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Yahoo China has the Worst Filtering Policy 184

Posted by Zonk
from the bad-image dept.
rmunaval writes "Reporters Without Borders has an article on search-result censorship in China by different companies. The conclusion was made based on six politically sensitive keywords. A search on yahoo.cn resulted in 97% pro-Beijing results compared to 83% on google.cn and 78% on msn.cn." From the article: "[Yahoo!] is therefore censoring more than its Chinese competitor Baidu. Above all, the organisation was able to show that requests using certain terms, such as 6-4 (4 June, date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), or 'Tibet independence', temporarily blocked the search tool. If you type in one of these terms on the search tool, first you receive an error message. If you then go back to make a new request, even with a neutral key word, yahoo.cn refuses to respond."
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Yahoo China has the Worst Filtering Policy

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  • by chrismcdirty (677039) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:41PM (#15549586) Homepage
    It acts like it will respond, but in reality it is notifying police that people are trying get information.
    • by wr0x2 (840346)
      You realize what bullshit this is, right? They have millions of internet users, and a huge number of such requests each day. The only possible course of action to take against users searching for this stuff is timing out their requests for a while.
      • The only possible course of action to take against users searching for this stuff is timing out their requests for a while.

        Or they could simply allow the search.
      • It takes practically no time to reject a search that matches "naughty" keywords. This is a non-issue. In fact you could probably hardcode them, and keep them in memory all the time, so you don't even have to load anything but the filter code (assuming THAT isn't persistent) to filter requests. Hopefully it's ALL persistent, with some kind of database caching mechanism to speed things up ANYWAY - so there's REALLY no reason they should be denying subsequent, non-filtered-keyword requests.
    • I think it's the Great Firewall that's doing the blocking, not Yahoo, according to the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]. Basically TGF sniffs all HTTP packats and attempt to find sensitive keywords in strings and put the IP on temporary blacklist for 30 min. or so.
      • by john83 (923470)

        But would that not imply that the other search engines are getting around the firewall?

        If the firewall is so effective, why would China have asked Google to impliment a search filter that's inferior to existing methods?

  • Olympics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TrappedByMyself (861094) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:44PM (#15549610)
    It will be very interesting to see what happens during the 2008 Olympics when a ton of Westerners are getting their internet gimped. I wonder if China will have free internet zones to avoid bad press.
    • Re:Olympics (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zarel (900479) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:56PM (#15549706)
      Considering the number of Westerners that actually want to search for things like "freedom" and "democracy" (as opposed to, say, "porn"), I'd say very few will notice.
      • They will notice. The BBC is blocked in China, and I imagine that many westerners will go there between their porn searches.
    • Re:Olympics (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Iphtashu Fitz (263795)
      It will be very interesting to see what happens during the 2008 Olympics when a ton of Westerners are getting their internet gimped.

      My guess is that they'll set up unfiltered internet cafes in Olympic venues that are only for access by Olympic staff, athletes, and foreign visitors . They'll keep Chinese nationals out of them. It wouldn't be all that difficult for a communist government to restrict access, especially considering the security that Olympic venues typically have.
    • Re:Olympics (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Charmless1 (887381)
      I don't think they are particularly worried about bad press. Isn't that what they censor out anyway?
    • Re:Olympics (Score:4, Informative)

      by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Friday June 16, 2006 @01:12PM (#15549828)
      It will be very interesting to see what happens during the 2008 Olympics when a ton of Westerners are getting their internet gimped

      Who else will be there, really, except reporters and the athletes? I don't anticipate the Jones family in Oaklahoma getting a cornsitter for the farm and heading off to Beijing to see how the East makes flapjacks.

      Reporters likely know to tread lightly already, and I'm sure the athletes have to go to some workshop before the whole thing starts titled "Don't do any of these things in country X or you will be killed."
    • It will be very interesting to see what happens during the 2008 Olympics when a ton of Westerners are getting their internet gimped.


