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Google Stops Informing Chinese Users About Disruptive Searches

Pedestrians walk past the Google Inc. logo displayed outside the building housing the company's China headquarters in Beijing, China. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Pedestrians walk past the Google Inc. logo displayed outside the building housing the company's China headquarters in Beijing, China. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. removed a feature from its website that notified users in China about search terms that might become targets of the country’s Internet censors and result in service disruptions.

The feature, introduced in June, was disabled sometime between Dec. 5 and Dec. 8, said GreatFire.org, a website that collects data about China’s so-called Great Firewall. Taj Meadows, a Google spokesman in Japan, confirmed that the feature has been disabled and declined to comment further.

The decision to remove the service is part of Google’s broader efforts to find the right approach in China, where the government blocks websites that contain pornography, gambling and content critical of the ruling Communist Party. Google said in January 2010 it wouldn’t self-censor content for Chinese services, shuttered its local search page and redirected users to a Hong Kong site.

“I would say it is tactical -- they found the censorship notification function not so helpful for end users,” said Isaac Mao, director of Sharism Lab, an independent research center on social networks and business. “They wanted to make a goodwill gesture.”

Searches for some terms previously triggered a drop-down box saying they might “temporarily break your connection to Google.”

The decision to provide the notifications came after Google concluded that searches from China were “inconsistent and unreliable.” It put up the notification to make clear that users weren’t being affected by problems with Google’s systems.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lulu Yilun Chen in Hong Kong at ychen447@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at mtighe4@bloomberg.net

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