Ars Technica adds to other coverage of a Google white paper which argues that Internet censorship constitutes an illegal trade barrier. While the article starts with Turkey’s repeated blocking of YouTube, it inevitably moves on to China:
“There is a growing consensus that governments must do more than appeal for the protection of human rights and encourage development of tools that allow users to bypass government firewalls,” says Google in its new paper. “Censorship on the Internet poses a significant economic threat to companies seeking a level playing field as the established markets overseas.”
Such disputes aren’t merely political, or related to dissidents. In many cases, especially in the huge Chinese market, business interests appear to lie behind much of the blocking. Google points out repeatedly how China’s Great Firewall has been used to limit the appeal of its services, even as local ripoffs flourished and featured many of the same “problems” that the Chinese government had with Google. The country also puts strict limits on foreign ownership.
And Chinese actions can be pretty non-subtle. For instance, in 2007, China was piqued at the US and altered its firewall so that “users who typed in Web addresses for the three major US-based Internet search engines (run by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!) were taken not to their site of choice but rather to the Chinese-owned search engine, Baidu.”
The report is transparently self-serving, but that doesn’t mean the issues raised aren’t legitimate (and Google did belatedly take some action of its own earlier this year when it stopped preemptively censoring its Chinese site’s search results). The US government has already intervened with the WTO over similar access issues in the analog world, most famously in a recent case against China’s strict limits on the importation of Western films and media (which the US won).
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled that she would go along with the tech companies’ desire to make this a government-to-government issue. “New technologies do not take sides,” she said in January. “But the United States does.”