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Campaigners quiz Google on China play

Search results censored or not?

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Reporters without borders - aka Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF) - has taken Google to task for its baby steps towards setting up business in China. The organisation, which campaigns across the globe for the freedom of the press, and "denounces violations of the human rights", has written to Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, demanding a clear indication as to whether or not Google will censor its search results at Beijing's behest.

Google told us earlier this month that the license it has been granted merely covers opening a representative office from which it will conduct proper market research. It told RSF the same thing.

RSF is not satisfied with this side-step, however, and clearly want something more from the search engine. Robert Ménard, secretary-general of RSF expresses his thoughts in the letter to Google, like this:

"You say the role of office you will open in China will initially be limited to researching the Chinese market. We nonetheless think you should confront certain ethical issues right from the start of this initiative. Reporters Without Borders therefore asks you to give a clear response now to the following question: will you agree to censor your search engine if asked to by Beijing?"

The organisation also says that recent moves from the search company "have led us to fear that your commitment to respect freedom of expression is giving way to commercial logic". It cites the acquisition of Chinese search engine, Baidu, which filters its search results as one example, and Google's agreement to withdraw from its Chinese news search facility "news media considered 'subversive' by Beijing".

"We simply ask you to reject self-censorship," the letter continues. "If the Chinese authorities want to block access to certain websites, they must do it themselves. Indeed, they do block many sites. But we would find it extremely disturbing if you yourselves were to participate in the Chinese government's policy of suppressing press freedom."

RSF argues that Google is big enough to stand by its principles, and says that it expects a more courageous stance from Google that was displayed by Yahoo!, which bowed to censorship demands. ®

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