      This firewall only applies to people within China, Westerners will be fine, the Olypmics isn't the World Cup, not many will be travelling to watch it.
  • Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 42Penguins (861511) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:44PM (#15549613)
    Every once in a while I think censorship has gotten bad here in the USA.
    Try searching "Tiananmen Square" on yahoo.cn and compare to yahoo.com.

    If I had more bandwidth, I'd gladly put up a proxy for these folks.
    • Don't worry about setting up a proxy for the Chinese, most of them already know how to get around the system.
      • Actually, based on the reports I've read, the majority of Chinese internet users don't care. They search for information on freedom and democracy about as often as the average American, which is to say, not very often.

        I would bet that if anything bothers the average Chinese internet user, it's probably the censorship of porn, not political speech.

        There are methods available today by which most people with half a brain could circumvent the Chinese authorities and read Western information sources, write blogs
    • Weird... I can actually get refrences to the massacre using Yahoo China by searching Tianenmen Square massacre.
      • Searching for "Tiananmen Square massacre" on yahoo.cn yielded about 2,000 results.

        Searching for "Tiananmen Square massacre" on yahoo.com yielded about 185,000 results.

        Yahoo's filtering isn't perfect, but it did remove 98.8% of the results, many of which were probably very critical of China. The Chinese Government isn't trying to erase history, but rather keep a pro-PRC or neutral spin on search results.
    • I think you'll be hardpressed to find a Chinamen that gives a damn (and that wouldn't turn you in for doing so).

      It should also be noted that our results here in the US are also censored.
    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ndansmith (582590) on Friday June 16, 2006 @01:09PM (#15549803)
      This could be an issue of cultural bias, not censorship. In the English speaking west, the only thing we know about Tiananmen Square is that major pro-democracy protests occured there in 1989. To Chinese people it has a much broader significance, and the protests are only one of many notable aspects of the Square (including the fact that it is the largest public square in the world).

      Perhaps a Chinese person could come to the conclusion that the US government is censoring information about the civil rights movement, because when "Lincoln Memorial" is typed into google.com, there is no mention of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech in the top results.
      • Another example is the results if you search for Nagasaki on google.com compared to google.co.jp
        In Japan, people know of it as a city, while people outside of Japan generally only know of it as the second victim of the nuke.
      • Re:Wow (Score:2, Insightful)

        by alphaseven (540122)
        Perhaps a Chinese person could come to the conclusion that the US government is censoring information about the civil rights movement, because when "Lincoln Memorial" is typed into google.com, there is no mention of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech in the top results.

        That sounds like a bit of a stretch to me. Probably the closest equivalent to Tiananmen Square in the U.S. would be Kent State, and when I type that into google I get refrences to the university but many more to the shootings. Sea

    • Re:Wow (Score:2, Funny)

      by reddeno (155457)
      I would like to propose an addendum to Godwin's law, whereby all references to Tiananmen Square with respect to search engines immediately ends the thread, and whoever mentioned Tiananmen Square automatically loses any debate in progress.
    • Sure the returns are different, but top link on yahoo.cn for ["Tiananmen Square" massacre] [blogchina.com] is enough information to start someone thinking.

      So I'm a little doubtful that these changes are dramatically affecting the mindset of the Chinese population. Like I've heard in interviews before "If you want to read it, you can find it".

    • Re:Wow (Score:2, Interesting)

      by GbrDead (702506)
      Your comparison reminds me of an old joke we had here during the totalitarism:

      An American and a Bulgarian are talking. The American says:
      -Here, in the USA, we are really free. For example, I can go just in front of the White House, and shout: "Down with Ronald Reagan!", and nothing bad will happen to me.
      -Oh, the same here: I can go just in front of the Party Central, and shout: "Down with Ronald Reagan!".

      It is sad what has happened to the USA...
    • Tibet (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hoi Polloi (522990)
      Try typing "Tibet" and "Independence". You'll come up with scads of *.cn sites all ranting about how the Dali Lama is "splittist". I wonder if they cover the vicious Chinese invasion of Tibet in there somewhere?

