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September 27, 2004

Google in China

By Charlene Li

I was quoted today in a Mercury News/AP article about Google's practice of not including Web sites blocked by the Chinese government in its new Chinese language news service. This practice was unearthed by a Dynanmic Internet Technology, Inc. report that compared US-based searches to China-based searches. DIT found that Google was not including banned news sites in its index.

The question is, should Google have excluded sites from its index, knowing that had they included the sites, that their own site would be subject censorship? Some people would consider Google a hypocrit, since its pledge to "Do No Evil" flies in the face of such an action.

I look at it a different way. Had they included the index, they would have come under government scrutiny and the service that they provide -- which can include other dissenting voices from sites not blocked by the Chinese government -- would have been jeopardized. In any case, even if they had included the banned sites, users would not have been able to see the results because of the censorship.

The pragmitist in me says that Google did the right thing -- this time. But it does raise the theoretical question of where the line should be drawn, something which I think Google has to struggle with continually, as does any publisher. Remember, a search index may be a computer driven algorithm, but its imbued with human values -- what sites to include in the index lies at the core of that engine. As long as people at Google still make those choices, they will have to continually adjust where and how they define what's acceptable -- and what's "evil".

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