In the midst of an ongoing standoff between China and the international community over Internet censorship, Google has blinked. The search giant is agreeing to "take all necessary steps" to ensure no pornographic material will turn up in search results on Google's Chinese language site. Google's increased crackdown on "vulgar" material comes after a news report last week on China Central Television showed innocent search terms entered into google.cn returned some pornographic results and elicited suggested search terms that could be interpreted as lewd.
China has warned Google twice previously about returning objectionable search results on Chinese networks, something Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other search engines vowed to restrict within China's borders. But China's latest campaign against Web indecency has stirred international protest, as the state recently required a pornography-filtering software be included with every PC sold in that country. After the initial backlash from both domestic netizens and foreign freedom watchdogs, China made an important clarification to the rule, saying the software must be included with computers but does not have to be used.
China claims the inclusion of the software, known as Green Dam Youth Escort, along with the crackdown on Google and other sites is aimed at keeping pornographic material from corrupting China's youth. But Google's acquiescence—as well as that of other Web sites—has drawn criticism from rights groups who claim it weakens the movement for increased civil freedoms in nations where the flow of information is controlled by the state.
Another wrinkle emerged this morning when The Wall Street Journal reported that CCTV exaggerated, if not outright staged, its original report that sparked the scrutiny of Google. One of the subjects interviewed, a university student named Gao, claimed one of his classmates became curious about online pornography and became "absent-minded for a while." Some skeptical Chinese Web users launched an online inquiry into Gao and found that at the time of the interview he was interning at CCTV, setting off a wave of support for Google and condemnation of CCTV for its lack of credibility. Some have even suggested CCTV is trying to pressure Google into a lucrative advertising deal with the station.
Nonetheless, Google met with state officials in China and will review the way its Chinese site operates, raising another round of ethical questions about how far companies should bend their values to compete in foreign markets.