Google stops highlighting censored search terms for China

Chinese authorities had tried to block the function after it launched in late May

Google has quietly shut down a search function that helped users in China navigate past the country's censorship systems, after authorities had tried to block the feature.

Launched at the end of May, the function worked by highlighting terms that would likely result in a page error caused by China's censorship systems, known for filtering out sensitive and anti-government internet content.

But between Dec. 5 and Dec. 8, Google decided to remove the function, according to Greatfire.org, a site that monitors China's online censorship. Google spokesman Taj Meadows confirmed the function's shutdown, but the company declined to specify why.

The internet giant had originally hoped the function would improve the search experience for users in mainland China by reducing the chance of page errors. Google reviewed the 350,000 most popular search queries in China, and identified which search terms would likely trigger the errors. To use the function, users simply would type their query into Google's search bar, only to be warned if there was a likelihood their search would be blocked.

China's censorship systems, however, tried to block the function, only for Google to later embed it further into the search page, said Greatfire.org in a blog post. This made it impossible to block the function without blocking the Google site itself.

Greatfire.org criticized the function's shutdown as a "grave setback" in the fight against China's online censorship. Search engines that operate within China must adhere to the country's strict rules on online censorship. But in 2010, Google said it would no longer filter its search results for the country and shut down its China-based search engine at Google.cn. Now users in the country are redirected to Google's Hong Kong search engine, which offers unfiltered search results, but is still a target of Chinese censors.

Since Google closed its China-based search engine, the company's market share has fallen to about 5 percent in the country, according to data analytics sites CNZZ.com. Analysts point to constant page errors from blocked searches as a major reason for the decline.

Access to Google services in China continues to be slow and sometimes briefly inaccessible, which is likely caused by the country's censors. In November, all Google services were abruptly blocked for 12 hours in China.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Googleregulationgovernmentinternetsearch engines

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?