Dear Google

29 Jan 2006

I’m disappointed in what you did. You, of all companies, should have set the example of ‘how to be independent and neutral’. I never thought you would give in to the claims of governments to hide information. What is there left now to be trusted if even search is being manipulated? How can I be ever sure that what you display to me as a result for the queries I’ve entered is real, complete and fully objective? Whenever I have to do research on delicate matters, how can I ever be sure I get to read the real pros and cons?

I always thought you guys would stand up for the freedom of speech and thoughts. You were the true example of a search engine that said things as they were. I’ve always been very pleased with the completeness of the information I got. I really thought this could last forever as the internet grew bigger, day after day. Apparently I was wrong. I appreciated it a lot you didn’t want to give in to the U.S. government like other companies have, in order to protect your users. Not that I have anything to hide, but because I thought it was just the right thing to do. Because I agreed that no government has the right to interfere with ’search’ in general. I was proud to be part of a Google community that stood up for its users. And now you’ve done the complete opposite of what you’ve always promised to do. These last days, information about your growing sneakyness and compliance to governments worldwide, in particular the Chinese, are piling up. What’s up with that? Where did you go wrong?

I’ve always thought you would do exactly what you always claimed, that you were a company we could trust and have faith in. That the ‘do no evil’ you always cherished would remain a mantra that could be repeated for as long as your service was up and running. I’ve always been a defender of your engine. I can’t even begin to count the amount of PCs I’ve fixed where I changed the homepage from MSN to Google, because you guys were better, faster, more reliable, less corporate, less evil and so on.

The ‘old’ Google said this: “Google does not censor results for any search term. The order and content of our results are completely automated; we do not manipulate our search results by hand. We believe strongly in allowing the democracy of the web to determine the inclusion and ranking of sites in our search results. To learn more about Google’s search technology, please visit …”

While the ‘new’ Google now says this: “It is Google’s policy not to censor search results. However, in response to local laws, regulations, or policies, we may do so. When we remove search results for these reasons, we display a notice on our search results pages. Please note: For some older removals (before March 2005), we may not show a notice at this time.”

The fact you removed your statement about your belief in the democracy of the web hurts me a lot. You could’ve just added ‘except in China’ or something, but no. You took down the entire statement. We know now you do censor results, but does it also means the content of your results will no longer be completely automated? Does it mean you will manipulate search results by hand? Does it mean you no longer believe strongly in the democracy of the web? Will ranking be affected by your decision? I’m not sure how big of a sell-out that exactly is. But it seems rather huge. I totally lost my faith in you guys. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m deeply disappointed. Your new statement is crap and doesn’t even come near the definition you first pursued. I know I don’t own the company and it’s none of my business, but have you got any idea how many users have lost their trust in you? Can you do this just like that? If my search results are censored, whereto should I turn to be informed? How can I now ever retrieve the true thoughts on an issue someone has put online somewhere?

I understand the Chinese market is the future. I understand business is business and that you needed to be represented in China. But I thought you already did that with your participation in Baidu. You say in your response that:

Google users in China today struggle with a service that, to be blunt, isn’t very good. appears to be down around 10% of the time. Even when users can reach it, the website is slow, and sometimes produces results that when clicked on, stall out the user’s browser. Our Google News service is never available; Google Images is accessible only half the time. At Google we work hard to create a great experience for our users, and the level of service we’ve been able to provide in China is not something we’re proud of.

Well I for one disagree. The service might have been slow, but at least it produced results unfiltered. Maybe browsers stalled, maybe Google News was down. Maybe images were only accessible half of the time. At least they were accessible, the other half of the time. At least the info was there. That was something to be proud of. I can’t speak for all the Chinese searchers because I don’t live there, but I’m pretty sure they’ll think you’re a lame service now. You used to be different. Slow, stalling, but different. You were a link with the outside world. Now all you do is promote the same brainless information the other search engines pre-chew for the Chinese people. What extra value is there now, except for the ‘us-too’ feeling that you have for joining a club of engines and deliver the exact same politically corrected results? I dare to say: none.

