Today MSNBC reported that Google “appears” to have stopped censoring its search engine in China, google.cn.
This is not true.
In Search Monitor Project: Toward a Measure of Transparency I tried to carefully document the different censorship practices among Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Baidu. (Here are some more posts on this issue.) In short, it is difficult to determine the relationship between queries and censorship, so I focused on domains.
NBC assumed that the censorship was keyword driven (there are some key word driven elements) but a lot of it is based on de-listing (or not indexing) web sites.
For what it is worth, I noticed that a lot of the content I found to be blocked in 2008 was available BEFORE the Google announcement in January. For example, around the Olympics in Beijing a lot of previously blocked content was accessible (although the search engines were still censoring more than China was at that time).
But anyway, a closer look at the current search engine censorship reveals some interesting issues. Here’s a google.cn search for Tiananmen, notice the “tankman” picture is there, twice.
But look closely, what is Google indexing? Why those domains are “tieba.baidu.com” and “q.163.com”. Baidu and 163, both very popular domestic Chinese sites. The images are not hosted on thoese sites, but are linked from them. So both Baidu and 163 are displaying page that have the image too!
What about Yahoo (yahoo.cn) and Microsoft’s Bing (with region set to PRC)? Yep, these images are there too!
Although Google has consistently performed better (as in less censorship) in my tests over the years, Google’s censorship behaviour is not all that different than the rest.