China’s Overeager American Censors
Practically every U.S.-owned search engine has caved to the Chinese government’s demands that they censor political Web sites in China. But none of them seem to agree on just what sites need censoring.
Google, at times, blocks Chinese users’ access to the BBC while Yahoo! permits it. Yahoo! sometimes filters out Voice of America–Google doesn’t. And Microsoft removes entries from the Chinese version of Wikipedia from its results while every other search engine includes them–even the dominant Chinese search engine Baidu.com.
Confused? So are the search engines themselves, says Nart Villeneuve, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Open Net Initiative. In a study released on Wednesday, he points to the wild variation in search engine censorship in China as a sign that the Chinese government isn’t handing companies a uniform list of censored sites but leaving them to guess at which sites are contraband.
As a result, search engines may be censoring even more than the government would require. On one measure, for instance, the study suggests that Microsoft’s MSN search engine censors the results of more search queries on average than Baidu does.