Wednesday, February 01, 2006
For today's Member Briefing of the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus on "Human Rights and the Internet -- The People's Republic of China," we've submitted the following statement:
“Human Rights and the Internet – The People’s Republic of China”
Submission of Andrew McLaughlin, Google Inc.
February 1, 2006
On behalf of Google, I would like to thank the Members of the Human Rights Caucus for inviting Google to participate in today’s Member Briefing on Human Rights and the Internet in China.
Though previously scheduled commitments prevent me from appearing in person today, I reiterate Google’s offer to participate in a Member Briefing on another date, to brief Members individually, and to continue briefing staff on our activities in China.
I. Google.cn in China
The rationale for launching a domestic version of Google in China – a website subject to China’s local content restrictions – is that our service in China has not been very good, due in large measure to the extensive filtering performed by Chinese Internet service providers (ISPs). Google’s users in China struggle with a service that is often unavailable, or painfully slow. According to our measurements, Google.com appears to be unavailable around 10% of the time. Even when users can reach Google.com, the website is slow, and sometimes produces results that, when clicked on, stall out the user’s browser. The Google News service is almost never available; Google Images is available only half the time.
These problems can only be solved by creating a local presence inside China. By launching Google.cn and making a major ongoing investment in people, infrastructure, and innovation within China, we intend to provide the greatest access to the greatest amount of information to the greatest number of Chinese Internet users. At the same time, the launch of Google.cn did not in any way alter the availability of the uncensored Chinese-language version of Google.com, which Google provides globally to all Internet users without restriction.
In deciding how best to approach the Chinese – or any – market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interests of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions. Our strategy for doing business in China seeks to achieve that balance through improved disclosure, targeting of services, and local investment.
A. Improved Disclosure to Users of Google.cn. In order to operate Google.cn as a website in China, Google is required to remove some sensitive information from our search results. These restrictions are imposed by Chinese laws, regulations, and policies. However, when we remove content from Google.cn, we disclose that fact to our users. This approach is similar in principle to the disclosures we provide when we have altered our search results to comply with local laws in France, Germany, and the United States. When a Chinese user gets search results from which one or more results has been filtered, the Google webpage includes an explicit notification – an indication that the search results are missing something that might otherwise be relevant. This is not, to be sure, a tremendous advance in transparency to users, but it is at least a meaningful step in the right direction.
B. Targeting of Services on Google.cn. Google.cn today includes three basic Google services (web search, image search, and Google News), together with a local business information and map service. Other products – such as Gmail and Blogger – that involve personal and confidential information will be introduced only when we are comfortable that we can provide them in a way that protects users’ expectations about that information. We are conscious of the reality that data is subject to the laws and regulations of the country in which it is stored, and we make decisions about where to locate our services with that reality squarely in mind.
C. Local Investment and Innovation. Looking beyond the Google.cn launch, we will continue to make significant investments in research and development in China. We believe these investments – and the innovations that will result – will help us to better tailor our products to user demands and better demonstrate how the Internet can help advance key objectives supported by the Chinese government, such as building stronger, more efficient, and more equitable markets, promoting the rule of law, and bolstering the fight against corruption.
While China has made great strides in the past decades, it remains in many ways closed. We are not happy about governmental restrictions on access to information, and we hope that over time everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information. Information and communication technology – including the Internet, email, instant messaging, weblogs, peer-to-peer applications, streaming audio and video, mobile telephony, SMS text messages, and so forth – has brought Chinese citizens a greater ability to read, discuss, publish and communicate about a wider range of topics, events, and issues than ever before. We believe that our continued engagement with China is the best (and perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there.
II. Next Steps
1. Expanded Dialogue and Outreach. For more than a year, Google has been actively engaged in discussion and debate about China with a wide range of individuals and organizations both inside and outside of China, including technologists, businesspeople, government officials, academic experts, writers, analysts, journalists, activists, and bloggers. We aim to expand these dialogues as our activities in China evolve, in order to improve our understanding, refine our approach, and operate with openness.
2. Voluntary Industry Action. Google supports the idea of Internet industry action to define common principles to guide technology firms’ practices in countries that restrict access to information. Together with colleagues at other leading Internet companies, we are actively exploring the potential for Internet industry guidelines, not only for China but for all countries in which Internet content is subjected to governmental restrictions. Such guidelines might encompass, for example, disclosure to users, and reporting about governmental restrictions and the measures taken in response to them.
3. Government-to-Government Dialogue. In addition to common action by Internet companies, there is an important role for the United States government to address, in the context of its bilateral government-to-government relationships, the larger issues of free expression and open communication. For example, as a U.S.-based company that deals primarily in information, we have urged the United States government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade.
On behalf of Google, I would like to thank the members of the Human Rights Caucus for their attention to these important and pressing issues.