide government censored search services to China would not only be evil, but also incredibly dangerous to the entire planet.
The Chinese are wonderful people, but their government is an absolute dictatorship — now with a likely president for life — whose abuse of its own citizens and hacking attempts against the rest of the world have been increasing over recent years. Not getting better, getting far, far worse.
Information control and censorship is at the heart of China’s human rights abuses that include a vast network of secret prisons and undocumented mass executions. Say the wrong thing. Try to look at the wrong webpage. You can just vanish, never to be seen again.
The key to how the Chinese tyrants control their population is the government’s incredibly massive Internet censorship regime, which carefully tailors the information that the Chinese population can see, creating a false view of the world among its citizens — incredibly dangerous for a country that has a vast military and expansionist goals.
Anybody — any firm — that voluntarily participates in the Chinese censorship regime becomes an equal partner in the Chinese government’s evil, no matter attempts to provide benign justifications or explanations.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, it’s because we’ve been over this road with Google before. Back in 2006, I happened to be giving a talk at Google’s L.A. offices the same day that Google announced its original partnership with the Chinese government to provide a censored version of Google. My relevant comments about that are here:
Later related discussion that same year followed, including:
“Google, China, and Ethics” – https://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000180.html
And then in 2010 when Google wisely terminated their participation in the oppressive Chinese censorship regime:
Bulletin: Google Will No Longer Censor Chinese Search Results — May End China Operations – https://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000667.html
In the ensuing eight years, much has changed with China. They’re even more of a technological powerhouse now, and they’re even more dictatorial and censorship-driven than before.
All the fears about censored Google search for China that we had back in 2006, including a vast slippery slope of additional dangers to innocent persons both inside and outside of China, are still in force — only now magnified by orders of magnitude.
It obviously must be painful for Google to sit by and watch their less ethical competitors cozy up to Chinese human rights abusing leaders, as those firms suckle at the teats of the Chinese government and its money.
And in fact, Google has already made some recent inroads with China — with a few harmless apps and shared AI research — all efforts that I generally support in the name of global progress.
But search is different. Very different. Search is how we learn about how the world really works. It’s how we separate reality from lies, how we put our lives and our countries in context with the entire Earth that we all must share. The censorship of search is a true Orwellian terror, since it helps not only to hide accurate information, but by extension promotes the dissemination of false information as well.
It’s bad enough that the European Union forces Google (via the “Right To Be Forgotten”) to remove valid and accurate search results pointing to information that some Europeans find to be personally inconvenient.
But if reports are correct that Google plans to voluntarily ally itself with Chinese dictators and their wholesale censorship of entire vast categories of crucial information — inevitably in the furtherance of those leaders’ continuing tyrannies — then Google will not only have gone directly and catastrophically against its most fundamental purposes and ideals, but will have set the stage for similar demands for vast Google-enabled mass censorship from other countries around the world.
I’m sorry, but that’s just not the Google that I know and respect.