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Sun 29 Jan 2006 04:00 AM

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No Tibet or Tiananmen on Google’s new Chinese site

Google was last week expected to cave in to pressure from the Chinese Government by launching a local website that strips out information not approved by the Communist authorities.

Google was last week expected to cave in to pressure from the Chinese Government by launching a local website that strips out information not approved by the Communist authorities.

The company, whose motto is “Don’t be evil”, is launching a version of its site that restricts Chinese people from searching for information about Tibetan independence or the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

“In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy,” the internet company said in a statement issued last week.

Google insiders acknowledge that the company is likely to be criticised for its actions. Its motivation is partly a need to restore its declining market share in China and partly a hope that providing a restricted service will help to unleash information in the country.

The search terms blocked by Google.cn will include what are known as the “the three t’s and the two c’s”: references to Taiwanese or Tibetan independence, the Tiananmen massacre, cult-related searches, which may trigger reference to the banned Falun Gong organisation, and information about Communist party supremacy.

Google is already subject to Chinese government censorship, which blocks search results returning undesired information. The country maintains a sophisticated system of internet monitoring — known as “The Great Firewall of China” — that restricts access to a range of Western sites.

The company estimates that about 1000 search categories are blocked by this filtering. No published list of barred terms exists, although the authorities are quick to complain if offending information becomes available.

As a result of the filtering, access to Google’s website is slowed down, and its position is under threat from Baidu, a Chinese company that is the local market leader. According to research published last July, Google had a share of about 28% and falling, while Baidu’s share was just over 40% and rising.

Until now, Google has held out from doing a deal in China, while rivals Yahoo! and Microsoft, owner of MSN Search, have shown a willingness to compromise with the authorities.

Last year Yahoo! provided information that helped to jail a dissident for ten years, after he used a Yahoo! e-mail to relay the contents of a secret government order. In December, Microsoft closed down a political blogger’s site, arguing that he had failed to comply with local laws.

Seeking to avert these types of dispute, Google says it will not introduce a version of its e-mail or blogging software for the time being.

Google’s founders agreed to be paid annual salaries of US$1 each in 2006, counting instead on the search engine’s shares to pay their way.

Google has approved the US$1 base salary for chairman and chief executive Eric Schmidt, as well as co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The trio were also paid US$1 in salary during 2005.

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