Yesterday Google began redirecting requests for google.cn to google.com.hk effectively ending its years of self-censorship in China. To be clear, Google has not ended censorship in China — Google has ended its own self-censorship.
While searches within the .hk google are not censored by Google, they will still be affected by China’s keyword filtering. This means that queries for certain terms will not get through to google.com.hk search engine and the end user in China will not get any results.
Even if a user in China uses search queries that are not filtered by China and retrieves results from google’s .hk version, they will still be affected by China’s filtering if they click on the link and try and view those results directly.
What’s the difference? Users in China will be affected by China’s filtering, not Google’s. The difference is in the user’s experience — instead of retrieving results and carrying on as if censorship did not exist (disclaimer aside), the user now experiences the censorship first hand.
It is true that the user will not get any results from Google for queries that are filtered by China. this may results in quantitatively less information, but necessarily qualitatively (see here and here). Even if a controversial site slipped through the self-censorship, it would be picked up by China’s filtering if the user tried to access it directly.
The move removes Google from an ethically challenged situation and has raised awareness globally regarding China’s censorship practices.
Remember: Microsoft and Yahoo! are still censoring their China facing search engines.