International advocates are blasting the U.S. Internet giant Google for restricting what Chinese using the famous Google search engine can find on the Internet. The VOA Website is among those being blocked. Google's move is seen as a way of gaining more access to China's booming Internet market.
The California firm Google this week announced it is introducing a new search engine especially for China, which blocks out words and phrases the government here deems sensitive. These have usually had to do with such matters as democracy, Taiwan independence, autonomy for Tibet, and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.
The Paris group Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday had a sharp rebuke for Google. It accused the company of hypocrisy for agreeing to deprive Chinese people of the right to information, while espousing what the company says is its "informal" motto of "Don't Be Evil."
Law professor John Palfrey at Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society says Google has had to strike a deal with itself, balancing moral behavior with its other duty - of answering to its shareholders in the U.S. and around the world.
"No doubt about it. This is first about money, and second about democracy," said Palfrey. "The founders of Google and their officers and directors have no doubt made a very careful decision that said, 'We need to avail ourselves of this market, it's the world's greatest emerging market, and we're going to be in there with our own offering.'"
The temptation to put democratic values behind commercial interests is great.
Official figures say there are more than 111 million Chinese online, making this the second laragest Internet market in the world after the United States.
The Chinese government's efforts to try to control cyberspace have been relentless. Analysts say tens of thousands of agents regularly monitor Chinese Internet traffic for messages concerning such issues as democracy, political reform, and criticism of the Communist government.
Until now, Google has only censored its news site in China - a practice it began months ago. The new Chinese version of its search engine will go further than that, by not offering the e-mail or blogging services that the company offers in other markets.
Google is not the first U.S. Internet company to cooperate with Chinese censors for the sake of doing business in the country. Yahoo last year provided Chinese authorities with information that led to the arrest of a Chinese journalist, Shi Tao.
Shi was later sentenced to ten years in prison. His crime was e-mailing foreigners about precautions the government was taking ahead of the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.