Ethan Zuckerman has been sleuthing to understand the inner workings of Google’s system to censor search results on its new China site. The details are unlikely to be interesting to everyone, but Google cannot relish the prospect of public discussions, in excruciating detail, of the machinery they have built to collaborate with repressive Chinese censorship:
Basically, it looks like two things are going on here: certain sites
are simply so controversial, Google.cn won’t offer links to them.
inurl: searches reveal that pages exist, but results won’t let you see
them, and site: searches give you the same result as if you searched
for a nonexistent domain. (There’s a slight difference – search for a
non-existent domain and you don’t get the message that certain results
may be removed…) Use a particularly controversial keyword
(falun gong, taishi – though not tibet or democracy) and you’re forced
into a search only of pages hosted in China… generally pages approved
by the government. (Search for “falun gong” on Google.cn for an example of the sorts of “impartial” content this turns up…)
Whether you think that Google’s decision was a commercial necessity, a foot in the door by providing more information in China, or a betrayal of its founding values, it is hard not to feel that Google is a different company today.
I see that Blogger News Network has decided to discontinue using Google Ads, and they list some other blogs that have made the same decision. (This would be a bit more convincing if the blog were not hosted by Blogger, which is owned by, ahem, Google. Update: I got this wrong. Blogger News Network are not hosted by Blogger – see the comments below. I don’t run ads on this site, but if I did, I wouldn’t run Google ads any more.
In case you are wondering about the title of this post, it is from Robert Browning’s poem, The Lost Leader. Browning wrote it when William Wordsworth abandoned his radical politics to become Poet Laureate "for a handful of silver". It is well worth reading in this context:
The Lost Leader
Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a riband to stick in his coat–
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
So much was theirs who so little allowed:
How all our copper had gone for his service!
Rags–were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
Burns, Shelley, were with us,–they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the free-men,
–He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!
We shall march prospering,–not thro’ his presence;
Songs may inspirit us,–not from his lyre;
Deeds will be done,–while he boasts his quiescence,
Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire:
Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
One task more declined, one more foot-path untrod,
One more devils’-triumph and sorrow for angels,
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation and pain,
Forced praise on our part–the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!
Best fight on well, for we taught him–strike gallantly,
Menace our heart ere we master his own;
Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,
Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!
— Robert Browning