January 27, 2006 10:10 AM PST

Google fixes China search bugs

A day after Google's buggy censorship of sites for Chinese-users was revealed, the search giant has responded by fixing its filters so topics such as beer and jokes are no longer deleted.

An investigation published Thursday by CNET News.com showed that Google's new China search engine not only censored criticisms of the Chinese government, but went further than similar services from Microsoft and Yahoo by targeting sites related to teen pregnancy, alcohol, dating and homosexuality.

On Friday morning, however, those previously verboten sites became available through Google.cn. That brings Google's filtering in line with blacklists used by Microsoft and Yahoo.

  • Sites still banned

  • bignews.org
  • chinesenewsweek.com
  • falunasia.info
  • faluncanada.net
  • hrw.org
  • libertytimes.com.tw
  • news.bbc.co.uk
  • omnitalk.com
  • pressfreedom.com
  • savetibet.org
  • voa.gov
  • Sites now permitted

  • budweiser.com
  • catholiclesbians.org
  • collegehumor.com
  • date.com
  • lingerie.com
  • playboy.com
  • jackdaniels.com
  • queernet.org
  • search.msn.com
  • seas.upenn.edu
  • teenpregnancy.org

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. Earlier in the week, however, the company had said that its product launches are typically "followed by a process of identifying and correcting bugs or other technical issues. Google.cn is no exception, and we will continue to refine our processes to ensure that we are filtering the minimum necessary."

"Before this, I was actually of the mind that if you're doing the disclosure, this is the way to go," said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com. "The more I thought about this, I realized this is evil. You're caving into censorship that you in your heart of hearts don't believe in."

Even though Google founder Sergey Brin had promised that deletions would be listed, the initial version of Google.cn frequently did not do so. The debugged version appears to have fixed that problem.

It's not entirely clear what caused the initial version of Google.cn's embarrassing bugs, which had caused Microsoft sites and the University of Pennsylvania's engineering school to vanish from search listings.

One potential explanation is that Google had been using a version of its "SafeSearch" software, which it describes as adult-site filtering technology that "checks keywords and phrases."

SafeSearch has proven to be flawed in the past. A 2004 investigation by CNET News.com showed that it blocked many innocuous Web sites based solely on strings of letters such as "sex," "girls" or "porn" embedded in their domain names. PartsExpress.com, ALittleGirlsBoutique.com, RomansInSussex.co.uk, ArkansasExtermination.com and BassExpert.com, for instance, were incorrectly identified as pornographic.

Google.cn seemed to work the same way, delisting an Essex County Web site apparently because the word "sex" appeared in the the domain name.

Because access from China to the U.S.-based Google.com site is limited for financial and political reasons, the vast majority of Chinese are forced to turn to domestic search engines instead. Google's Brin has estimated that Google.com is available to only half of the country's users. Other reports say that when search terms such as "Tiananmen Square" are typed in on Google.com, the site immediately becomes unreachable for a few hours.

See more CNET content tagged:
SafeSearch, Sergey Brin, China, Google Inc., investigation

8 comments

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BBC News
How pathetic that the Chinese govt is afraid of BBC News. Quite an endorsement, though.
Posted by P. Jackson (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In the search engine business
Google just wants to be top dog, that's all.
Posted by casper2004 (267 comments )
Link Flag
Iran did the same thing
BBC News' Persian language Web site has now been blocked by Iran as well.
Posted by omaryak (59 comments )
Link Flag
Google filtering Microsoft is a bug?
Sounds more like a divine act of god!

:-)

too bad the devils put it back :(
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A BUG or a purposeful HACK?
Sounds more like a hack than a bug if you ask me.

Walt
Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Move the disclosure to the top
If Google wants users to see the disclosure, then it belongs BEFORE the search results. Over 90% of users do not look at the bottom of a search page.
Posted by 206538395198018178908092208948 (141 comments )
Reply Link Flag
googlewatch! - is google blocked from _outside_ china?!
the sidebar on un/blocked sites is an excellent resource ... it should become part of a 'googlewatch' feature!

this may be just a fluke - but google.com.cn (and goggle.cn) are automatically referred to google.ca (when that is the default value stored in the browser's cache).

which means that outsiders do not have a way to conduct their own tests!

(and if this is true, then did cnet perform the tests from within china?)

some clarification would be useful.

cheers: david

ps: camino 1b2 on panther 10.3.9
Posted by zahadum (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What will happen...
Chinese people will simply stop using google to search, and opt to get their news elsewhere. Sadly, the Chinese governement probably has control at an ISP level to filter out content. A way around this may be to provide some sort of long range wireless. We have to help them keep a few steps ahead.
Posted by lewissalem (167 comments )
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