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Google rolls back self-censorship in China

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-03-16

Google has partially lifted its strict self-censorship in China, with several previously banned keywords – including "Tiananmen" – now accessible. The surprise move comes as the Internet search giant threatens to leave China.

Websites containing the keywords “Tiananmen” and “Free Tibet”, previously censored on Google China, can now be accessed in an apparent partial lift of censorship by Google that threatens to arouse the wrath of the Chinese authorities.

The search results displayed for these keywords – checked by FRANCE 24 – are even more surprising given Google’s announcement on Monday that it would continue negotiations with Beijing to stay in the country. has not confirmed lifting the censorship.  

Warning from Beijing is still filtering some of its content: searching the words “Free Tibet”, rather than switching the words around, still won’t get users anywhere. The site of the NGO Human Rights Watch, for example, is still blocked. But savvy Internet users who click on the second item in a page of search results for “Human Rights Watch”, will be linked to an uncensored Wikipedia page in English about the NGO.

This move by Google – if confirmed – comes just hours after Beijing’s latest warning to the Internet firm to watch its back. On Tuesday, a representative of China’s trade ministry remarked that “investing in China means respecting Chinese law” and asked Google, once again, to keep censoring its searches.

With the two sides already locked in a battle over Beijing’s strict Web controls, could this new freedom to click on “Tiananmen” and “Tibet Free” be something of a "fingers up" by Google at Beijing’s latest warning?

Parting shot?

In January, the revelation that hackers had got into the Gmail (Google’s messaging service) accounts of Chinese human rights activists sparked an international outcry. Suspecting Beijing of being behind the cyberattacks, Google announced that it wanted to stop filtering its content in China, warning that it could leave the country altogether. This prompted a firm reminder from Beijing that all companies must work in accordance with Chinese laws. The row even strayed into diplomatic territory, with the US government stepping in to lend its support to Google.

Google has been trying to find a solution to the crisis for the last month. Last week, British daily the Financial Times reported that talks with Beijing had stalled. Sources close to the company say there is a “99 percent chance” that Google will pull out of China. If that were the case, this partial lift of censorship could well be its parting shot.

Date created : 2010-03-16


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