Like most people I know, I was saddened, but not surprised, by Google.cn. I get the official corporate reasoning, although it smells more of justification than reason. But even if I understand the reasoning/justifications — some information is better than no information; someone else (China?) will do it if we don’t; engagement is better than isolation; blah blah blah — Google.cn is, unquestionably, not the principled thing to do. Lay as much as you want on the Google.cn side of the scales, but here’s what’s on the other side: Google set up a censored version of a database, with the intent to keep information away from 1.3 billion human beings, at the behest of the few thousands of people in the government who are responsible for this decision. There’s a four-letter word to describe that and it starts with “e” and rhymes with “bee-vil”.
If Google truly believes its own rationalizations, and if the company’s decision-makers are truly committed to not being evil, then I have a suggestion for them: Large donations to peacefire and other groups working to defeat censorware, now.
As long as I have been watching censorware [aka "filterware"] arguments — since the mid/late-90s, actually, on library listserves — Bennett Haselton (Peacefire) has been out there doing research on the issue and developing tools to route around censorship. One such tool is the Circumventor program. It’s a sort of peer-to-peer router option to help provide uncensored access to the Internet. (Hey Bennett and other developers: a mac version would be nice. I bet a nice big check from Google would help develop some new versions of the software.)
I’m not familiar with all the organizations below, but they’re worth checking out, and if you like them, support their work.
- Open Net Initiative – research on Internet censorship
- Peacefire (aimed originally at youth but also specifically targeted at people in countries that censor information from everyone)
- Freenet – the Free Network Project. (Software designed to allow anonymous authenticated information exchange over the Internet.)
- Internet Free Expression Alliance
- International Freedom of Expression eXchange
- The Censorware Project (news & information from some of the folks working on this issue)
- EFF, EPIC, CPSR, the Free Expression Policy Project, and the ACLU, while not focused solely on the issue of Internet censorship, do important work in the field.