April 1, 2010

Google Censorship Fight Continues In China, Elsewhere

Already in the midst of a censorship battle with China, Google now finds itself embroiled in a free speech controversy with Vietnam, according to Thursday media reports.

Washington Post staff writer Cecilia Kang is reporting that on March 30, "Internet hackers hit Vietnamese-speaking computer users in an attempt to squelch criticism of a controversial Chinese-backed mining project in Vietnam, according to Google. And foreign journalists covering China and Taiwan reported that their Yahoo e-mail accounts were recently hacked."

Critics of government-endorsed bauxite mining in Vietnam are reportedly being targeted by the same kind of cyberattacks that have victimized Chinese-based journalists and activists, while also contributing to Google's decision to shut down its censored mainland .cn site and redirect traffic to its unfiltered Hong Kong search engine.

According to Wall Street Journal online reporter James Hookway, security engineers at Google and McAfee Inc. found malicious software that has reportedly targeted "tens of thousands" of people who operate blogs that have been critical of the Vietnamese government's stance on the mining operation and other issues.

"The attacks mirror a recent series of similar incidents in China," Hookway reports, "leading some analysts to suggest that Vietnam--which has launched its own crackdown on dissidents in recent months--was copying China's tactics in neutralizing the Internet as a tool for antigovernment activists."

"Vietnam is very keen to learn what China is doing to suppress dissent, and there is a close link between the public security ministries in both countries," Carlyle Thayer, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Canberra and an expert on Vietnamese policy, told the Wall Street Journal.

In January, Google revealed that its source code and the Gmail email accounts belonging to journalists and human-rights activists in China had been targeted by cyber criminals. In response to those attacks, Google opted to move its Chinese-language search services to Hong Kong, where users could have access to uncensored content.

On Tuesday, Chinese users experienced issues when using Google's services, prompting many to believe that the Beijing government had strengthened its "Great Firewall of China" to prevent access to the American company's website. As it turns out, this was not the case--BBC News reports that the outage was caused by a technical error on Google's end.

Censorship is an issue that Google must deal with in other parts of the world as well, according to Associated Press (AP) writer Michael Liedtke, who noted that more and more nations are pressuring the search engine provider to filter content available on their network of websites.

"For instance, local laws prodded Google to help shield Turkey's founder and Thailand's monarch from public ridicule by blocking unflattering videos of them in their home countries," Liedtke wrote in an April 1 article. "The company also complies with laws in Germany, France and Poland that force it to exclude information that promotes or supports Nazi causes. Google has edited discussion forums in India to remove comments that the government flagged as violations of its restrictions against speech that's indecent, immoral or threatens public order."

"The censorship demands often thrust Google into a tricky balancing act. Its pursuit of higher profits from international markets has entangled the company in vastly different cultures and laws that conflict with its idealistic crusade to make the world's information 'universally accessible,'" the AP writer added. "Even as it censors some information, Google says it's fighting to ensure that the Web's most popular gateway doesn't also become the Web's main muzzle."

As Nicole Wong, Google's deputy general counsel, told Liedtke in a recent interview, "We are fundamentally guided by the belief that more information for our users is ultimately better."


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