By Stan Beer, Sunday, 13 August 2006 – See more on IT wire.
As the debate continues to simmer about the ethics of Internet companies storing personally identifiable search data, a new wave of criticism of the major US Internet companies is sweeping the UK and Europe over the policies of the Internet companies in China.
Sparked by a call from Human Rights Watch to force the major Internet players to protect the confidentiality of Chinese dissidents, Members of Parliament in the UK have criticised companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft for agreeing to censor searches in China.
In an extensive report titled “Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship”, Human Rights Watch has made a number of far reaching demands mainly targeting the major Internet players.
One of the most strident demands is for legislation to be enacted in the US and Europe to forbid Internet companies from storing data on users on servers in countries where freedom of speech is not allowed. Ironically, this demand has been made at a time when an error by US Internet provider AOL has disclosed stored personal search information made by hundreds of thousands of its users.
All three major search companies admit to censoring search results on their sites China, claiming that they must do this to comply with the local laws.
However, Human Rights Watch, supported by a growing chorus of politicians in the UK have condemned this practice. The human rights watchdog wants legislation to force search companies to disclose restrictions to free speech and on their websites and to inform users when the results of their searches have been censored.
Of the three major search companies, Yahoo was singled out by Human Rights Watch as the company that allegedly most stringently censors its searches in China. The human rights watchdog claims that it has conducted tests showing that Yahoo censors its searches in China at least as stringently and in some cases even more stringently than local Chinese Government approved search engine Baidu.
In addition to the three major search providers, eBay owned Internet telephony company Skype has come under fire from Human Rights Watch for allegedly censoring sensitive words in text chats without informing users of its Chinese service.
The fast growing Chinese consumer market has proven to be an irresistible lure to Western companies and the Chinese hunger for technology is at the forefront of the push by the Chinese Government to modernise its economy. However, China’s economic growth and move toward free markets has not been matched by a maturation of its political system, which still appears to be mired in a previous era.