Google ‘compromised principles’ in China, founder admits

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Copyright ASSOCIATED PRESS — Washington
Google co-founder Sergey Brin acknowledged that the dominant Internet company had compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands. He said Google was wrestling to make the deal work before deciding whether to reverse course.
Meeting reporters on Tuesday, Mr Brin said Google had agreed to the censorship demands only after Chinese authorities blocked its service in that country. Google’s rivals accommodated the same demands, which Mr Brin described as “a set of rules that we weren’t comfortable with”, without international criticism, he said.
“We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference,” Mr Brin said.
He also addressed internet users’ expectations of privacy in an era of increased government surveillance, saying Americans misunderstood the limited safeguards of their personal electronic information.
“I think it’s interesting that the expectations of people with respect to what happens to their data seem to be different than what is actually happening,” he said.
Google has battled the United States Justice Department in court seeking to limit the amount of information the government can obtain about users’ Internet searches. The search engine’s spokesmen also say it has not participated in any programmes with the National Security Agency to collect internet communications without warrants.
Google’s free e-mail service is among the Internet’s most popular.
Mr Brin visited Washington to ask US senators to approve a plan that would prevent telephone and cable companies from collecting premium fees from companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! for faster delivery of their services. Mr Brin, dressed casually in jeans, sneakers and a black sport jacket, said he was not sure whether he changed any legislators’ minds.
Google’s China-approved Web service omits politically sensitive information that might be retrieved during Internet searches, such as details about the June 1989 suppression of political unrest in Tiananmen Square. Its agreement with China has provoked considerable criticism from human rights groups.
“Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense,” Mr Brin said.
The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday said Google’s main website, www.google.com, was no longer accessible in most Chinese provinces because of censorship, and it was completely inaccessible throughout China on May 31.
Mr Brin said Google was trying to improve its censored search service, Google.cn, before deciding whether to reverse course. He said virtually all the company’s customers in China used the uncensored service.
“It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, `Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship, and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path,” Mr Brin said. “It’s not where we chose to go right now but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.”

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