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One month later, Google still censors China search

Premature Mountain View worship

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Comment From the department of premature congratulations: One of China's best-known artists and activists just spoke out in support of Google's "decision" to stop censoring search results inside the world's most populous nation.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece headlined "Google Gives Us Hope," Al Weiwei also said two of his Gmail accounts were breached by unknown intruders and messages were automatically "transferred to an unknown address." He said that even as the internet was promoting greater political participation, Chinese authorities were working hard to stifle this possibility.

"All this makes Google's decision to stop censoring to protect its China operations especially significant," he wrote. "First, it is encouraging for the Chinese people to see that a leading internet company recognizes that censorship is a violation of basic human rights and values. Such controls damage the core ethos underpinning the internet."

Perhaps no one told Weiwei that Google.cn continues to heavily censor search results exactly a month to the day after it revealed its defenses were pierced by sophisticated attacks that probably came from China. A close reading of the underlying Google post makes it unclear when, or even if, the company will ever bring China's 1.3 billion citizens the unfiltered information Weiwei says is crucial for liberty to flourish.

Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond never said his company would stop censoring hot-button issues such as the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Instead he said Google management had "decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all."

The wiggle room in that promise is big enough to drive a truck through. A spokesman declined to say when the company planned to stop censoring google.cn results and instead referred us to Drummond's post.

All of which has us wondering if all the hoopla about unfiltered search results was a smokescreen intended to distract world + dog from the very embarrassing admission that the world's No. 1 search engine was breached and absent a complete withdrawal from China, it isn't confident it can repel future attacks. A more cynical take might be that Google's threat has less to do with basic human rights and values and more to do with a PR-savvy exit strategy.

To be fair, it's possible Google's reticence is the result of ongoing discussions in which company executives convince Chinese officials to allow the search behemoth to remain in China even though it will no longer comply with their censorship requirements. But until Google turns off the filters, let's dispense with the congratulations. ®

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