Maybe you’ve entered a market that is going to boom. Truly, I agree that is an interesting place to be in. But at what cost? Freedom of speech is the most important thing in life. And that is something you now have forsaken. Do you actually believe that the Chinese government will change in the near future and that maybe one day you will be able to provide the Chinese people with the ‘real’ results? That would be great, but I think ‘real’ results are no longer an option. I think that you have set the trail for other governments to start trying to censor results. I think a lot of other governments will come with some sort of mediocre reason that puts you in the choice of either leaving that country for what it is or complying to their requests and filter out some results. And I hope that isn’t the case today already, although Philipp pointed out you actually do stuff like that in Germany already.

What if the Germans asked you to block all Nazi-related news? Not just the hate-creating sites you’re blocking already, but all the Nazi related issues. You wouldn’t do that would you? No, because the international pressure would be too big. Yet still, what happened on Tian An Men square is being filtered, as Philipp points out with screenshots, a lot of historical facts are. Can you tell me why you, as a search engine, are filtering facts of history? You’re denying the truth. You’re hiding facts that hundreds of people thought were worth dying for, facts that affected thousands of people. People died there for a cause, for a reason. Don’t the people of China have the right to know? Apparently not.

Can you tell me what the difference is between China and Germany’s war history? I’m not comparing the holocaust to Tien An Men, but I’m just pointing out you are helping to rewrite history. Facts are facts. It happened. What keeps you from blocking out everything? To which point have you already complied to the US government to hide facts that aren’t really in their favor? What do you have left to guarantee me that what you display is the truth, and nothing but? You’ve raised a lot of questions. You’ve showed your weakness and gave in. Don’t come telling me it was to deliver a better service to a market, because I don’t buy it. You gave in just for the cash. You’ve let me down, and I’ll never forgive you for that. I’ll no longer believe what you say, plainly because you said it. I’ll doubt every word you publish and look for a darker secret behind every of your propagandish announcements.

It’s true that a is better than no Google at all in China. Fact is, there was a Google. I just think it should’ve been different than what it is today. I don’t think it’ll be ‘for greater good’. I don’t think it’ll actually help the Chinese in their quest for information about world facts, because if they aren’t conform the Chinese government’s point of view they’ll be censored. That adds no extra value to your product. If they wanted to research how to make strawberry jam, they could do so already. I agree, from your point of view it would be better if they researched it on a, but it’s the thought that counts. You changed a worldwide respected policy in order to be able to get access to one market. And that’s a sell-out. You didn’t change a policy statement on, you changed it on the dot com. That affects us all, and not just the indoctrinated Chinese people.

I’m pretty sure that if Bush forced you to hide stuff about Iraq, you’d say no. But how long until that changes? And if the results of any search query by users are being altered every time a government changes, then please tell me what’s the use of having a search engine that is dependent of the type of government that runs the country that allows your service to be available?

Sergey Brin talks about this issue (ironically enough) on CNN Money:

[...] But anyhow the net effect is that all of our services…soon we will be largely unavailable. We ultimately made a difficult decision, but we felt that by participating there, and making our services more available, even if not to the 100 percent that we ideally would like, that it will be better for Chinese Web users, because ultimately they would get more information, though not quite all of it.

I met the guy at Brainstorm, I think his name’s Xiao. Just over the years I’ve been interested in this question, and talked to three or four different people in China. My point of view really did change. And don’t forget that I was born in the Soviet Union and my early childhood was spent there, so I’m very sensitive to this kind of issue. It wasn’t easy. But I gradually grew comfortable, and I think we’re doing the right thing.

And we also by the way have to do similar things in the U.S. and Germany. We also have to block certain material based on law.

So in order to get their other services through, they needed to censor results. It’s all about the money. Understandble, but still… not good at all. How long before scientific results are filtered? How long before religious results are filtered? What if a Muslim country decided Christian results are no good? What if a Jew country decided to block out all Palestinian sites or news sources? What if Bush suddenly decided Darwin’s technology should no longer be able to be researched upon? I’m just wondering.

This is just my two cents. You, as a reader, think of it what you want, while you still can.


Posted by Miel Van Opstal in Ethics, Search, Thoughts


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  1. frédéric

    January 29, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Though I can understand Googles business point of view in this matter, you have some excellent points. The removal of the censorship entry is more than a significant detail. Great research on that one.

  2. Ted

    January 29, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Google’s new complicity in censorship disgusts me. Is there another search engine that has not capitulated to China? I understand that MSN and Yahoo have, and am looking for an alternative.

