A pro-democracy Chinese activist plans to sue Google and Yahoo! for removing his name from their web search results.
Last week, The Times reports, former university professor Guo Quan published an open letter to Google, the world's largest search engine, threatening to sue stateside because his name no longer appears on the company's Chinese portal, google.cn.
"To make money, Google has become a servile Pekinese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists," he told Google.
Then he informed The Times that he would slap a suit on Yahoo! too. "Since January 1, a lot of friends told me that websites with my name had been closed," he told the paper. "They told me it's impossible to search for my information on Google and Yahoo!" Google owns google.cn, while Yahoo! China is owned by Alibaba, a Chinese company that Yahoo! has a rather large stake in.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Radio Free Asia is also reporting that Guo Quan plans to sue the American giant - and that he's looking for other free-speech advocates to join him.
Guo Quan, The Times says, was once a university professor, specializing in Chinese literature and the 1937 Nanjing massacre, during which thousands of Chinese citizens were killed by the Japanese army. But after posting various open (web) letters to the Chinese president, calling for democratic elections and an overhaul of the army, authorities shutdown his blog, and his boss exiled him to a job in the university archives.
In November, Yahoo! settled an American lawsuit from two journalists - Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning - who went to prison after the company coughed up their info to Chinese authorities. But Guo Quan would break new ground with a suit over search results.
"I think it's a very important step for someone to stand up and say that search engines are not respecting his rights," says Clothilde Le Coz, of Reporters Without Borders. "The suits are likely to have any [legal] success, but they can bring attention."
Richard Idell, an attorney with the San Francisco law form Idell & Seitel, agrees that Guo Quan doesn't have a legal leg to stand on. "This a simple matter of Google adhering to the Chinese dictate," he told us. "China is a sovereign nation, and they can set their own laws. You can't force a company to go up against a country."
Google says that google.cn blocks search results in accordance with local laws. "We believe in engagement with China, not estrangement," says company spokesman Gabriel Stricker. "By being in China, we help people access more information, and when we do restrict information, we make clear that we've done so." The company declined to comment on this case specifically.
When we contacted Yahoo!, they sent us to Alibaba. And Alibaba was asleep. ®