      The US sure isn't perfect but China shows that it could be a lot worse.
    • by idonthack (883680)
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  • 6-4 (Score:4, Funny)

    by BigNumber (457893) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:44PM (#15549615)
    That's odd... at google.cn 6-4 says 6-4=2.

    I can't find a flaw in that.
  • Censoring? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:46PM (#15549621)
    "[Yahoo!] is therefore censoring more than its Chinese competitor Baidu. Above all, the organisation was able to show that requests using certain terms, such as 6-4 (4 June, date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), or 'Tibet independence', temporarily blocked the search tool. If you type in one of these terms on the search tool, first you receive an error message. If you then go back to make a new request, even with a neutral key word, yahoo.cn refuses to respond."
    Actually, I think that's just how Yahoo! works in general.
    • I went to yahoo.cn, which redirected me to cn.yahoo.com, and typed in "tibet independence" and it gave me a 7,690 hits [yahoo.com]. There were a lot of .cn domains and also some .orgs and .coms, but nothing seemed particularly "pro-Bejing." It certainly didn't block the site.

      Meanwhile, a search on yahoo.com for the same term yielded 877,000 hits. I guess I don't understand how they qualified what's pro-Bejing or quantified their censorship rate, but I would tend to think my own query was affected by possible differe
      • I probably should have read the article before posting my above comment (so I wouldn't need to post twice), but doing so just furthered my lack of intellectual respect for the study. As I suspected, their test simply took a bunch of largely arbitrary keywords coupled with an arbitrary definition of "pro-Bejing," and apparently made no attempt (like, you know, maybe a control group of "non-subversive" words) to determine if their methods might be flawed. Of course it's hard to tell how they really went about
  • by b0wl0fud0n (887462) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:47PM (#15549630)
    Yahoo may not intentionally be setting a strict policy towards censorship. You have to consider how the Chinese state is run. The Communist Party is an exclusive group of members who actively recruit in order to increase their influence over the population.

    During China's rapid economic growth as a result of foreign investment and a move towards a free market economy, the Communist Party was unable to cope with the rapidly changing environment and failed to make the transition into this environment and continued to recruit amongst traditional areas of the Chinese economy.

    Thus this created serious problems since Communist Party penetration in privately owned companies to less than one percent. This generated tremendous amounts of fear within the organization since they realized that they were falling behind on the times and needed to aggressively recruit from the educated portions of the population.

    Without new recruits within the new economy, the hold of the Communist Party on the population would be significantly weakened. A significant problem since the Communist Party's right to rule is derived from mostly propaganda and peer pressure. Few people feel like protesting the government because Chinese culture derives it's strength through strength by numbers. Belonging to a group is especially important to Chinese people and by going against the government, you suffer severe consequences socially, economically, etc.... You can easily see how the lack of Communist Party members within the richest and most profitable portions of the workforce could become a problem.

    One of the reasons why Communist Party membership penetration amongst the workforce was so low in privately owned businesses was because of a lack of recruitment amongst the intellectuals in the country. The educated group has always been shunned by the Communist Party throughout it's existence (ie Cultural Revolution/Tianamen/Hundred Flowers Campaign). However, when Communist Party members began to leave their posts to work for private corporations, the party was forced to change and the Communist Party began significantly recruiting from intellectuals. Since this movement started, Communist Party penetration has now grown to the 5-6% range within privately owned companies (although many neglect their duties and fail to pay their dues).

    My bet is that the Communist Party specifically targeted Yahoo when they were recruiting for new Communist Party members in order to create an internal system to maintain control and ensure that Yahoo, as a foreign privately owned company, wouldn't go too far out of line of Communist Party doctrine. There isn't much that Yahoo can do as a foreign company can do to change the internal culture of their Chinese employee workforce. You can't fight against the Chinese government.
    • I'm sure some of what you say is correct, it certainly makes sense. The only problem is that there is no choice but to fight the Chinese government when they commit so many humanitarian crimes. Yahoo has already aided the Chinese government in capitol punishment of those who speak against the norm. It's one thing to deny information from the public, but it's even worse to jail/torture/kill those who use their voice.

      If yahoo cannot control their subsidiary company in China, they should formally separate t
      • by Pink Tinkletini (978889) on Friday June 16, 2006 @01:25PM (#15549911) Homepage
        There are those in Europe who believe America's habit of capital punishment is morally wrong, and a grave humanitarian injustice (and I'd be inclined to agree). But suppose you testified in a capital case, and your testimony helped send the defendant to the gurney. Next time you fly into Heathrow, do you think you should you be pulled aside, shackled, and tried in the Queen's court of law? Or would you appeal to the fact that what Europe considers morally wrong isn't the same as what America considers morally wrong?
        • You misunderstand. Yahoo is run by Execs in the US. The execs would be fined or taken to court in the United States because they do their business here. I do understand the French citizens find Americans very disturbing and act very rudely to american tourists. I guess it's inevitable for countries of polar opinions to not get along. The only reason that Yahoo execs get away with murder is because they have a ton of money and are therefor above the law. (See Lay, Simpson, etc).
        • But suppose you testified in a capital case, and your testimony helped send the defendant to the gurney. Next time you fly into Heathrow, do you think you should you be pulled aside, shackled, and tried in the Queen's court of law?

          Sorry to butt in, but that's a really interesting question, and I'm not sure that the answer is "no". The principle of charging people for crimes committed in another country is fairly well established, and not just in the US (as with the likely extradition of Gary McKinnon [wikipedia.org]), b

        • But suppose you testified in a capital case, and your testimony helped send the defendant to the gurney. Next time you fly into Heathrow, do you think you should you be pulled aside, shackled, and tried in the Queen's court of law?

          Apparently, the F.B.I. believes that's EXACTLY what should happen. Just ask Dmitry Sklyarov [wikipedia.org].

    • Yahoo could refuse to provide the censored service. Or to be more accurate,it could if it were a human being. Since Yahoo is a corporation with no ulterior motive beyond the bottom line, ofcourse it will cooperate. Whereever the money is, Yahoo will follow. Plain and simple. Yahoo doesn't need to be in China, it went there seeking RICHES. It went to satisfy GREED.

      You'll never see a corporation sacrifice its life for the greater good. Put up its very existence in front of a military battle tank simply to m
  • Blocking Is Easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blueZhift (652272) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:48PM (#15549643) Homepage Journal
    Well, Yahoo! (and the others) are just following the money. And of course cutting stuff out of returned search results is probably not very hard to do, if you really don't care about unintentionally blocking other stuff. We can all be pretty sure that the saavy Chinese internet user knows that the results they get back are censored. It's too bad that U.S. based companies have to be such willing participants. But hey, they're just in it for the money like any for profit corporation. Just stating the obvious...
  • by cheesegunner (983036) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:53PM (#15549681)
    They can't possibly win this one... sure, "tibet independence" is blocked, but if you search "free tibet" on google.cn, you get nothing but pro-tibetan pages. It may take a while, but I think they'll eventually realize that, just or unjust be damned, it's just plain uneconomical to try to keep up with blocking search terms.
  • by abstract1 (982691) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:55PM (#15549700) Homepage
    I wonder when this will all stop...or better yet, what it is all leading up to? A different Internet for each country? A governing body consisting of members from various nations (yea right)? When is enough enough when it comes to freedom on the Internet? I mean, if they aren't even allowed to SEARCH, where will the next limitation be placed? It's only a matter of time before the masses revolt against such restrictions. But then again, (so to speak) - if they haven't seen the grass on the other side how do they know it is greener? Generations are growing up in these censored countries and don't even realize it is happening. Not only are they missing out on a lot of information on the internet, but their entire culture is being CHANGED based on what the government wants them to see and believe. Thoughts?
    • When is enough enough when it comes to freedom on the Internet?

