The End Of The Global Internet? Google's Blogger Starts Using Country-Specific Domains To Permit Local Censorship

from the it-was-good-while-it-lasted dept

Twitter has taken quite a lot of heat for putting in place the capability to block tweets on a geographical basis. This begins to look a little unfair in light of the fact that Google quietly adopted a similar policy before Twitter. That’s shown by the answer to a question on Google’s Blogger site about blogs being redirected to country-specific URLs, which at the time of writing was last updated on 9 January 2012. Here’s what it says:

Q: Why am I seeing a URL change?
A: Over the coming weeks you might notice that the URL of a blog you’re reading has been redirected to a country-code top level domain, or “ccTLD.” For example, if you’re in Australia and viewing [blogname].blogspot.com, you might be redirected [blogname].blogspot.com.au. A ccTLD, when it appears, corresponds with the country of the reader’s current location.

Google is quite frank about why it is doing this:

Q: Why is this happening?
A: Migrating to localized domains will allow us to continue promoting free expression and responsible publishing while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law. By utilizing ccTLDs, content removals can be managed on a per country basis, which will limit their impact to the smallest number of readers. Content removed due to a specific country’s law will only be removed from the relevant ccTLD.

This is not only what Twitter is doing, but employs exactly the same topsy-turvy logic: by enabling local censorship, we are promoting free expression. That in itself is obviously troubling, not least because Google may be setting off down a slippery slope that sees all of its services segmented by geography to avoid local problems. But there’s an even deeper issue.

If more and more companies follow the lead of Google and Twitter, as seems quite likely, it could represent the beginning of the end of the truly global Internet. In its place will be an increasingly balkanized online world subject to a patchwork of local laws. Looks like geography just made a comeback.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Comments on “The End Of The Global Internet? Google's Blogger Starts Using Country-Specific Domains To Permit Local Censorship”

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85 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

It isn’t the end of the truly global internet. You can reach any site on any country tld without issue.

What it is more likely to be the end of is people doing things online that is either illegal in their countries, or that would get them sued in their countries. It’s another step towards the reality that the internet isn’t all that different from the real world.

If being responsible for your actions somehow hurts the internet, then it’s probably a good thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“What it is more likely to be the end of is people doing things online that is either illegal in their countries, or that would get them sued in their countries.”

If enough people are willing to do it then maybe the people don’t think it’s something that should be illegal in the first place and perhaps what that means is that representative governments shouldn’t ban it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You missed the point by a long shot. The point of the internet is for communication. By limiting that to what your government approves you are removing the real opinions of the people. Government lives and dies at the hand of the people. The legality of something is subject to the will of the people. You can only beat some one so much before they retaliate and destroy you. Enforcing the most restrictive laws on the net because some people don’t like it is the same as striking an animal. It will only take so much before it decides that it has had enough and turn on you.

So be wary of your position of power. The masses have found out that they once again control the tide. You can start a protest to millions of people in seconds on the internet. That is what governments fear, destruction by the people. Legality is just the mask they use to try and keep the tide at bay.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Your rant is amusing, but rather incredibly wrong – because many people in the world do not have (or even really desire) the type of “freedom” you have in America (which is where you are most certainly from, based on the rhetoric).

Freedom for people online isn’t any different from their freedoms in everyday life. If they live in a country with strict government control, say China, Iran, North Korea, etc… then you should not be surprised that their online freedoms will be similarly “limited”.

Some people live in countries such as Thailand, where certain things (like bitching about the monarchy) are illegal.

We as the grandly free may not agree with these restrictions, but you need to understand them. If there is a restriction in speech, it’s at the level of the country, and not the internet. It isn’t the internet’s fault, that is the law of the country, not anything else.

We are not talking about imposing the most restrictive laws on the planet to all users. We are talking about the laws of a given country being respected in that country. Isn’t that just logical? If you don’t like the laws of the country, fight them on it. Don’t blame the internet for it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“We are not talking about imposing the most restrictive laws on the planet to all users”

No, you’re talking about removing access to freedom of speech for people who are otherwise repressed. You’re saying “you might be jailed or put to death for saying or doing certain things in real life? Tough shit, you just lost the freedom to do those things online, as well as a way of alerting people in other countries to your plight”. A pretty stupid attitude, typical of your kind, though.

“If you don’t like the laws of the country, fight them on it.”

Aren’t you one of the people who tries to pretend Google are paying people offer if they do just that in your country?

The internet is one way of people expressing their opposition to their laws. How does removing their access to doing so help them?

rubberpants says:

Re: Re:

It isn’t the end of the truly global internet. You can reach any site on any country tld without issue.

Unless it’s blocked by DNS of course.

What it is more likely to be the end of is people doing things online that is either illegal in their countries or that would get them sued in their countries.

I doubt that, and even if it were true that isn’t always a good thing. What’s illegal in some countries is a sacred human right in others.

It’s another step towards the reality that the internet isn’t all that different from the real world.

I think it’s obvious that the Internet is very different from the “real” world. (And by real I’m guessing you mean physical. The Internet is very real.) Do you mean to say that the Internet shouldn’t be different from the rest of the world?

