Google’s decision to stop filtering search results hailed as triumph for internet freedom and a boost to the people for China
Google’s decision to stop censoring its search results in China was applauded by human rights and anti-censorship activists long critical of the internet giant’s decision to accede to Beijing’s demands.
The move threw down the gauntlet to other companies operating under strict Chinese conditions, they said.
Index on Censorship, which campaigns for freedom of expression, hailed it as "a pretty brave, principled move".
"Obviously, dealing with regimes like this is neither desirable for Google, nor profitable in the broader terms of dealing with censored material," said a spokesman. "It is not how the internet works." "Google have obviously looked at the long game and realised that they have to stick to their guns. And, hopefully, it will send a message to other regimes, and indeed other companies, that this kind of approach to the internet won’t work.
"China is a very desirable market for anybody and Google has been growing there for the past couple of years, even though it is still well behind Baidu on usage. They could very easily have taken the short-term view and said ‘we’ll play the regime’s game’. But they have decided not to and they should be congratulated on that."
Amnesty International, which has been vocal in its disappointment over Google’s acquiescence to the Chinese government’s demands, also welcomed the decision.
"Amnesty has consistently called on companies operating in China to stop collaborating with the Chinese authorities’ censorship requirements, and to respect the right to freedom of expression for web users in China," said its UK director Kate Allen. "We have repeatedly urged Google and other companies to abide by their own stated principles and provide unbiased, accurate and free access to information .
"It’s very welcome news that Google appears to be moving back towards these principles. This now lays down the gauntlet to other internet companies operating in China: to be transparent about what filtering and censorship the government requires them to do and to stand up for free speech where they can, using legal appeals and other judicial measures".
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent body which protects press freedom, hoped it could see a marked change in China’s attitude towards the internet.
"We welcome this stand against censorship and hope that all internet companies operating in China take a similar principled position," said its deputy director Robert Mahoney. "Many of the web sites censored by the Chinese government are news and social networking websites, with a wide range of topics blocked from general discussion. Google’s decision to stop censoring search results will put Google on the wrong side of the Great Firewall.
"In the long run, however, we hope that it ramps up pressure on the Chinese government to allow its citizens to access the news and information they need to be informed and engaged citizens."
The Washington-based Centre for Democracy and Technology, which campaigns for an open internet, said Google should be applauded for "following through on its commitment to protect human rights", and for "its continued effort to enable China’s people with unfiltered access to robust sources of information, from all over the world".
The group’s president, Leslie Harris, added: "Whether the Chinese people will be able to take advantage of Google search now rests squarely with the Chinese government. If China allows access to unfiltered search, it will be a substantial win for global internet freedom. If China blocks access, it will make clear who is pulling the levers of censorship in the country."
Consumer Watchdog, the California consumer, education and advocacy organization agreed: "Google should be commended for its action. The internet giant should never have censored results in the first place, but the action is a strong move towards supporting freedom of speech on the internet," said consumer advocate John Simpson.