  3. Jeff

    January 29, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    The ‘business point of view’ is something that I thought Google was challenging from the beginning with their ‘Don’t Be Evil’ statement about short versus long-term gains. The entry into China under these terms seems to me to be a short-term gain while giving up a long-term ideal of freedom of information. I’m deeply disappointed, too, with Google. This was a major stumble for their company.

  4. Joe

    January 29, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    I sympathize with your feelings on the issue, but I’m not so sure its anything more than an overreaction.

    I think of it this way: Google’s policy certainly is disappointing, but might it be the best result they could get, both for themselves and for the people of China?

    In the end, I think the question isn’t about Google, but about whether one believes in the power of free trade in China or not. The rationale behind allowing trade with China is that excluding them will do no one any good, and including them we allow our companies to benefit, and we slowly but surely influence their society.

    Google had some interesting caveats to the agreement–for example, making sure it was never in a position as Yahoo was to turn over someone to the gov’t for subversion, or anything else. Yahoo, remember, was forced to turn over a dissident to the Chinese gov’t. He had used Yahoo mail. Google made sure its servers for Gmail and blogs were not within Chinese borders to control.

    The case is actually a lot more nuanced than it looks immediately. Google certainly made a practical decision in allowing the Chinese government to censor its results. But it was very careful that it did not give everything away. If results are censored, I am told, it will say so clearly. Google had a choice as to whether the Chinese gov’t would censor Google itself, or only a small percentage of search results. They chose the latter–and that is the price of free trade in the short run.

    In the long run, I don’t think any of us can judge the effects–moral or otherwise.

  5. Bracken

    January 29, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    Though I agree that it is necessary to stand up for “the freedom of speech and thoughts,” that is just not an option in China. There is no democracy and no bill of rights. The reason didn’t work in China is because the communist government employs 30,000 people to police the internet and prevent it’s citizens from viewing any subversize site. wasn’t working because the Chinese were censoring it. Now, at least can reliably give access to the sites that are allowed. So what if it’s not all the information, at least it’s some of the information. And for you to question whether your searches are “real” or not, is kind of ironic considering how much of the internet is pretty far from reality anyway. Take the scandals with false information on Wikipedia for example. Search “define: censorship” and the second result is from Wikipedia, a service that allows anyone and everyone to edit it. How do you really know that random site you have found on is any less biased or censored then the random site you find on

  6. Coolz0r

    January 29, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    @ Joe: You shine an interesting light on this situation, but you raise another question from my part :

    “Yahoo, remember, was forced to turn over a dissident to the Chinese gov’t. He had used Yahoo mail. Google made sure its servers for Gmail and blogs were not within Chinese borders to control.”

    Indeed, for now Google was out of China, thus so were the users of Google products such as GMail, but they made their move into that market so that their other products would become (more) available too. As Ken Roth stated in the interview with Brin on CNN Money (link in my article):

    “I’m sure Google justifies this by saying it’s just a couple of search words that people can’t get to, but it’s very difficult for Google to do what they just did and avoid the slippery slope. The next thing they’ll do is ask them to tell them who is searching for “Taiwan” or “independence” or “human rights.” And then it’s going to find itself in the position of turning over the names of dissidents or simply of inquisitive individuals, for imprisonment.”

    So, since Google gave in on this one, it’s very easy for the Chinese government to take it a step further and have it their way, or Google is denied access to the market. Google too might face the next step, a ban on, forcing Google to create a on Chinese territory, to then be subject to the same requests Yahoo has found itself to. One freedom (the one to make money on the Chinese market) in exchange for another (giving in to requests from the Chinese government.)

    To quote further from Ken Roth:

    “The key in my view is that every company faces the same dilemma — how do you maintain your principles while benefiting from the enormous Chinese market. And the answer is only going to come through safety in numbers. And it’s going to require all of the search engines to get together and say “None of us will do this.” And China needs search engines. If it can pick them off one at a time, it wins. If it faces all of the search engines at once banding together, the search engines win.”

    Google had its chance to withstand. They didn’t. Now they’ll follow the path that has been set. Unfortunately.

    Like I said before, for results that don’t really matter, the Chinese could already access plenty of engines. Google just wants a piece of that cake, in my opinion. You can’t blame them, all you can do is be disappointed.

