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Monday, June 05, 2006

Is This Another China-Google Agreement?

The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre's brought me back to Google's agreement to censor search results for China.

When the deal was announced in late January, bloggers LGF and The Colossus showed us the startling contrast between Google's censored and uncensored search results for "Tiananmen."

Now, five months later, Google's supposedly uncensored results seem very different. Pictures of the protests and violence, though present, are now interspersed with innocuous images that Chinese censors would approve. In fact, the top two images, and four of the top five, would appease Chinese censors.

Have these results been "google-bombed" (i.e., tampered with) since bloggers brought attention to it? Google Trends shows a big spike in Tiananmen searches, disproportionate to the news volume. Did blogs like LGF cause it? Curious that Hong Kong (now Chinese) ranks first among searchers.

But a closer look reveals that Google's SafeSearch feature makes the difference. See for yourself:

According to Google, SafeSearch "screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your search results." Clicking through Google's contact us link, I see Webmaster Guidelines, which in turn refer to Design/content/technical and quality guidelines. None of these suggest screening for political content, particularly linked to SafeSearch.

So what gives, Google? Don't be evil.

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For ongoing reporting on Google's (and others') deals with China, see PajamasMedia's China Syndrome page. (Caution: it's long.)

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Update, 6/5: It could be that someone is reporting top-ranked images as sexual content, but you'd think Google would review them to prevent a variety of abuses, including this kind.

Update 2, 6/5: Maybe this is some sort of low-tech google-bomb using Google's feedback. So Google wouldn't be aware of it yet. But my trust in Google is way down because of their China deal. How dilligently do I expect them to hold the line here against China, when I know they have at least one more agreement with China than they do with me?


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