Friday, October 19, 2007

Is China Attacking US Search Engines?

Reports are flying all over the blogosphere today about "China blocking" more US based websites, including search engines, and in some cases redirecting traffic in China to Chinese search engines instead of Google and Yahoo.

The truth of the matter is probably not nearly so simple. As I understand it it's almost never as simple as "China is blocking X.Y.Z websites". It depends on which ISP you're using, there are technical obstacles to good service and there's a maze of face-to-face meetings that go on in order to plan and enact any such censorship, redirects, etc. It's highly unlikely that there is any nationwide policy suddenly put into place that effects internet users all across that huge nation. There are certainly a few big policies that are self-enforced by online service providers, but many of the comments being left on today's China coverage denying nation-wide censorship are probably the honest truth.

Today's news coverage itself deserves some serious scrutiny.

David Feng at BlogNation tests a number of sites from inside China and says access is relatively unchanged. The service purports to act as a proxy for testing but tells me that Baidu is inaccessible in China, so much for that. There are in fact probably few nation-wide policies enforced online in China and even if there were it would be hard to verify them.

Some of the language of "economic attack" may be thinly veiled jingoism and calls to "boycott the Olympics" are pretty tasteless in light of the true Chinese crimes against humanity that long term human rights activists have been citing for withdrawal from the event. Darfur? Loud voices calling for economic sanctions in response to the alleged activities of the Western world's economic challengers sound like fair-weather friends of free speech to me.

Online freedom in China is important, but online accuracy is important everywhere.

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