Brin Suggests Google Might Reverse Chinese Censorship In The Short Term; Meanwhile, China Ramps Up Blocks

says Google compromised principles
” from the Associated Press covers Google
cofounder Sergey Brin telling reporters yesterday that it’s possible Google
might reverse its policy of
censoring on
behalf of the Chinese government
. That’s the real news from his talk — a
possible reversal, perhaps soon — not the admission of compromise which
Google’s made before. The news comes on the heels of China apparently ramping up
blocks on the uncensored site.

Back in January, Brin already
said the move
wasn’t “to the 100 percent that we ideally would like.” That same month, Google
CEO Eric Schmidt said that Google had
created an
“evil scale” to determine just how much a compromise of the company’s “Don’t Be
Evil” mantra the China move would be. In February, Google communications chief
Elliot Schrage

to a US Congressional committee how in 2002, Google refused to
compromise its principles:

We faced a choice at that point: hold fast to our commitment to free speech
(and risk a long-term cut-off from our Chinese users), or compromise our
principles by entering the Chinese market directly and subjecting ourselves to
Chinese laws and regulations. We stood by our principles, which turned out to be
a good choice, as access to was largely restored within about two

But then he also explained that compromise in 2006 was deemed necessary:

Our hope is that our mix of measures, though far from our ideal, would
accomplish more for Chinese citizens? access to information than the
alternative. We don?t pretend that this is the single ?right? answer to the
dilemma faced by information companies in China, but rather a reasonable
approach that seems likely to bring our users greater access to more information
than any other search engine in China. And by serving our users better, we hope
it will be good for our business, too, over the long run.

So fast forward to yesterday and Brin’s statement:

“We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide
ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and
perhaps make more of a difference,” Brin said.

Frankly, it’s really nothing they haven’t said before, albeit more directly
to have “compromise” and “principles” coming up so directly and so close
together. Far more interesting was this statement:

“Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense,” Brin said.

Change directions? That itself isn’t necessarily news. Google’s already said
before they might reverse course. Going back to Schrage’s statement from

Looking ahead, we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new
laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable
to achieve the objectives I?ve outlined above, we will not hesitate to
reconsider our approach to China.

That statement sounds pretty long-term — watch and see over time. Brin’s
statement sounds more immediate, as if suddenly things have changed that might
make Google rethink its approach in the near term. What could those things be?

For one, the China issue isn’t going away. Google continues to take flak for
it, both outside China by those opposed to the move and even those inside China
by those upset
with the disclosure route they’ve followed.

More recently, just this week, journalists in the UK started
organizing to
boycott Yahoo over its actions in China. Google, which has done far less
egregious things than Yahoo is accused of, could still come under fire for a
similar move.

Also this week,
have started coming in that is being more heavily blocked from China.
China ‘blocks’
main Google site
from the BBC (and see also

) has more on this. has never worked perfectly within China. That, after all, is the
reason why Google caved to create an approved Chinese edition. But
has remained held out by the company as a way for those in China to still get an
uncensored look at search results (at least uncensored according to Chinese
laws; US laws still get a far more limited amount of material removed).

If is now being more aggressively blocked — not just occasionally
for particular sensitive queries but in a heavy-handed fashion — Google loses
another relief valve for those upset with its actions.

It’s also important to note that one of the ways Google decides what to
censor is to look at the differences between and Google China from
within China, as the New York Times
explained in
an excellent story back in April. If is being blocked more heavily,
then it’s harder for Google to maintain its censored version.

Then again, perhaps a reversal isn’t really likely to happen soon. Later in
his talk with reporters, Brin said:

“It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re
going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate
there.’ That’s an alternate path,” Brin said. “It’s not where we chose to go
right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about
doing the right thing.”

The “not where we chose to go right now” sort of defused the idea that
dropping censorship might be a short term thing.

It’s also interesting that only two months ago, Google CEO Eric Schmidt
talked about
the Chinese action as “absolutely the right move.” I didn’t agree with that, and
now we’ve got one of the cofounders clarifying it wasn’t absolutely the right
choice but rather simply one of at least two directions Google decided to go.

If you’re interested in more about these issues and past developments, be
sure to check out the

Legal: Censorship
category we maintain for Search Engine Watch

Want to comment or discuss? Visit our Search Engine Watch Forums thread,
says Google compromised principles

Postscript: more ‘Google Speak’ at ZDNet from Donna Bogatin notes that only last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he doesn’t “see a need to change what we have done.” So a split among the Google leadership? Or a recent change in China making them all rethink things?

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