  7. Coolz0r

    January 29, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    @ Bracken: You say : “Now, at least can reliably give access to the sites that are allowed. So what if it’s not all the information, at least it’s some of the information.”

    True. As mentioned before, results on any non-sensitive topic are displayed faster.But that information was available already on sites like MSN and Yahoo. Google doesn’t add any extra value to that. It’s not that Google has ‘the’ information, it’s not that Google is the only source of information. What I care about is the fact Google gave in to the requests and did so in ways that needed for Google to change it’s core mission statement and review an entire policy. That is very remarkable to say the least, and I’m just worried that it might set a trend amongst other governments around the world. A with censored results isn’t a Google anymore, it’s a soft extract of random less useful information, just as the MSN and Yahoo versions in China. What’s the use of having an engine that doesn’t know Tibet?

    As for wikipedia, I agree that it might not always be 100% accurate, but the self-regulation will prevent lies to live long. Since anbody can contribute or edit, that also means all the opions have a fair chance to survive, and in the end, only the right one will be left over.

    Give me one example of blatant lies that are written, where nobody can change them and where they are left online without a big fuzz about them being provoked.

    “How do you really know that random site you have found on is any less biased or censored then the random site you find on”

    You don’t anymore. That’s my entire point. You felt protected by that mission statement. You believed it, at least I did. Until now.

  8. Arnaud H

    January 29, 2006 at 9:10 pm

    Well, what I find rather disappointing in all the stories and blog entries criticizing Google’s attitude is that most of them completely ignore what Chinese users want… I find it a bit condescending to talk about them as “indoctrinated” people, as if we know what’s good for them, that is, no Google at all. A censured Google is better than no Google at all. I’m also wondering where all the critics were when Yahoo! launched its own version of its services in China over 5 years ago, following the same local laws…

  9. Marc

    January 29, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    I fully agree with your article.

    But let me remark one thing: China has not a democratic elected government whereas Germany is a democratic country with a honourable record for the past 50 years amongst the democratic nations in the world.

    Both countries are difficult to compare. China is not a free country, let´s say it: it´s a dictatorship. One party rules the country, there is no free press. You cannot say your opinion freely.

    Our past means for us germans a great burden and we have a certain obligation for pursued people. That was one of the reasons why german authories asked google to block neo-nazi pages.

  10. Coolz0r

    January 29, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    @ Arnaud H. : 5 years ago I didn’t have a blog yet. I’m pretty sure I’d have reacted the same way, if I would have had the tools then that I have now.

    You find it condescending to talk about the Chinese as an indoctrinated people… well. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to have it. The Chinese do not have the right to have an opinion, unless it is parallel with the governement’s opinion. There you have your answer.

    @ Marc, indeed you cannot compare these two countries, I was just making a statement about the censorship. I’m fully aware of the fact that Germany asked Google to filter out sources that spread hate. I don’t agree, but I do understand. That too is a very difficult matter. I’m aware of the efforts Germany has done to show the world that the times have changed and that the hate is just coming from a minority.

    I was just pointing out that it would be rather pointless to block out ALL Nazi related content, instead of only the sources of hate. You can still do a search for Hitler or Holocaust. The point is that in China a part of its history is being removed in its totality. As if that revolution never happened. Under no circumstances was I trying to downgrade Germany’s efforts. Just to be clear.

  11. Juan

    January 30, 2006 at 2:08 am

    Google does not censor
    US does not torturte!

  12. » Dear Google » InsideGoogle » part of the Blog News Channel

    January 30, 2006 at 2:24 am

    [...] Read the rest of this rather long letter on [Marketing Thoughts] Posted: January 29, 2006 by Coolz0r in: [...]

  13. » It Had To Happen: A Google Boycott » InsideGoogle » part of the Blog News Channel

    January 30, 2006 at 3:05 am

    [...] Also, read Miel’s open letter Posted: January 29, 2006 by Nathan Weinberg in: [...]

  14. » Open BlogSpot Letter To Google » InsideGoogle » part of the Blog News Channel

    January 30, 2006 at 3:30 am

    [...] This BlogSpot blog has been set up as an open letter to Google, telling the search company not to censor results anywhere in the world, not in China or anywhere else. It will keep collecting comments (291 so far) until it decides there are enough, and then send the whole thing to Google. Alexander, I think you can consider mine and Miel’s open letters as available to include in your group open letter. Posted: January 29, 2006 by Nathan Weinberg in: [...]

