Google Must End Its Silence About Censored Search in China

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UPDATE (August 17, 2018): Google Admits It Has Chinese Censorship Search Plans – What This Means

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It has now been more than a week since public reports began surfacing alleging that Google has been working on a secret project — secret even from the vast majority of Googlers — to bring Chinese government-censored Google search and news back to China. (Background info at: “Google Haters Rejoice at Google’s Reported New Courtship of China” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/08/03/google-haters-rejoice-at-googles-reported-new-courtship-of-china).

While ever more purported details regarding this alleged effort have been leaking to the public, Google itself has apparently responded to the massive barrage of related inquiries only with the “non-denial denial” that they will not comment on speculation regarding their future plans.

This radio silence has seemingly extended to inside Google as well, where reportedly Google executives have yet to issue a company-wide explanation to the Google workforce, which includes many Googlers who are very concerned and upset about these reports.

With the understanding that it’s midsummer with many persons on vacation, it is still of great concern that Google has gone effectively mute regarding this extremely important and controversial topic. The silence suggests internal management confusion regarding how to deal with this situation. It’s upsetting to Google’s fans, and gives comfort to Google’s enemies.

Google needs to issue a definitive public statement addressing these concerns. Regardless of whether the project actually exists as reports have described — or if those detailed public reports have somehow been false or misleading — Google needs to come clean about what’s actually going on in this context.

Google’s users, employees, and the global community at large deserve no less.

Google, please do the right thing.

–Lauren–

Google Haters Rejoice at Google’s Reported New Courtship of China

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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

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It’s already happening. Within a day of word that Google is reportedly planning to provide Chinese government-dictated censored search results and censored news aggregation inside China, the Google Haters are already salivating at the new ammunition that this could provide Congress to pillory Google and similarly castrate them around the world — for background, please see: “Censored Google Search for China Would Be Both Evil and Dangerous!” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/08/01/censored-google-search-for-china-would-be-both-evil-and-dangerous).

While Google has not confirmed these reports, the mere prospect of their being correct has already brought the righteous condemnation of human rights advocates and organizations around the globe.

And already, in the discussion forums that I monitor where the Google Haters congregate, I’m seeing language like “Godsend!” – “Miracle!” — “We couldn’t have hoped for anything more!”

It’s obvious why there’s such rejoicing in those evil quarters. By willingly allying themselves with the censorship regimes of the Chinese government that are used to repress and torment the Chinese people, Google would put itself in the position of being perceived as the willing pawn of those repressive Chinese Internet policies that have been growing vastly more intense, fanatical, and encompassing over recent years, especially since the rise of “president for life” Xi Jinping.

Already embroiled in antitrust and content management/censorship controversies here in the U.S., the European Union, and elsewhere, the unforced error of “getting in bed” with the totalitarian Chinese government will provide Google’s political and other enemies a whole new line of attack to question Google’s motives and ethical pronouncements. You can already visualize the Google-hating congressmen saying, “Whose side are you on, Google? Why are you helping to support a Chinese government that massively suppresses its own people and continues to commit hacking attacks against us?” We’ll be hearing the word “hypocritical” numerous times during numerous hearings, you can be sure. 

We can pretty well predict Google’s responses, likely to be much the same as they made back in 2006 during their original attempt at “playing nice” with the Chinese censors, an effort Google abandoned in 2010, after escalating demands from China and escalating Chinese hacking attacks.

Google will assert that providing some services — even censored in deeply repressive ways — is better than nothing. They’ll suggest that the censored services that would be provided would help the Chinese citizenry, despite the fact that the very results being censored, while perhaps relatively small in terms of overall percentages, would likely be the very search results that the Chinese people most need to see to help protect themselves from their dictatorial leaders’ information control and massive human rights abuses. Google will note that they already censor some results in countries like France and Germany (for example, there are German laws relating to Nazi-oriented sites).

But narrow removal of search results in functional democracies is one thing The much wider categories of censorship demanded by the Chinese government — a single-party dictatorship that operates vast secret prison and execution networks — is something else entirely. It’s like comparing a pimple with Mt. Everest. 

And that’s before the Chinese start escalating their demands. More items to censor. Access to users’ identity and other private data. Localization of Google servers on Chinese soil for immediate access by authorities.

Worst of all, if Google is willing to bend over and kowtow to the Chinese dictators in these ways, every other country in the world with politicians unhappy with Google for one reason or another will use this as an example of why Google should provide similar governmental censorship services and user data access to their own regulators and politicians. After all, if you’re willing to do this for one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, why not for every country, everywhere?

