Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Google in China

I’m sure lots of people will be giving Google stick over its decision to offer a censored version of its results to Chinese users.
The thing is, I don’t think that criticising Google is necessarily the right thing to do. Google has seen a revenue opportunity in China by operating there, and to do so it has needed to comply with the laws and customs of the country. To you and me, this may seem wrong – after all, the laws on censorship there are rather draconian and all internet activity is monitored, and I personally think that is wrong, but as a market China is growing fast and many multinational companies will want to be a part of that. In other words, the cost of adapting to the Chinese market is much less than the potential profits to be made there. If you don’t censor your site yourself, then your site will be blocked and you won’t earn anything at all. Google are therefore making the most of a bad situation.
The problem with censorship in China is not the companies that censor – it’s the government that forces them to. And that’s what needs to change.
Update: An official response on the Google Blog. Essentially: American version of Google doesn’t work well in China, Google decided to launch local version but had to comply with local laws, the reason why it’s taken them this long is because of ethics, they will make it clear when results have been censored.


  1. I was with you all the way, until the final line. The UK and USA have no right to impose their morality or preferred model of governance on foreign nations. Censorship in China is a matter for the Chinese.

  2. Google staying out of China isn’t going to affect China’s decision on censorship. We may as well say Google should stay out of America because of their abuses of international law.
    However, where it gets interesting is what happens if the Chinese authorities ask for search logs in the same way the Americans did? If Google are forced to handover logs then that turns into a major human-rights issue. And we can’t start arguing about this after the logs have been created, that’s too late, we need to discuss this now.
    So no, Google probably shouldn’t be going into China – especially considering there are ways around the current filtering. However, Google are going to make a shed load of money out of this, and I must admit I’d be tempted by such an oppurtunity.

  3. Let me draw your attention to the Guardian article on January 25th.
    “There are technical precedents. In Germany, Google follows government orders by restricting references to sites that deny the Holocaust. In France, it obeys local rules prohibiting sites that stir up racial hatred. And in the US, it assists the authorities’ crackdown on copyright infringements.”

  4. I see a reference to ways of circumnavigating Google filters. Is there an opportunity to set up a system where Chinese users could type a search on a server here – possibly through an email interface – that would then perform a search on one or more UK based search engines and relay back the answers. How difficult is that?
    And yes we musn’t get too precious about the Chinese. Arguably we are moving here in Britain to the kind of repressive and intrusive state we think is China, as set out by Henry Porter in last Sunday’s Observer.

  5. If Google didn’t, the Chinese government would just have blocked them. It’s all they could do.

  6. Mum & Joe: No, Google are censoring more than MSN or Yahoo are in China. And searching for the MSN search engine on won’t return any results. They aren’t simply going along with local laws, and they’re not always telling people when they are doing filtering. And note how Google’s page about censorship has now been removed.
    Martin: Getting around the filters are best done by using ssh tunneling as Neil describes in a later post. It’s really easy and foreigners can sometimes get away with it, but if Chinese nationals are caught then they are in big trouble.

  7. Why Google is still ethical

    Sure, Google has decided to censor the Chinese version of its search engine. But there are some key differences between this and Yahoo’s shenanigans:
    Nobody has been put in jail or otherwise abused
    Google is doing nothing that wouldn’t hav…