By Erik Crouch
Only a few days after announcing the Google exec’s plans to visit North Korea, the search engine has stopped notifying China-based users that their searches are filtered by the nation’s Great Firewall. Google’s China results have been government-filtered since a censorship spat in 2010, and China has occasionally cracked down on Gmail and other Google services.
Google has always spoken against censorship (the main conflict in 2010 was the company’s refusal to self-censor according to Chinese guidelines) so this notification removal comes as somewhat of a surprise. In 2012, Eric Schmidt talked on the futility of censorship in China, saying:
We believe in empowering people who care about freedom of expression […] The conflict there is at some basic level: We want that information [flowing] into China, and at some basic level the government doesn’t want that to happen.
Even if Schmidt still believes in his anti-censorship rhetoric, the situation is against him. Wired speculates that Google’s removal of the censorship notification isn’t a form of capitulation, but rather an attempt hold on to their users:
Google has also come to the realisation that with its meagre five percent marketshare in China — compared to competitor Baidu’s 74 percent — it will not be able to achieve much when it comes to making a dent in the country’s censorship policies, nor the public’s access to information. […]
Essentially, no one is going to stick with your service if it keeps getting them booted off the internet or bothering them with pop-ups telling them things they already know. Competitors don’t come with these irritations, because they’ve already allowed themselves to be censored — that might not be in-keeping with Google’s morals, but it makes for a far better user experience.
Google’s decision to remove its notification is just one of many internet-censorship stories recently, or even just within the past few days. Following the VPN crack down in December and rhetoric supporting censorship, it looks like the situation on the Chinese internet will get worse before it gets better.