As someone with enormous respect for Google and Googlers, I can’t view these reports regarding Google and China — if accurate — as anything short of disastrous. Disastrous for Google. Disastrous for their users. Disastrous for the global community of ordinary users at large, who depend on Google’s search honesty and corporate ethics as foundations of daily life.

Joining with China in providing Chinese government-censored search and news results would provide haters and other evil forces around the planet the very ammunition they’ve been waiting for toward crushing Google, towards putting Google under micromanaged government control, toward ultimately converting Google into an oppressive government propaganda machine.

It could frankly turn out much worse for the world than if Google had never been created at all, 20 years ago.

I’m still hoping that these reports are inaccurate in key respects or in their totality. But even if they are correct, then Google still has time to choose not to go down this dark path, and I would strongly urge them not to move forward with any plans to participate in China’s repressive and dangerous totalitarian censorship regime.

–Lauren–

Prediction: Unless Security Keys Are Free, Most Users Won’t Use Them

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Various major Internet firms are currently engaged in a campaign to encourage the use of U2F/FIDO security keys (USB, NFC, and now even Bluetooth) to encourage their users to avoid use of other much more vulnerable forms of 2sv (2-factor) login authentication, especially the most common and illicitly exploitable form, SMS text messaging. In fact, Google has just introduced their own “Titan” security keys to further these efforts.

Without getting into technical details, let’s just say that these kinds of security keys essentially eliminate the vulnerabilities of other 2sv mechanisms, and given that most of these keys can support multiple services on a single physical key, you might assume that users would be snapping them up like candy.

You’d be wrong in that assumption.

I’ve spent years urging ordinary users (e.g., of Google services) to use 2sv of any kind. It’s a very, very tough slog, as I noted in:

Google Users Who Want to Use 2-Factor Protections — But Don’t Understand How: https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/06/10/google-users-who-want-to-use-2-factor-protections-but-dont-understand-how

But even beyond that category of users, there’s a far larger group of users who simply don’t see the point with “hassling” to use 2sv at all, resulting in what Google itself has publicly noted is a depressingly low percentage of users enabling 2sv protections.

Beyond logistical issues regarding 2sv that confuse many potential users, there’s a fundamental aspect of human nature involved.

Most users simply don’t believe that THEY are going to be hacked (at least, that’s their position until it actually happens to them and they come calling too late with desperate pleas for assistance).

Frankly, I don’t know of any “magic wand” solution for this dilemma. If you try to require 2sv, you’ll likely lose significant numbers of users who just can’t understand it or give up trying to make it work — bad for you and bad for them. They’re mostly not techies — they’re busy people who depend on your services, who simply do not see any reason why they should be jumping through what they perceive to be more unnecessary hoops — and this means that WE have not explained this all adequately and that OUR systems are not serving them well.

If you blame the users, you’ve already lost the argument.

Which brings us back to those security keys. Given how difficult it is to get most users to enable 2sv at all, how much harder will it be (even if the overall result is simpler and far more secure) to get users to go the security key route when they have to pay real money for the keys?

For many persons, the $20 or so typical for these keys is significant money indeed, especially when they don’t see the value of really having them in the first place (remember, they don’t expect to ever be hacked).

I strongly suspect that beyond “in the know” business/enterprise users, achieving major uptake of security keys among ordinary user populations will require that those keys be provided for free in some manner. Pricing them down to only a few dollars would help, but my gut feeling is that vast numbers of users wouldn’t pay for them at any price, perhaps often because they don’t want to set up payment methods in the first place.

That problem may be significantly reduced where users are already used to paying and have payment methods already in place — e.g. for the Android Play Store. 

But even there, $20 — even $10 — is likely to be a very tough sell for a piece of hardware that most users simply don’t really believe that they need. And if they feel that this purchase is being “pushed” at them as a hard sell, the likely result will be resentment and all that follows from that.

On the other hand, if security keys were free, methodologies such as:

How to “Bribe” Our Way to Better Account Security: https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/02/11/how-to-bribe-our-way-to-better-account-security

might be combined with those free keys to dramatically increase the use of high quality 2sv by all manner of users — including techies and non-techies — which of course should be our ultimate goal in these security contexts.

Who knows? It just might work!

Be seeing you.

–Lauren–

Censored Google Search for China Would Be Both Evil and Dangerous!

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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: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGoSpmv9ZVc&feature=youtu.be&t=1448

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.

–Lauren–