Google Cryptically Alerts The World That It Will Nudge Chinese Searchers Away From Censorship

from the losing-access dept

It’s no secret that Google has a troubled relationship with China: at one point leaving the market entirely, and later going back but with significant limitations, though where Google tried to be as transparent as possible about when information was being censored on behalf of the Chinese government. Last week, Google took another step, which was explained, somewhat cryptically, in a blog post about better search in mainland China. The company never comes out and says it, but it’s basically hinting strongly at the fact that the Chinese government is censoring certain searches… and doing so in a way that basically blocks access to Google for a certain amount of time, if they catch you doing a “questionable” search. The way Google explains it:

Over the past couple years, we’ve had a lot of feedback that Google Search from mainland China can be inconsistent and unreliable. It depends on the search query and browser, but users are regularly getting error messages like “This webpage is not available” or “The connection was reset.” And when that happens, people typically cannot use Google again for a minute or more….

We’ve taken a long, hard look at our systems and have not found any problems. However, after digging into user reports, we’ve noticed that these interruptions are closely correlated with searches for a particular subset of queries.

Of course, they never say what that “subset of queries” might be, but you can take a guess.

The “solution” is that, similar (though slightly different) to Google’s “autocomplete,” Google, when accessed by Chinese mainlanders, will make suggestions on alternative searches that won’t cause the user to be blocked from accessing Google:

It’s a smart move by Google, but it does make you wonder if even having that trigger will now lead to being cut off. It’s going to be a back and forth, cat and mouse game for a long, long time…

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Google Cryptically Alerts The World That It Will Nudge Chinese Searchers Away From Censorship”

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Trails (profile) says:


but it does make you wonder if even having that trigger will now lead to being cut off

Not necessarily. Google autocomplete currently works via ajax, so page send a request with search query as entered thus far and gets back a list of suggestions from google’s servers.

If the checking for this is done client side (i.e. in javascript with no ajax), it would make it impossible for the GFOC (Great Firewall Of China) to detect as there is no network traffic.

The GFOC could then in theory surreptitiously insert javascript into the page to generate some sort of network traffic during these events, but that approach is quite brittle and convoluted.

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