Those who don’t live or haven’t recently traveled to China may not have experienced this first hand, but Google Search has been known to be “inconsistent and unreliable” in mainland China — to use Google’s words. Error messages like “This webpage is not available” or “The connection was reset” are common and those errant queries then prevent users from searching again for a period of time. In a blog post today, Google’s search team said that, after “taking a hard look” at its own systems, the problem isn’t emanating from Google’s end, and is instead “closely correlated with searches for a particular subset of queries.” As a result, Google search will now be notifying Chinese users when their search terms are likely to cause these interruptions.
Google’s language seems to make it clear that these breaks are outside of their control, of course, it’s less clear why they’re taking place. It seems as if Google is going out of its way not to point the finger at the “Great Firewall,” but the reasons could certainly be political.
We reached out to Google to see if they could or would say more, to which they responded:
We’re not able to do an in-depth examination of technology beyond our own systems. We looked at our own systems and found no technical problems. Our hope is simply to improve the search experience for people in mainland China.
In any case, in prompting users to revise their queries, Google is obviously taking what steps it can to reduce disruptions experienced by users of its Chinese search engines. So, a team of search engineers has been reviewing the most popular Chinese search queries to identify specific terms that are causing problems.
Now when users type in a term, the search engine will highlight the problematic term and a dropdown menu appears below the search box at which point they can continue their search anyway, choose to edit the search, or redirect to this help center article.
Google offers an explanation in the video below: