You’ve Been Censored!

When Google launched a censored Chinese search engine it created a storm of controversy. Google has arguably borne a disproportionate amount of criticism, after all Yahoo! had long been censoring their Chinese search service. After Google launched there were several Congressional inquiries and the issue of U.S. involvement in censorship in China was widely covered by the media.

The willingness of these powerful companies, Google, MSN, and Yahoo! to censor themselves signifies that censorship is now the norm. Now, this is not something entirely new. Chilling Effects has been documenting various cases usually in the area of copyright or hate speech.

The case of China brought up several issues. In addition to being overtly political — the removal of content widely acknowleged as credible — issues of transparency and accountabilty emerged as key. In the past information in legal papers and court cases was available which at least documented the process through which the filtering or removal of content was taking place. With China there was simply silence.

Google implemented one small measure of transparency which has now become the norm: they began to inform users when search results were censored. Now MSN and Yahoo! have followed. While there is still a long way to go, I hope that Google will continue to be a leader in implementing transparency. Implementing these measures would be a good start.

Here are some samples of the various “you’ve been censored” messages:

Babelfish translation: According to the local law laws and regulations and the policy, the part searches the result not to demonstrate.

Babelfish translation: In the search result removed certain contents

Babelfish translation: Already helped you to filter the unnecessary homepage!

*Note: Yahoo! only displays the error message if they’ve indexed a site but are not displaying results. Often, “sensitive” sites are not indexed so there is no censored message.

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