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Google Search Records Leaving China

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-03-02

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By moving Google.cn search records out of China, the company hopes to protect users their from government mischief.

How effective the decision by Google to move details of searches from China to the US will not be known unless the government takes action against a citizen there. If China is grabbing those queries off the Internet backbone it controls and storing them someplace, Google's decision will be irrelevant.

Macworld UK reported on a conversation with Google director of research Peter Norvig. He noted this move is an attempt to keep the government from getting to Google's data without consent.

Norvig decried the negative media coverage of Google's move into China and its acceptance of censorship as a cost of doing business. He pointed out how Google is at least being transparent with its searches, which note when content has been removed due to regulations. Censorship is part of "lawfully doing business" in China, Norvig said.

Google decided not to make services that keep personally identifiable information, like Blogger or Gmail, in China. Yahoo and MSN have both come under fire for how they have handled that issue. MSN wiped out a blog written by a Chinese activist without warning, while Yahoo has been blasted by Reporters Without Borders for providing government prosecutors with email information that led to the jailing of two journalists.

Norvig said Google.cn is just a way to give Chinese users what they want:

"What's important to users is access to information," Norvig said. "We're giving them that, and we think that's the most important. We'd like to give them all the information but we just can't."

"Some of the people want to query about democracy, but most of them just want to know about their pop stars."

While Google is touting privacy and protecting Chinese users with this move, it looks more like Google wants to avoid a search record seizure that could jeopardize its trade secrets. In the US, lawyers for Google have been fighting with the Department of Justice since August 2005 over such a request.

The Chinese government, which has investments in numerous high-tech businesses in the country, could conceivably walk in and seize Google.cn's hardware under the guise of protecting state secrets. Then they could turn it over to engineers who may be able to figure out Google's algorithmic functions by analyzing the data. That is much more of a threat to Google's business than censorship.

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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