TORONTO (CUP) — Search-engine behemoth Google Inc. was served with divorce papers from angry protesters, criticizing the company’s recent deal with the Chinese government to censor the Internet.
“They [Google] designed a search engine for the Chinese government … the search engine is designed so that the Chinese government has complete control of all the information … if they [Chinese] search online for things like Falun Gong, Tibet or Tiannamen Square, it would not show up,” says Luke Madoni, a member of Students for a Free Tibet at George Brown College.
Madoni was shackled to a table with a gag over his mouth. He was handing out ‘fast-track’ divorce papers for bystanders to sign, symbolizing their dismay with the Chinese censorship, especially since the company has had a reputation for being socially responsible.
Madoni and over a dozen Tibetan protestors and supporters braved the cold outside Google’s offices in downtown Toronto, chanting “Freedom of information in Tibet” and “Google, Google, don’t be evil.”
Madoni further adds that Internet users in China are constantly monitored and dissidents can potentially be prosecuted.
He explains that people are being jailed for searching information that pertains to democratic rights, Tibet issues, Chinese democracy and political parties.
“When they search about these issues, they [Chinese] will get lots of misinformation [in the results],” says Madoni.
Other search-engine giants like Yahoo! and Microsoft have also been criticized for their collaboration with the Chinese government by the United States Congress.
It was revealed that Yahoo released user information to the Chinese government that led to the eight-year prison sentence of writer Li Zhi in 2003 and Shi Tao, who was sentenced for 10 years. Yahoo’s counsel stated they did not know people were going to be imprisoned and were obligated to comply with Chinese authorities.
“They [companies] have not made any attempt to stand up to the demands made to them by China. That’s where the grounds have to be for changing the situation,” says Carole Channer, China country co-ordinator for Amnesty Canada.
According to Channer, Yahoo has come up with a revised set of principles they are going to be operating by, but suggests for change to happen, web companies need to stand up to China.
“China is going to impose whatever censorship they deem is necessary to protect its power and its policies and it’s up to the companies to stand up to this. Companies have just caved in shamelessly to China’s demands,” says Channer.
She says it would be difficult in the short-term to do this, but the Chinese are not as advanced as Western countries when it comes to information technology and this is to the advantage of companies.
“These companies need to get together – China would need to make some concessions, but if these companies don’t even try, then of course, China’s going to dictate the terms to them,” says Channer.
Critics say Google’s deal with China defeats their motto of “Don’t be evil” but representatives from the company say, “‘Don’t be evil’ means don’t be illegal,” saying they have to abide by the country’s policies and it is better to have Google there than to not have it at all.
However, Madoni disagrees, as there would be repercussions in the future.
“[This is] dangerous because you will have a huge population that will have a lot of misinformation.”
Google was recently subpoenaed by the United States government for refusing to comply with their demands for Google to hand over more than a million search records to help them with a federal law called the Child Online Protection. Google said this would undermine their users trust and compromise their business secrets.