Executives from the U.S. Internet giant Google have been called to testify next month before congressional lawmakers in Washington. Google has just launched a China-based version of its search-engine website that censors information the Chinese government deems sensitive.
Internet search giant Google is up and running in China. But the company is facing harsh criticism from human rights activists and some U.S. lawmakers for its new China-based website which launched January 25th. They accuse Google of using poor judgment by cooperating with the Chinese government.
Phillipa Carrick, with the Tibet Society, says when Chinese users try to search for topics such as independence for Tibet and Taiwan or type in Tiananmen Square, scores of sites are omitted and users are directed to government sites that condemn certain topics.
"I think they are showing an extremely bad example and it is denying a huge population access to finding out about the world and making up their own minds," she told us.
In order to obtain the license to operate in China, Google agreed to omit content that the Chinese government finds objectionable. Previously, Google users in China were simply blocked from using the search engine or encountered lengthy delays in response time.
Google maintains its decision was difficult and may be viewed as inconsistent with its mission to make information universally accessible. But Google spokesman Andrew McLaughlin says the company did not want to risk becoming irrelevant or useless in China, the Internet's fastest growing major market.
"In the final analysis we decided that the best thing for our users, our business and for the principles we are trying to uphold is to create a service for China that will be filtered," said Mr. McLaughlin.
Google is not the first company to agree to the Chinese governments demands. Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco have also made compromises.
Analyst Linda Yeuh, with the London School of Economics, says it's all about profits. "When you think about Internet users and the numbers of searches they do every single day, this is undoubtedly the world's biggest market and Google's current market share just doesn't look like it is making enough headway into this tremendous economy."
The Chinese government also blocks some radio broadcasts and access to several Internet news sites including the Voice of America and the BBC. Bill Baum, Chief of VOA's Chinese Branch, says China began blocking both its Chinese and English language web sites in 1999.
He says complaints to the Chinese government have been fruitless. "The Chinese either deny that they are jamming our radio frequencies or blocking our web sites or sometimes they will simply complain to us that western media coverage of China is unbalanced."
Analysts say despite the controversies over China's free-speech restrictions, more and more media and Internet companies will find it difficult not to comply with Chinese government demands, in light of the country's rapidly growing economy and more than 100 million Internet users.