Google has been in the news recently after co-founder Sergey Brin said at the World Economic Forum in Davos said, speaking of Google’s decision to comply with censorship regulations in China, that “on a business level, the decision to censor … was a net negative.”
Now Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google are employing another strategy—asking the US State Dept. to use some of its clout in the battle for free speech on the internet.
Well, that just might be what comes to pass, as a new bill called the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 gets introduced to the US Congress. Congress has made it clear that they aren’t too happy with the tech giants’ policy in China. If the bill were passed:
GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of “Internet restricting countries” and would in most cases prohibit U.S.-based companies from censoring content or turning over users’ information to the governments of those countries.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this law, and there are many things it can’t do. In the end, if the routers and servers are on Chinese soil, there’s not a whole lot that can be done. However, what can be prevented is the release of information to foreign (e.g. the Chinese) governments about users. This brings to mind the case involving Yahoo and Chinese reporter Shi Tao. Yahoo handed over some information which supposedly was critical in leading to the arrest of Shi, who had used Yahoo to email some internal party documents about the handling of the media during the anniversary of that event that we’re not supposed to talk about.
The writer argues that the search engine giants can still offer their services to China, even with this stipulation. Why? Because China wants MSN, Yahoo, and Google services so bad that they wouldn’t dare boot them just because of this. They’ve become indispensable.
We’re not sure how much of this is true. We do know that one Google service—Google Earth—is at the center of another controversy, this time over a a Google Earth map of Shenyang that uses Japanese names from the era of Japanese colonialism. You history buffs out there remember that Shenyang and that area of the northeast was under Japanese control in the 1930s, and Google Earth is an open-ended application that allows users to input information.
Some people think it’s a hoax, while others, quite predictably, talk about how they are going to kick some Japanese imperialist ass.
Photo from nanfangdaily.com.cn.