Brin Speaks On China & Looking At What’s Filtered

Since the news broke late Tuesday that Google China would be censored, lots of press and blog attention has been published. Here’s a brief look at some of it.

Google Blogoscoped’s Philipp Lenssen has been doing some very impressive work, no surprise there, with several excellent posts.

+ Brin on China Censorship
Includes comments in a Q&A interview made to CNN by Sergey Brin on the Google China censorship issue.

Brin says:

Essentially the great firewall is sophisticated enough that it would block connections based on sensitive queries. The end result was that we weren’t available to about 50 percent of the users. Universities can’t afford the international bandwidth, so for example students at Tsinghua University — and I saw this myself — had to pay in order to use Google, and I mean pay a lot, even 25 cents a megabyte, which would be unaffordable even by American standards. This is nothing…there’s no malicious plan there, it just legitimately is a bottleneck that bandwidth is somewhat limited.

Brin adds that he doesn’t want to speculate on this being a policy issue.

But anyhow the net effect is that all of our services…soon we will be largely unavailable. We ultimately made a difficult decision, but we felt that by participating there, and making our services more available, even if not to the 100 percent that we ideally would like, that it will be better for Chinese Web users, because ultimately they would get more information, though not quite all of it.

He also points out that he’s very sensitive to these issues being born and spending his early years in the Soviet Union.

It wasn’t easy. But I gradually grew comfortable, and I think we’re doing the right thing.

+ Overview of Sites Google Agreed to Censor in China <

This post includes a link to a compilation that GB has put together that includes several screen caps. A link included on both pages includes this statement from a Google help page:

?Google does not censor results for any search term. The order and content of our results are completely automated; we do not manipulate our search results by hand. We believe strongly in allowing the democracy of the web to determine the inclusion and ranking of sites in our search results. To learn more about Google?s search technology, please visit …?

When I went to the actual help where Philipp Lenssen takes this passage from just a few minutes ago, it was no longer available. However, a cached version is still available as well as a screen cap we’ve uploaded here.

Danny points out that the statement on the help page is actually incorrrect. Google has censored sites in Germany and France in the past.

+ Google in China, in the Past
Includes quotes from a CNN article from Google:

?While removing search results is inconsistent with Google?s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.?

Comments from Reporters without Borders (“The launch of is a black day for freedom of expression in China…) are also included.

+ Checking Chinese Google Results
Finally, Lenssen does some of is investigating on his own and shows and reports on how Google pages appear (ie. what’s being filtered) on web browsers via He also explains how he did it (you can try it yourself).

Here’s one example of what he found:

Especially telling is a search for [FreeChina]. shows 19,400 pages on shows zero. Searching for [FreeChina] on shows a Chinese site as top result ? itself. The second result snippet reads, ?The first political opposition Party in China aiming to overthrow the brutal Chinese Communist rule in Mainland China.?

+ Declan McCullagh and Elinor Mills from have just posted the report: What Google censors in China, and like Philipp’s article linked above: Checking Chinese Google Results, goes into even greter detail about what is and is not being filtered on

Key Points from the Article:

Google’s new China search engine not only censors many Web sites that question the Chinese government, but it goes further than similar services from Microsoft and Yahoo by targeting teen pregnancy, homosexuality, dating, beer and jokes.

In addition, CNET has found that contrary to Google founder Sergey Brin’s promise to inform users when their search results are censored, the company frequently filters out sites without revealing it.

In a series of conversations starting Wednesday, Google representatives responded to CNET’s queries by saying that some Web site blockages are human errors that should be expected when any new service is introduced, and others represent a concerted attempt to comply with Chinese censorship laws. By Thursday, a handful of blackballed sites, such as the engineering school and, had been cleared to appear on, though had not.

Included in this article is a chart that lists how different sites are handled by Google China, Yahoo China, and MSN China. Interersting reading.

Via Searchblog:
Word that Congress is now asking Google to join in on a previously scheduled hearing to be held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Human Rights. Danny linked to this article in his post the other day. Committee chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) blasted Google on the China censorship issue yesterday.

Btw, don’t confuse this request from Congress to another request mde by Senator Patrick Leahy yesterday over the Department of Justice requesting search records from several major engines.

Postscript From Danny: I asked more about the methodology used in their testing, because for reasons other than censorship, rankings you see in one country edition of Google might be different at another one (see this for more on that).


Declan McCullagh says that did a site: search for various domains,
then also looked for domain names without the site: command and further searched
using words that should have brought up the domains. Saying further:



That three-fold approach should have brought up the sites we listed, but
they did not. Google did not question this methodology, BTW, or argue with our
results that we sent them a day before the article ran.

I agree. It’s sounds like a great approach to me.

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