  15. SEO Principle | Search Engine Optimization Blog » Blog Archive » Google Broke the Heart of its Users

    January 30, 2006 at 5:52 am

    [...] After Google’s decision to agree to China censorship, many people could just loose their faith in the search engine, whose motto is still “Don’t be Evil”. An interesting article on Coolz0r titled “Dear Google” explains why the author, and also other users, just lost the trust they had towards Google. [...]

  16. Randy Charles Morin

    January 30, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    Google also censors results in all countries. It’s called SafeSearch and I wouldn’t let my daughter use Google without it.

    I believe your statement also calls for the end of SafeSearch.

  17. Coolz0r

    January 30, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    No, because in this way, you’re able to switch it on and off yourself. You can use safesearch for your kids, but if you want to, you could turn it off and get full access again. There’s a big difference there, because you’d still be in control of the information. It’s your choice to block the content to protect your daughter, it’s also your choice to not do that for you, I think. Herein lies a difference. It’s not Google who decides what you can see (although they filter results with safesearch), Google provides the option to use their filter. In China’s case, they regard the people as being the children and the government as being the parent, providing only the safesearch on ‘parental’ request and no other alternative for those who don’t want to be protected. Safesearch is great, don’t get me wrong, as long as I have the ability to turn it off whenever I want to.

  18. Jocelyn

    January 30, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    You’re a moron. Sorry.

    China is not a democracy. China already blogs half of the Internet. If the people in China want information, they can damn well move elsewhere.

    Google says “Hmm, either we censor results on the CHINA (read not USA, not Canada, not any other country) Google webpage, we can still have a business with the Chinese people, or we don’t do what the China government wants and completely be blocked from the Chinese people (thus robbing them MORE of information)… Your logic is flawed and this is a fight that does not envolve you.

    If you were in China, you can bet your ass that you wouldn’t be able to access your own damn website.

  19. Slava

    January 30, 2006 at 8:19 pm

    Jocelyin, what on Earth are you even talking about? Make sense!
    Did you even read the whole post before commenting? The coolzor’s point is that Google is an american company that actively sensors any and all information that the Chinese government asks for. If this was a Chinese company, following Chinese laws, then no one would give a damn. But since it’s an American company, particularly the one that goes around claiming the it does no evil while acting as a propoganda machine for an oppressive government (do a search for “Falun Gong” in, then it’s a little disappointing.

  20. Randy Charles Morin

    January 30, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    Yes, you can turn off SafeSearch, but you can also turn off China censoring too! Search and replace .cn to .com.

  21. Coolz0r

    January 31, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Randy, Umm… Okay, ‘I’ can turn off the censoring by using the .com, but the Chinese users can’t. Comparing SafeSearch (which you turn on and off locally) to Google censoring (which is done remotely) is like comparing apples with shoes. Now that there’s a .cn, I’m quite sure the .com will be completely blocked, although I can’t confirm that. I’ll ask around for this.
    The point is Google changed their global policy to never interfere with search results (on this scale) to gain access to one market. What worries me is that it might set an example for other governments to take their shot, if they didn’t do it already. Google was built on a democratic principle that they were proud of. They’ve now altered that principle, which affects us all and not just the .cn users, since the policy statement on the .com has been replaced. Should they have only changed the policy for the .cn site, I could ‘understand’. I won’t approve, but I’d understand. Changing the .com censorship policy takes things globally. That has serious consequences for their ‘we are a mirror of the web’ statement. Because they no longer are a mirror from what lives on the internet.

    @ Slava : thanks !

  22. paintedfoot

    June 17, 2006 at 7:06 am

    If you want to see how effective Google is at preventing information from getting to users in mainland China check out this segment from PBS’ Frontline.

    Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “6. The Struggle to Control Information”.

  23. Jocelyn

    October 3, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    Wow, I should re-read my entry next time. Quite a few months later, but my point remains the same – google China (the China google) was the site that was being censored, not the other google pages.

    Google had to censor the results for China and China alone, or China would have blocked Google all-together