If being responsible for your actions somehow hurts the internet, then it’s probably a good thing.

What do you mean “being responsible for your actions?” Absolute enforcement of all laws? We don’t even do that in the “real” world. It’s not practical or desirable.

Are you saying that it would be good if the Internet gets hurt?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“ou act as if people should have little say in what constitutes illegal or liable behavior in their country.”

No, they should have plenty of say – if that is permitted within the law. I am saying only that nobody should expect the internet (or any other communication medium) to be more or less open than everything else in a given country.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“No, they should have plenty of say”

Spoken like someone who’s never been on the wrong end of this kind of this. Good for you.

“I am saying only that nobody should expect the internet (or any other communication medium) to be more or less open than everything else in a given country.”

So, you support despots, tyrants and dictators who wish to kill the freedoms of the people in their country, even though these freedoms may be partially returned to them via an unfettered internet?

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I am saying only that nobody should expect the internet (or any other communication medium) to be more or less open than everything else in a given country.”

So in other words, you’re saying that everyone should expect the internet to be as non-open as the most restrictive or censorious country, instead of the most open or laissez-faire?

A Guy (profile) says:

The global internet isn’t threatened by this. If anything, it makes it easier for companies like Twitter and Google to spread out into other cultures.

If someone wants a .com or .eu address, they can just ask someone to set it up for them, or use a proxy. If that makes it easier for the users to bypass their governments regulations and allow the companies to wash their hands of it, it will only strengthen the internet.

Yakko Warner (profile) says:

Publishing is global, viewing is local?

A ccTLD, when it appears, corresponds with the country of the reader?s current location.

So you can publish whatever you want, but the reader may not be able to see it depending on where they are. It’s still censorship, but it’s not as bad as I first thought (that content is actually removed from ever being seen).

I wonder if/how this will work with custom domains (like my own). Surely they won’t try to take all custom domains pointing to Blogger and register the ccTLD version…?

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Publishing is global, viewing is local?

So you can publish whatever you want, but the reader may not be able to see it depending on where they are.

Possibly, but it may be easy to get around.

Say something is censored in Australia, so when you get directed to whatever.blogspot.com.au you can’t read it. Is there anything stopping you from then manually going to whatever.blogspot.com.uk and seeing the content (assuming it also isn’t censored in the UK)?

Nick Taylor says:

The EFF say that the twitter move will actually decrease censorship – and if the EFF say that, then that’s probably what’s true.

My take:

The threat isn’t censorship of our blog posts or tweets, because we are human and massively adaptive and can easily route around censorship, or talk in code or whatever.

The threat is: twitter or google being sued to death or shut down completely or corrupted at a higher level. The treat is us is the treat to the conduit.

Twitter and google appearing to play to the rules of dictatorships as a self-protection measure, probably makes our communication channels more secure.

Longer term, we need to replace centralised “cloud” apps with P2P versions. Moves towards this are afoot… and I think there might even be working versions out there… but getting people to migrate is extremely difficult. It’s almost like a parallel system that can pull/feed into twitter is needed.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Worse Than The Alternative?

Scenario 1: Google continues like they are. Either they will be forced by corrupt government to censor posts entirely, or those governments will block Blogger entirely. End Result: The information cannot escape.

Scenario 2: Google blocks content from inside those countries, but allows access to that content from outside the country. Information escapes.

Scenario 2 seems better to me, at first glance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Worse Than The Alternative?

Nope.

I seems that if a blogger blogs about something in that country that the governement doesn’t like, they can request the post be removed or the whole domain got shutdown.

That’s at least how the tldcc thing in China works. All websites with *.cn domain are require to register themselves to the province’s IT department in additional to CNNIC. If there are post the government found doesn’t like, they’ll issue takedown to the website’s registant. If no action is taken, the domain will be taken down (0.0.0.0 on query) and if the server is hosted in China too, the server will be taken down (power off) too.

I doubt Google is going to take that challenge given they backed down on the search engine issue 2 years ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn’t censorship, not even remotely censorship. This is directing users to a country specific site (only when a country specific version of the site exists). If the viewer’s country censors something that is different than Google censoring something.

Old school analogy – think of Google as a phonebook, there are different versions of phonebooks for every city. Instead of looking up phone numbers you are looking up web site addresses (URLs), now instead of getting generic addresses you are getting addresses that are specific to your location (only when a country specific version exists).

This isn’t enabling censorship, it’s actually preventing it – some countries block entire sites and only allow access to their country specific site for any given domain. Think China blocking YouTube for example. Now people who live under the control of repressive regimes will at least see some of the content that would otherwise be unavailable.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: ANALogy

If the viewer’s country censors something that is different than Google censoring something.

Right!
Let’s take this to the extremes…

If somebody makes you kill somebody else, it's not like you're responsible--somebody made you do it.

That might be a bad example, I’ll try again.

If somebody makes you steal from somebody else, it's not like you're responsible--somebody made you do it.

Maybe not, let’s try a third one.

If somebody makes you rape somebody else, it's not like you're responsible--somebody made you do it.

Screw it, never mind.

