Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Google Adds Warning for Searches That China Blocks ; New Alert, Which Flags Banned Terms, Is Likely to Irritate the Government

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Google Adds Warning for Searches That China Blocks ; New Alert, Which Flags Banned Terms, Is Likely to Irritate the Government

Article excerpt

The change, which lets people know that searching for certain terms may break their Internet connection, was described as an improvement in the search experience for mainland Chinese users.

Google has quietly upped the ante in a long-running dispute with the Chinese authorities over censorship, adding a software twist to its search page that warns people when they type a search term whose results are likely to be blocked in China.

The change, announced without publicity Thursday on one of Google's corporate blogs, is described as an improvement in the search experience for users in mainland China, who can be disconnected from Google without explanation when they attempt to open a Web page that was found using a censored search term.

But it also seems likely to irritate Chinese officials, who have already employed an array of techniques to punish the company since a clash over censorship led Google to move its servers to Hong Kong in January 2010.

Google's market share in mainland China, once 27 percent, has plunged to less than 17 percent since then, as people grew weary of blocked Web sites and timeouts that prevent them from conducting new searches for more than a minute.

The blog announcement deftly sidestepped even an allusion to censorship, saying only that people had been frustrated by error messages and disconnections and that Google engineers had "taken a long, hard look at our systems and have not found any problems."

"However, after digging into user reports, we've noticed that these interruptions are closely correlated with searches for a particular subset of terms," it stated. "So starting today we'll notify users in mainland China when they enter a keyword that may cause connection issues."

The blog post, by Alan Eustace, a senior vice president who oversees search services, stated that the company had analyzed 350,000 popular search terms to find words that were "disruptive queries." Now, when people enter one of those terms and try to begin a search, they are presented with a yellow box stating that searching for the term "may temporarily break your connection to Google. …

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