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Thursday, January 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Google limits China searches

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News

SHANGHAI, China — Google launched a search engine in China on Wednesday that censors material about human rights, Tibet and other topics sensitive to Beijing. The Internet search giant defended the move as a trade-off granting Chinese greater access to other information.

Within minutes of the launch of the new site bearing China's Web suffix ".cn," searches for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement showed scores of sites omitted and users directed to articles condemning the group posted on Chinese government Web sites.

Searches for other sensitive subjects such as exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, Taiwan independence, and terms such as "democracy" and "human rights" yielded similar results.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said his company's decision to self-censor its Chinese search system followed a change of heart over how best to foster the free flow of information.

"I didn't think I would come to this conclusion, but eventually I came to the conclusion that more information is better, even if it is not as full as we would like to see," Brin told Reuters in an interview in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum conference.

Google, whose high-minded corporate motto is "Don't be evil," had previously refused to comply with Internet censorship demands by Chinese authorities, rules that must be met in order to locate business operations inside China, the world's No. 2 Internet market.

"I know a lot of people are upset by our decision, but it is something we have deliberated for a number of years," Brin said.

The voluntary concessions laid out Tuesday by Google parallel some of the self-censorship already practiced there by global rivals such as Yahoo! and Microsoft, as well as domestic sites.

Google's move was prompted by frequent disruptions of the Chinese-language version of its search engine registered under the company's dot-com address in the United States.

Government filtering has blocked access or created lengthy delays in response time. "The practical matter is that over the last couple of years Google in China was censored, not by us but by the government, via the 'Great Firewall,' " Brin said.

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Google already notifies users of its German and French search services when it blocks access to material such as banned Nazi sites in Europe.

"France and Germany require censorship for Nazi sites, and the U.S. requires censorship based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These various countries also have laws on child pornography," he said.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires U.S. Internet service providers to block access to Web sites violating copyrights on materials such as music or movies.

"I totally understand that people are upset about it, and I think that is a reasonable point of view to take," Brin said of Google's compromise.

China has more than 100 million Web surfers, and the audience is expected to swell.

"There is no question. Google would tell you that going into China is about making money, not bringing democracy," said John Palfrey, author of a study on Chinese Internet censorship and a law professor at Harvard Law School.

Chinese Internet users said Google's move inevitable was given Beijing's restrictions on the Internet, which the government promotes for commerce but heavily censors for content deemed offensive or subversive. "Google has no choice but to give up to the Party," said one posting on the popular information-technology Web site pcOnline.

Google senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin said the company wouldn't host its e-mail or blogging services in China that can be mined for information about users, and would inform users if information had been deleted from searches.

Technology analyst Duncan Clark said Google probably hopes to avoid the bad publicity incurred by Yahoo! last year after it provided the government with the e-mail account information of Chinese journalist Shi Tao, later convicted of violating state secrecy laws.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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