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Microsoft, Google, Yahoo reply to Congress on China censorship

Here's a report from today's Human Rights Caucus event (that drew the 
statements, below):
http://news.com.com/2100-1028_3-6033976.html

And some background:
http://news.com.com/2100-1030_3-6033064.html
http://www.politechbot.com/2006/01/26/google-censors-more/

---

Congressional Human Rights Caucus

February 1, 2006

Statement of Microsoft Corporation and Yahoo! Inc.

As leading global providers of Internet-based services, we are deeply
concerned about recent developments in China that have prompted this
meeting of the Caucus.  We are actively exploring whether there are
potential approaches to guide the practices of our industry on these
matters, not only in China, but also in other countries where Internet
content is treated more restrictively than in the United States.  As
these efforts continue, we hope to benefit from the views of members of
this Caucus and other Members of Congress, other companies in our
industry, and major non-governmental organizations, as well as key
departments of the Executive Branch and the Chinese government itself.
While we believe that companies have a responsibility to identify
appropriate practices in each market in which they do business, we think
there is a vital role for government-to-government discussion of the
larger issues involved.  We urge the United States government to take a
leadership role in this regard and have initiated a dialogue with
relevant U.S. officials to encourage such government-to-government
engagement.

We want to assure members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and
the public at large, that we do not consider the Internet situation in
China to be one of "business-as usual".  Beyond commercial
considerations, we believe that our services have promoted personal
expression and enabled far wider access to independent sources of
information for hundreds of millions of individuals in China and
elsewhere in the world.  While we will actively work to encourage
governments around the world to embrace policies on Internet content
that foster the freer exchange of ideas and promote maximum access to
information, we also recognize that, acting alone, our leverage and
ability to influence government policies in various countries is
severely limited.  Indeed, there are undoubtedly officials and domestic
competitors in most markets who would see great advantage in our
withdrawal from their countries.  We think such a decision would not be
in the best interests of the people we serve there.  The presence of
multiple Internet information providers, particularly from companies
with the most comprehensive search capabilities and the richest mixture
of content and services, has been a powerful force for openness and
reform in all countries, including China.   We want to continue to make
those services available, while working with governments to find better
ways of protecting the interests of all users of our services.

---

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/human-rights-caucus-briefing.html

Congressional Human Rights Caucus Members’ Briefing
“Human Rights and the Internet – The People’s Republic of China”
Submission of Andrew McLaughlin, Google Inc.
February 1, 2006

On behalf of Google, I would like to thank the Members of the Human 
Rights Caucus for inviting Google to participate in today’s Member 
Briefing on Human Rights and the Internet in China.

Though previously scheduled commitments prevent me from appearing in 
person today, I reiterate Google’s offer to participate in a Member 
Briefing on another date, to brief Members individually, and to continue 
briefing staff on our activities in China.

I. Google.cn in China

The rationale for launching a domestic version of Google in China – a 
website subject to China’s local content restrictions – is that our 
service in China has not been very good, due in large measure to the 
extensive filtering performed by Chinese Internet service providers 
(ISPs). Google’s users in China struggle with a service that is often 
unavailable, or painfully slow. According to our measurements, 
Google.com appears to be unavailable around 10% of the time. Even when 
users can reach Google.com, the website is slow, and sometimes produces 
results that, when clicked on, stall out the user’s browser. The Google 
News service is almost never available; Google Images is available only 
half the time.

These problems can only be solved by creating a local presence inside 
China. By launching Google.cn and making a major ongoing investment in 
people, infrastructure, and innovation within China, we intend to 
provide the greatest access to the greatest amount of information to the 
greatest number of Chinese Internet users. At the same time, the launch 
of Google.cn did not in any way alter the availability of the uncensored 
Chinese-language version of Google.com, which Google provides globally 
to all Internet users without restriction.

In deciding how best to approach the Chinese – or any – market, we must 
balance our commitments to satisfy the interests of users, expand access 
to information, and respond to local conditions. Our strategy for doing 
business in China seeks to achieve that balance through improved 
disclosure, targeting of services, and local investment.

     A. Improved Disclosure to Users of Google.cn. In order to operate 
Google.cn as a website in China, Google is required to remove some 
sensitive information from our search results. These restrictions are 
imposed by Chinese laws, regulations, and policies. However, when we 
remove content from Google.cn, we disclose that fact to our users. This 
approach is similar in principle to the disclosures we provide when we 
have altered our search results to comply with local laws in France, 
Germany, and the United States. When a Chinese user gets search results 
from which one or more results has been filtered, the Google webpage 
includes an explicit notification – an indication that the search 
results are missing something that might otherwise be relevant. This is 
not, to be sure, a tremendous advance in transparency to users, but it 
is at least a meaningful step in the right direction.

     B. Targeting of Services on Google.cn. Google.cn today includes 
three basic Google services (web search, image search, and Google News), 
together with a local business information and map service. Other 
products – such as Gmail and Blogger – that involve personal and 
confidential information will be introduced only when we are comfortable 
that we can provide them in a way that protects users’ expectations 
about that information. We are conscious of the reality that data is 
subject to the laws and regulations of the country in which it is 
stored, and we make decisions about where to locate our services with 
that reality squarely in mind.

     C. Local Investment and Innovation. Looking beyond the Google.cn 
launch, we will continue to make significant investments in research and 
development in China. We believe these investments – and the innovations 
that will result – will help us to better tailor our products to user 
demands and better demonstrate how the Internet can help advance key 
objectives supported by the Chinese government, such as building 
stronger, more efficient, and more equitable markets, promoting the rule 
of law, and bolstering the fight against corruption.

While China has made great strides in the past decades, it remains in 
many ways closed. We are not happy about governmental restrictions on 
access to information, and we hope that over time everyone in the world 
will come to enjoy full access to information. Information and 
communication technology – including the Internet, email, instant 
messaging, weblogs, peer-to-peer applications, streaming audio and 
video, mobile telephony, SMS text messages, and so forth – has brought 
Chinese citizens a greater ability to read, discuss, publish and 
communicate about a wider range of topics, events, and issues than ever 
before. We believe that our continued engagement with China is the best 
(and perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits 
of universal information access to all our users there.

II. Next Steps

1. Expanded Dialogue and Outreach. For more than a year, Google has been 
actively engaged in discussion and debate about China with a wide range 
of individuals and organizations both inside and outside of China, 
including technologists, businesspeople, government officials, academic 
experts, writers, analysts, journalists, activists, and bloggers. We aim 
to expand these dialogues as our activities in China evolve, in order to 
improve our understanding, refine our approach, and operate with openness.

2. Voluntary Industry Action. Google supports the idea of Internet 
industry action to define common principles to guide technology firms’ 
practices in countries that restrict access to information. Together 
with colleagues at other leading Internet companies, we are actively 
exploring the potential for Internet industry guidelines, not only for 
China but for all countries in which Internet content is subjected to 
governmental restrictions. Such guidelines might encompass, for example, 
disclosure to users, and reporting about governmental restrictions and 
the measures taken in response to them.

3. Government-to-Government Dialogue. In addition to common action by 
Internet companies, there is an important role for the United States 
government to address, in the context of its bilateral 
government-to-government relationships, the larger issues of free 
expression and open communication. For example, as a U.S.-based company 
that deals primarily in information, we have urged the United States 
government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade.

On behalf of Google, I would like to thank the members of the Human 
Rights Caucus for their attention to these important and pressing issues.

---

Posted by Declan McCullagh on Feb 01, 2006 in category free-speech


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