January 2006 Archives

A few years ago, Internet users trying to access Google.com from mainland China were redirected to a government approved search engine, usually powered by one of the local universities or by a state-owned company.

These days, Google’s international services are normally accessible in China. The definition of normality, however, lies in the hands of the great leaders of the Middle Kingdom. And so, in times of national emergency, services such as Google news, GMail, and other web sites are suddenly inaccessible. In practice, routine events like protests in rural areas, toxic spills, floods, and the spread of Aviary Flu trigger blocks that disrupt access to information and personal communication.

Another thing that most people seem to forget, is that even when they are accessible from China, international search engines don’t always display the same search results to users in mainland China as they would to users in other countries. Search engines take into account each user’s geographical location in order to display the most relevant (and appropriate) search results. For example, a person in California that uses Google to search for “plumber? will see search results and text ads that are relevant to his area. In China, however, this and similar technologies are often used to deny local users access to information, even when using an international web site such as Google.com and Yahoo!. In the past, there have been reports from Chinese users that were not able to get any results for search terms such as “Jiang Zemin?, and even cases when a user’s internet connection would get disconnected for a few minutes or more. Any person living in China knows the feeling.

It is possible that the recent agreement between Google and Chinese authorities, and the consequent launch of Google.cn - hosted in China and catering specifically for the Chinese masses - will put an end to disruptions in access to Google’s international services. It is not less likely, however, that these disruptions will turn into a full block on all Google services not currently hosted within China. Only time will tell. In the mean time, denial of access to international web sites is not uncommon in China, as exemplified by the ongoing block of the BBC’s online news service and the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Note: The views and observations expressed on this web site are published for the sake of public discussion and do not represent my personal opinion or the opinion of my companies, clients, and/or employers. If you would like to get my opinion on anything, ask me.

This page is an archive of entries from January 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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