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...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jun 4th, 2012 @ 9:16am

    Palace Politics

    "It's going to be a back and forth, cat and mouse game for a long, long time..."
    In light of China's very long history; a long cat & mouse game is exactly how many lasting changes in China have come about. So, maybe Google is on the right track.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2012 @ 9:28am

    Smart move would be to get out of China entirely.

    But they would never do that. They would lose out on millions of eyeballs for Adwords.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Jeremy, Jun 4th, 2012 @ 9:33am

    Shouldn't the warning be in Mandarin? Are we trying to improve their english as well?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Trails (profile), Jun 4th, 2012 @ 9:58am

    Trigger

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Machin Shin (profile), Jun 4th, 2012 @ 10:06am

    Smart?

    "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."

    I question if this is not exactly the kind of thing China might want. The search engine constantly reminding people all over China "Hey, You better behave, We are watching you."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Yartrebo (profile), Jun 4th, 2012 @ 11:05am

    Re: Smart?

    China probably isn't that happy. If they wanted the censorship to be in-your-face to this extent, they wouldn't be using a 404 error when a naughty term is spotted, but would instead redirect the user to a nasty government web page (the way our ICE department likes to operate).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    The eejit (profile), Jun 4th, 2012 @ 12:21pm

    Re:

    No, the rational move would be to get out of China entirely and focus on the other key markets: India, Brazil, Europe.

    The smart move would be...to do exactly what they're doing now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Ophelia Millais (profile), Jun 4th, 2012 @ 3:07pm

    Re:

    If Google were to only operate in countries where it were under no external pressure to censor the Web, it would be unavailable to 95% of the world. And if Google doesn't stand up to censorship, be it from repressive governments or the copyright industry, you think the lesser search engines will?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2012 @ 7:22pm

    I'm not getting this screen

    But perheps it'd only be shown with a PRC IP address.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Wally (profile), Jun 4th, 2012 @ 10:43pm

    One thing you cannot look up in china

    (a)http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989(/a)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    bratwurzt (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 5:56am

    Re: Re:

    Ehm, you should be careful with statements with percentages in it. Techdirt likes its facts sourced and verified. ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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