Google has quietly disabled a feature that notified users of its search service in China when a keyword had been censored by the Chinese government’s internet controls, according to censorship monitoring blog GreatFire.org. The blog reports that the change was made sometime between December 5 and December 8 2012, with no official statement from Google to announce or explain its removal.
According to GreatFire.org Google has also deleted a help article which explained how to use the feature — which it says indicates that Google is self-censoring in this instance, rather than being blocked by the government (which has happened in the past). “Since the removal of the help article could only be done willingly by Google, the only explanation we see is that Google struck a deal with the Chinese government, giving in to considerable pressure to self-censor,” it writes.
The blog argues that the move “indicates a new development in the relationship between the Chinese government and Google” — since Google previously and successfully fought government attempts to censor its censorship notification feature, not to mention implementing the feature in the first place. Speculating on what might have caused Mountain View’s change of heart, GreatFire.org writes:
How did the Chinese government force such a candid company to do its bidding? Perhaps the complete blocking of Google Search on Nov 9 was part of it. The block was lifted after less than 24 hours making the move look very peculiar. At the time we speculated that perhaps it was a test of a “block-all-of-Google” button, but this new theory of it being part of pressuring Google looks at least as likely. It may have been an instance of the government showing off its power to Google and using it as a leverage in their negotiations.
Also in November, the throttling and partial blocking of Google’s Mail service was stepped up considerably. In the end, Google may have decided that providing a restricted version of Google Search and a slow but usable Gmail to Chinese users is much better than being completely cut off.
We’ve reached out to Google for confirmation that it has removed its censorship notification feature for users in China, and — if it has self-censored in this instance — to ask for its reasons for doing so. We’ll update this article with any response.
Google’s keyword censorship notification feature displayed the following message when a search result was blocked by the Chinese government:
GreatFire.org also has a screengrab of the Google help article explaining the anti-censorship feature — also now removed: