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Google censor service, to enter China

Web search leader Google Inc said it was introducing a new service for China that seeks to avoid a confrontation with the government.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 18:51 IST

Web search leader Google Inc said on Tuesday it was introducing a new service for China that seeks to avoid a confrontation with the government.

In the new move, Google was restricting access to services to which users contribute such as e-mail, chat rooms and blogs.

The new Chinese service at http://www.Google.Cn will offer a censored version of Google's popular search system that could restrict access to thousands of terms and websites.

Hot topics might include issues like independence for Taiwan or Tibet or outlawed spiritual group Falun Gong.

In seeking to compete more aggressively in the world's second biggest Internet market -- where Google has lost ground to a more popular home-grown search company Baidu Inc -- the company is facing the toughest challenge yet to its corporate mantra of 'Don't do evil'.

In a compromise that trades off Google's desire to provide universal access to information in order to exist within local laws, Google will not offer its Gmail e-mail service, web log publishing services or chat rooms -- tools of self-expression that could be used for political or social protest.

Instead, it said it would initially offer four of its core services -- website and image search, Google News and local search -- while working toward introducing additional services over time.

"Other products -- such as Gmail and Blogger -- will be introduced only when we are comfortable that we can do so in a way that strikes a proper balance among our commitments to satisfy users' interests, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions," the company said in a statement.

The move in China comes less than a week after Google resisted the US Justice Department's efforts to get information about commonly used sex search terms.

That government demand was met by search rivals such as Yahoo Inc and Microsoft, spokesmen for those companies said.

"China is the most repressive censorship regime on the Internet," said John Palfrey, one of the principal investigators on a joint university research project on global Internet censorship known as the OpenNet Initiative.

Palfrey, director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and a law professor, has ties to Google executives involved in the China project and is working on a spyware research effort that is partly funded by Google.

He estimated that through active and passive censorship tens of thousands of search terms are blocked for web users inside China.

"It comes down to how well Google reacts to the first or the second or the hundredth clash with China," he said of the regular negotiations and potential confrontations that are likely to be necessary between Google and Chinese authorities.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 09:39 IST