Nice Work EU: You've Given Google An Excuse To Offer A Censored Search Engine In China

from the handing-authoritarian-states-easy-victories dept

We've already explained why we think Google is making exactly the wrong move in experimenting with a government-approved censored search engine in China, called Dragonfly. However, the company continues to move forward with this idea. CEO Sundar Pichai gave an interview with the NY Times, in which he defends this move by... arguing it's the equivalent of the "Right to Be Forgotten" in the EU, with which Google is required to comply:

One of the things that’s not well understood, I think, is that we operate in many countries where there is censorship. When we follow “right to be forgotten” laws, we are censoring search results because we’re complying with the law. I’m committed to serving users in China. Whatever form it takes, I actually don’t know the answer. It’s not even clear to me that search in China is the product we need to do today.

A few people, who I respect, have tried to argue that this analogy is unfair. Mathew Ingram has a story at the Columbia Journalism Review that rightly points out the differences between deleting content because the subject of that content complains vs. when the government wants things disappeared. Former Facebook Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos argued that the comparison is "amoral and mendacious." He too agrees that there are problems with the RTBF in the EU, but China's censorship is to a different degree:

The "right to be forgotten" is a form of censorship that has been abused by many individuals and it's application extra-territorially should be resisted. However, China's censorship regime is a tool to maintain the absolute control of the party-state and is in no way comparable.

I both agree and disagree with this statement. What China is doing is to a different degree. But the mechanisms and the concepts behind them are the same. Indeed, we've pointed out for years that any move towards internet censorship in the Western World is almost immediately seized upon by China to justify that country's much more aggressive and egregious political censorship. Remember, back when the US was considering SOPA/PIPA, which would have censored whole websites on the basis of claims of copyright infringement, the Chinese government gleefully pointed out that the US was copying China's approach to the internet, and pushing for a "Great Firewall" for "harmful" information. It's just that, in the US's case, that "harmful information" was infringing information that hurt the bottom line of a few entertainment companies, while in China, they saw it as anything that might lead to political unrest. But, as they made clear, it was the same thing: you guys want to keep "harmful" information offline, and so do we.

That push for SOPA/PIPA gave the Chinese cover to continue to censor the internet -- and now the EU and its silly Right to be Forgotten is doing the same thing. So, yes, the style and degree of the censorship is not the same -- but the nature of what it is and how it's done continues to give massive cover to China in dismissing any complaints about its widespread censorship regime.

That said, it is reasonable to point out that Sundar Pichai should not be helping out the Chinese in furthering this argument on the pages of the NY Times... and I'd agree with you. But at least some of the blame must fall on the EU and other governments which have increasingly moved towards internet censorship regimes. Even if they're done for a different purpose, authoritarian regimes will always seize on them to excuse their own such behavior.

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Filed Under: censorship, china, dragonfly, eu, right to be forgotten, sundar pichai
Companies: google


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 9:07pm

    Ah, the Right To Make You Forget, and Pretend It Didn't Happen, Or Else. Definite corollary.

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