Google accused of selling out as it submits to Chinese censorship

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The Independent Online

The leading internet company Google has become the latest technology company to founder against the Great Firewall of China with the news that it will censor its search engine to give it greater access to China's fast-growing market.

Human rights groups say the move by Google is the latest example of a big corporation kowtowing to the Chinese government's stringent demands on internet content. They say Google has sold out on its corporate mantra: "Don't be evil"., the company's site aimed at boosting its market share in China, was launched yesterday but will censor itself of politically sensitive material.

The new version could restrict access to thousands of sensitive terms and web sites and make searching for information on topics such as Tibet, Taiwanese independence and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre even harder.

There are 111 million internet users in China and the number is rising swiftly. A growing market of that size is too big to ignore. A survey during the summer showed Google was losing market share to companies such as the Beijing-based Baidu, in which it has a small stake. Domestic giants including Inc. and Inc., along with China sites operated by Yahoo Inc and Microsoft, all routinely block searches on politically sensitive terms.

Google said that it planned to notify users when access had been restricted and argued that it could play a more useful role in China by participating than by boycotting it.

The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders described the launch as "a black day for freedom of expression in China". It said that US firms were bending to the same censorship rules as Chinese competitors.

"But they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking," the group said.

The Free Tibet Campaign described the move as an endorsement of censorship and repression."With this move, Google's motto 'do no evil' is in smithereens," said the campaign's spokeswoman Alison Reynolds. "This also further contradicts those political leaders who attempt to convince us that foreign business can change China for the better."

The Free Tibet Campaign has already protested to Google about its service "Google Earth", in which the word Tibet is not recognised.

Google's move in China comes a week after it resisted efforts by the US Department of Justice to make it disclose data on what people were searching for.

"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," the Mountain View, California-based company said in a statement.

Last year, Beijing recruited thousands of web watchdogs to watch over the capital's cybercafés and internet service providers. Around 40,000 officials routinely monitor e-mail and websites in the world's most populous nation.

Last year, Yahoo was accused of supplying data to China that was used as evidence to jail a Chinese journalist for 10 years.

The Communist Party's propaganda department has stepped up operations at Office 1106, an organisation which trawls cyberspace for subversion.

All websites, bloggers and bulletin-board operators must register with the government and the Beijing government has a special internet police force believed to be responsible for shutting down "unacceptable" sites, blocking foreign news sites and jailing people for online postings.