After recently hearing that Google would be censoring search results in their Chinese portal, I was very disappointed. Google is perhaps one of my favorite companies. I admire their dedication to research and innovation, and also their motto, “Don’t be evil.” It is such a simple motto, but one that holds the company to high standards.

Doing some reading after hearing this sad news, I found I was not alone in my thoughts. Blogs across the country took varying views on the subject. Some defended the company, pointing out how even giving censored results is a small step that may lead to larger gains in the future. Others criticized the move, expressing disappointment with the company for “compromising their mission.”

Google’s Senior Policy Counsel stated that by providing censored results, they were choosing between the lesser of two evils – a limited search versus none at all. But is a censored search the lesser evil? By limiting search results to a particular point of view on sensitive political subjects, the Chinese population will only see news and information that the government allows them. Thus when a user in China looks for information on, say, Tibet, only documents which back up the governments position will appear. This will give the user the impression that the governments view is the only view.

Imagine if when you went to do research on global warming, and the only information you could find was released by a powerful industry group. If the group only put out information stating that global warming was a non-issue, you would have no reason to believe otherwise. People’s opinions are formed by reading a variety of sources, and analyzing contradicting views, trying to find which make the most sense to them. By Google censoring results, the Chinese population will have no reason to question what they are told.

As Google seems committed to bringing information to China, there are things they can do to help mitigate the damage. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the EFF, has a number of suggestions for Google, which I hope they would consider. One of their most prominent suggestions is that Google stop storing information about its users in China. Just recently, Yahoo has been accused of providing information to the Chinese government that led to the arrest and conviction of a democracy activist in China. If Google really wants to help the Chinese citizens, they would not keep any logs of traffic, and thus never be in a position to release any such personal information.

Privacy is important, and I hope that Google will re-evaluate its position on allowing the Chinese government to force censure of its search results, and fight for the full access to information that is so important.

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