Anonymous Coward says:

When huge companies who owe so much to the internet start going against the very nature of the internet, you know we are in trouble

Good thing for us, that internet companies tend to rely on internet users, as much as i like google and their free service philosophy, this aint right, so i dont say this lightly, but, i would’nt be oposed to boycoting google until they reverse this and start mending their backbone, i cant fathom why they’ve done this, considering it would be so easy for us to delete accounts and spam their services in protest

Why do we need RIAA, when companies like google and twitter are doing their jobs for them

As long standing and loyal customer of google, this aint good man, this aint good at all

if it aint broke, dont fix it

I need more info on this, and a google response, before i go against a company i thought would fight for us, thin ice google, thin ice

Anonymous Coward says:

When huge companies who owe so much to the internet start going against the very nature of the internet, you know we are in trouble

Good thing for us, that internet companies tend to rely on internet users, as much as i like google and their free service philosophy, this aint right, so i dont say this lightly, but, i would’nt be oposed to boycoting google until they reverse this and start mending their backbone, i cant fathom why they’ve done this, considering it would be so easy for us to delete accounts and spam their services in protest

Why do we need RIAA, when companies like google and twitter are doing their jobs for them

As long standing and loyal customer of google, this aint good man, this aint good at all

if it aint broke, dont fix it

I need more info on this, and a google response, before i go against a company i thought would fight for us, thin ice google, thin ice

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

This is their best option

While I may not like the fact that Google feels the need to do this, I think their reasoning is logical and this is probably the best way to approach the situation.

Google, for all that it does a great deal of good for the world, remains a corporation, and a for-profit one at that. Google must obey the laws, at least so far is it operates locally, of every jurisdiction in which it does business. This includes censoring content when there is a valid law or court order requiring it to do so.

Google already removes content in the US when ordered by a court for reasons such as Copyright Infringement, slander, etc. Many other countries apply censorship much more broadly. Google must comply with the laws of these other countries at least so long as it wishes to operate within them.

By applying the censorship only to the version of the site seen by that country, they are taking the absolute lightest touch to censorship that they can while still complying with their legal obligations.

While we may not like the fact that some of these requirements exist at all, they do and Google must comply. I am glad they are doing it with the lightest touch that they are permitted to use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is their best option

the only way i could even begin to support this is if google swears under the god of busines, that certain things would never be censored, unless under very extreme circumstances and in a very non vagues way

as to what, should never be censored? i can think of one or two, but ill leave the rest to those a hell of alot more cleverer then me

Anonymous Coward says:

This is not only what Twitter is doing, but employs exactly the same topsy-turvy logic: by enabling local censorship, we are promoting free expression. That in itself is obviously troubling, not least because Google may be setting off down a slippery slope that sees all of its services segmented by geography to avoid local problems.

Sounds like a great tool to use against countries whose weak IP laws promote wholesale infringement. Thanks Google, see you next Congress!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Volksempf?nger

Volksempf?nger: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Volksempf?nger (German for “people’s receiver”) was a range of radio receivers developed by engineer Otto Griessing at the request of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

The purpose of the Volksempf?nger-program was to make radio reception technology affordable to the general public….

Adrian Lopez says:

DNS-level website blocking

Is Google anticipating the worldwide adoption of domain-blocking regulations in the style of SOPA, PIPA, and Homeland Security’s domain name seizures? Google could do per-country blocking without redirecting requests, so I presume the intent is to allow for country-wide blocking of particular foreign domains while still allowing for country-specific links to censored content.

I shudder to think this might someday become standard operating procedure for websites around the world.

Violated (profile) says:

Them pesky French

I would say this is more welcome than troubling. We should keep in mind that Censorship is already happening and this is just their response on how to deal with it.

In one example I have seen Google received a French court order to block links to a French infringing website. The only problem was Google did not just block France when they blocked many other countries as well including here in the UK.

So it is a good question of why google.co.uk is blocking UK people from seeing links to a French website? No British court has has made such a ruling and where I am sure French court orders do not apply outside the borders of France.

This then all comes down to the question of when next they receive a Censorship order from a French court then should they remove those links for France, Europe or Global?

This is exactly why Google, Twitter and others need to split their service by country so that all the Global community do not suffer from local Censorship.

As to their google.co.uk domain then that has been UK site focused for years but they are still quite happy to return more Global results if the search demands it.

Glenn says:

It's really pitiful...

when “tech” companies founded on the concept of “the web” (a subset of “the Internet”) begin to display a basic LACK of understanding as to what the web is, was, and needs to continue to be.

No freedom of speech -> no freedom of thought -> no web (no one will need it)

When the presses stopped printing… what happened? (Well, those who fail to learn the lessons of history…)

Viatcheslav I Sobol (profile) says:

The end of the global internet? More like business as usual

The internet has never been global due to the linguistic and cultural differences. Furthermore, Chinese in spite of being one of the largest internet user base have been living behind the wall of technological censorship with the assistance of western corporations which gladly sell various technological innovations to implement such limited information access availability. Therefore, nothing in a sense changes other than another large corporation publicly complying with local laws of places where it chooses to do business.

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