Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Is freedom to search and access information on the web in jeopardy?

About a week ago (time passes so quickly nowadays, I'm not even sure), I read that Google had successfully resisted U.S. Government pressure to hand over search query data, which the search engine giant collects. The company earned plenty of praise. Privacy had prevailed.

Now I'm reading a news article in The Register that explains Google's recent decision to tailor its new Google China website to the specifications of the Chinese Government. According to news reports, including an interesting (and revealing) article from China Daily, the Communist government wants Google to self-censor certain keywords that are forbidden under local Chinese laws and policies in order for Google to do business in China's expanding economy and middle class. The China Daily article explains:

"The government bars access to 20 broad content categories, including pornography and other banned material."

While I can understand banning pornography, I wonder about those 20 broad content categories and that nebulous 'banned material.'

However, Google co-founder Sergey Brin considers his company's decision painful but right.

Mind you, Google is not the only Internet company to apply self-censorship. MSN and Yahoo have done the same in order to do business in China, which, according to the latest economic reports, ranks China as the fourth largest economy in the world, right after the United States, Japan, and Germany.

My point in all this, I guess, is: We create content and we upload content to the Web; as professionals we embark on digitization projects to make our collections, books, whatever, more accessible. But then the means to search and find our endeavours is blocked by government censors or search engine filters because the works may contain forbidden material.

The second point: I am surprised at how companies (i.e. Google), for the sake of doing business in a lucrative market such as China's, will sweep some of their guiding principles (i.e. Do not evil) under the proverbial rug.

So, is freedom to search and access information on the Web in jeopardy?

I guess it all depends on the country you live in.

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about the author

I am an information professional, researcher, and writer with over eight years experience in the information services field with experience in information and communication technology.

I have a B.A. in History and a Master's in Library and Information Studies and working on a Web and Multimedia Design certificate.

I believe that empowering people with information can enrich lives and transform the world.