Internet giant Google is challenging China’s censorship of the web. The company lifted its web filters for users in China, and is threatening to pull out of China because of human rights violations. The World’s Mary Kay Magistad has the story.
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MS. JEB SHARP: I’m Jeb Sharp and this is The World. China said today it’s seeking more information from Google. That’s after Google announced it’s considering leaving the country. The Silicon Valley giant also said it will stop censoring its Chinese language search engine. Google says it’s taking these steps after discovering sophisticated cyber attacks on the gmail accounts of China rights activists in and outside of the country. The World’s Mary Kay Magistad reports from Beijing.
MS. MARY KAY MAGISTAD: It felt like a parallel universe waking up this morning in Beijing and going online. Before, if you tried to search Google’s Chinese website for the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, you’d get an error message and your computer would slow down. But today, you got this: the sound of troops opening fire on unarmed demonstrators. Footage of the injured and the dead, scenes the Chinese government has tried hard to erase from the collective Chinese memory. Other searches pulled up favorable articles about the Dalai Lama and sites sympathetic to the band group Falun Gong.
MALE VOICE 1: Falun Dafa [phonetic], also known as Falun Gong, was introduced to the general public in 1992.
MS. MAGISTAD: All this openness lasted about three hours and then came and went intermittently during the day, presumably as China’s censors scrambled up to keep up with Google changing the game. Google Vice President David Drummond said in a CNBC interview that Google decided to make the change after discovering a rash of sophisticated cyber attacks originating in China on the gmail accounts of China human rights activists, including some in the U.S.
MR. DAVID DRUMMOND: That’s one of the things that really dismays us about it and really troubles us. We were talking about perhaps U.S. citizens, certainly U.S. people that live in the United States, people who live in Europe and other parts of the world that seem to be being surveilled or at least that their accounts are being compromised.
MS. MAGISTAD: The CNBC host later went on to say:
MALE VOICE 2: American business firms can have principles, can’t they? They can have moral principles, can’t they? It’s not about always the almighty dollar or the almighty profit. You can have principles. Are you illustrating that?
MR. DRUMMOND: Absolutely, and we believe that our company was founded on that principle. You can do well and do good Larry.
MS. MAGISTAD: Yet, four years ago when Google launched a Chinese language search engine in China, it agreed to filter out content the Chinese government found objectionable. Over the last four years, Google has lost Chinese market share to Baidu, a domestic search engine that does the filtered Chinese internet thing better than Google. Drummond said in his CNBC interview that Google’s profits in China haven’t been significant. Today a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman responded to Google’s announcement by saying “The Chinese government has open internet policies that are in line with international regulations. As for Google, I think everyone in China knows that this is a site known for pornography.” Chinese blogger and internet rights activist Michael Anti sees Google in a different way, especially now.
MR. MICHAEL ANTI: Google is a very great company. They have their principles of do no evil. I don’t think any other company, like in Microsoft, will volunteer to follow.
MS. MAGISTAD: But he hopes they will. Anti says too many western internet companies like Yahoo and Cisco have helped the Chinese government strengthen its censorship. They’ve also helped implicate and imprison dissidents by handing over their email and chat records. And the problem is not just in mainland China, says Charles Mok, a Hong Kong legislative counselor and Chair of the Internet Society, Hong Kong. He says pro-democracy politicians including himself have also been targeted by cyber attacks. Mok says Google’s move comes at a critical time when the Chinese government has been trying hard to find new ways to control what China’s 350,000,000 internet users can access. It’s even considered making anyone who wants their website seen in China apply for review and approval. Mok doubts such efforts would be effective for long.
MR. CHARLES MOK: The number of people that have been learning and have been habitually overcoming the firewall in China is ever-growing. This number is ever-growing even though the Chinese government is putting in all kinds of new measures which try to enhance the firewall, but the number of people getting through it is increasing and it will just continue to increase.
MS. MAGISTAD: And Chinese bloggers today were overwhelmingly positive about Google’s move. One wrote “I will trust Google forever”, another, “It’s the first step in fighting back. The darkest time is just before the dawn”. And a few brought flowers to lay on Google’s colorful sign outside it’s Beijing office. Scrawled in pen on paper amidst the blooms was the Chinese equivalent of, “Google,You’re the Man”. For The World, I’m Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing.
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