Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Yes, Google Is Wrong About China, But...

I'm not impressed with the kneejerk responses I've seen to the announcement that Google has caved in to Chinese demands to impose a political filter on their search engine. Most people are treating it as though its on a par with the unforgiveable treachery of Yahoo

But, for a start, (as far as I can gather) it does not involve offering up personal details of any users to the dictatorship. And - from what their CEO said on the radio this morning - the way the filters will work will be similar to what already happens in Germany and France. Yes Germany - that bastion of liberal western values - already has a filter agreement with Google to prevent access to sites such as those which preach "Holocaust Denial". And the French forbid anything which might stir up racial hatred.

What I believe happens is that when a site is blocked for reasons decided by the German or French governments, a notice is displayed to that effect. So all interested citizens are at least able to see that their government has censored a site. This, of course, is just as evil in Germany or France as it is in China, so the first question is "Why all this fuss about China? Why didn't we see the same outpouring of angst on the occasion of the European precedents?"

But secondly, although it is a repressive measure on the part of whichever government imposes such a regime, at least the "censorship notice" alerts citizens to the repressive nature of their government. Neither Microsoft nor Yahoo, incidentally, who signed up to be China's bitches many moons back, bother to inform their users that they are being censored. Google is at least promising to do that much.

I've already heard it argued that this is "fair enough" in Germany/France because they are "democracies" and their citizens can "influence" the government to change its policy, if enough of them give a damn.

I can't let that go without pointing out that democracy is nothing to do with "influencing" government. It's supposed to be about "implementing" government. But you'll get plenty of that another time. The point is that although the German and French elective dictatorships are considerably more liberal and easier to replace than the Chinese one, the difference is one of degree, not principle.

Meanwhile, although I would prefer to see all Western businesses refusing to do business with any regimes which aren't at least as liberal as our own, I can concede that there may be some merit in reminding the Chinese surfer, whenever s/he goes looking for "freedom" that their government won't let them see such sites.

That reminder alone could be a nicely subversive message.


DaveT said...

As long as they admit when something is censored, I think it's fantastic.

RosePetal said...

Hello, my name is Christine, I am a seventeen year old student. I stumbled upon your site from a link about your "conversation with god", and became a fan of I think your blog is quite interesting as well. I'm writing to ask, what college did you go to, what is your occupation, and where do you get your information? Do you know of any reliable news sourse that you perhaps get your information from?
My e-mail address is Ozzyprincess13@Yahoo .com and my blog is at
Thank you

Harry Stottle said...

Hi Christine, or would you prefer rosepetal?

Questions questions questions...

College. None. Self educated.

Occupation: (Paid) Computer consultant with special interest in Authentication. (hence Trusted Surveillance etc) (Unpaid) Philosopher, activist.

News Sources: BBC Radio 4, TV, Web, New Scientist, Friends, Collaborators.

Research Sources: 15% Books by experts in their fields; 85% web based; from web sites, newsgroups, some of the better informed bloggers, and emails with the relevant people. If I'm interested in "Brain Fingerprinting", for instance, I write to Larry Farwell. If I'm interested in why World Trade Centre Building 7 collapsed under a controlled demolition, I write to Steven Jones. (He didn't do it you understand, he just dared to go public with the scientific evidence, but more of that in my next blog - probably)

and so on.

Reliable News Sources? None. Never believe any single source. There are some I trust more than others. In the mainstream, for example, I trust most of what the BBC says, but I'm well aware of how much they do NOT say. I have much less trust in the "alternative" and "underground" news (indymedia etc) because they often publish badly sourced garbage. But they are often also the only people telling the story at all!

Always compare and contrast. Always seek out the "debunker" of any given story and find support and opposition for both sides and check out THEIR sources. Try to get as close to the real or original source as possible. (Think: Chinese Whispers)

When you've done all that, if you still don't think you understand what's going on, find someone who seems to understand and ask them. After all that you should be ready make your own judgement about the credibility of the various arguments and sources.

Finally, from time to time, remember to challenge your own beliefs.

CraĆ­g said...

Censorship is a conundrum.

On the one hand, freedom of speech and access to information is a central component of liberty...

...whereas on the other, those who exist within a society lacking in the structure to provide self-censorship skills opens doorways to over indulgence in unhealthy information.

People need to learn what information is pertinent and which information is valueless. This comes from education OR world experience - however, in a world where dictators or pseudo democrats govern power this opportunity is not build into the education system.

Governments then see it as their role to censor to 'protect'.

This is another example of protection over liberty.

There is no clear answer.

I censor what I say to people.
I censor what my children read or see.
I censor what I write.

We all censor, are we therefore reducing the liberty of those we communicate to?

No-one has yet provided to me a clear argument as to why China shouldn't censor. Living in a world where liberty and pleasure are a free for all - and depression / mental illness are on the massive increase - I wonder who has got it right?

(of course, I purposely play Devil's advocate). :)


Harry Stottle said...

The only ethical case for censorship is where genuine non consensual 3rd party harm can be credibly demonstrated to be a probable consequence of failure to censor.

A very small number of issues would qualify and none of them are on the Chinese exclusion list. They might include things like how to grow and weaponise your own anthrax spores, how to poison the New York water supply and so on.

You can make a weak case for restricting access to pornography for the under 13s but that's about it.

The decision on whether or not such restriction should be applied should never, of course, be in the hands of government. They have a vested interest in abusing such powers.

Where a decision cannot be made democratically, by the community at large, for legitimate security reasons or other valid reasons of sensitivity, the decisions should be made instead by the next best thing - a randomly selected Jury sworn to appropriate secrecy.

That would place the censorship under strict democratic control. Governments, Police and even ordinary citizens would be entitled to make a case for censorship, but the Jury's verdict would be absolute and binding on all parties. The Jury would also make the decision on whether or not to publish any of the facts related to the censorship.

Censorship under any other circumstances is an exercise in straightforward dictatorship and should,in my view, be regarded as a capital offence. It's the kind of thing that that make me seriously consider the merits of Assassination Politics.