      When technology advances enough for a common person to access it without having to rely on a company. I dunno, beam the information into space and store it as a tachyon field in a quasar. Or something.
    • A different Internet for each country? A governing body consisting of members from various nations (yea right)?

      You're right, the ineffectiveness of ICANN (to name one example), due to top-down political pressure from specific countries, is quite obvious. I suspect the most likely scenario is your first suggestion: a compartmentalised internet for each country, with some overlap. Efforts in the US to make the internet tiered seem to point this way; even if the US go ahead and make its own internet tiered,

  • The conclusion was made based on six politically sensitive keywords. A search on yahoo.cn resulted in 97% pro-Beijing results compared to 83% on google.cn and 78% on msn.cn."

    Go Microsoft! Then again, perhaps their incompetence is showing...
  • Firstly, I can't stand how any of these companies is just 'going along' with it. Yes, fiduciary responsiblity to investors etc but so would be dealing with the devil.

    To the point however, it's funny that all of this happens only due to the world's largest communist country accepting certain capitalist ideas. What i'm saying, is that if it wasn't due to the money factor then this wouldn't be happening, and the search engines of the world might (effectively even perhaps) force China to change some of their policies a bit. However, since money IS the issue (which for some reason in reading Marx/Engles I thought that money wasn't supposed to be controlling in Communisim) then the people are being censored.

    Were I a company, I'd just say "Fuck you" to China.

  • Methodology (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:59PM (#15549732) Homepage Journal

    From the article:

    Reporters Without Borders tested Chinese search engines by using the following "subversive" key words: "6-4" (4 June, date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), "Falungong", "Tibet Independence", "Democracy", "Human rights" and "press freedom". The first ten results displayed by each search engine were analysed and then divided into "authorized" and "unauthorized" sources of information.

    This seems like a rather simplistic analysis to me. Are most Chinese citizens going to use such obvious terms to search for information about topics they know the government is attempting to block? My understanding of how Chinese citizens use the Internet is limited, so I'm likely off base. It just seems to me that most Chinese users of Yahoo would be gathering information using terms less likely to be aggressively filtered. A broader comparison might be more useful in determining just how aggressively each engine is filtering results.

  • morally ambiguous (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigpat (158134) on Friday June 16, 2006 @01:17PM (#15549859)
    If you type in one of these terms on the search tool, first you receive an error message. If you then go back to make a new request, even with a neutral key word, yahoo.cn refuses to respond.

    I wonder if it is better to let your customers search for things that will get them persecuted? If there is simply an error then Yahoo could probably get away with simply not logging the attempted search. So eventually when they are compelled to hand over search logs to the police then they can claim that it was simply an error and perhaps not log the attempt in any detail. And, except that it is now documented, it is so subtle that police would be none the wiser.

    Then again this is precisely the type of thing authoritarian governments count on, that merely the threat of persecution is enough to suppress most challenges to their authority. Leaving the few real challenges to their authority to be dealt with harshly. Authoritarian and totalitarian governments really turn morality on its head and being honest about even the littlest thing might get yourself or someone else hurt or killed.

  • FTFA:

    Reporters Without Borders tested Chinese search engines by using the following "subversive" key words: "6-4" (4 June, date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), "Falungong", "Tibet Independence", "Democracy", "Human rights" and "press freedom". The first ten results displayed by each search engine were analysed and then divided into "authorized" and "unauthorized" sources of information.

    I am not a statistician, but that seems like kind of a small sample set for such a sweeping statement. Each search

  • Yahoo actually has the best filtering, technically speaking. All these companies have decided to go along with Chinese government policy and filter antigovernment content. It just happens that Yahoo's filter works better.
  • Ha! (Score:3, Funny)

    by calebtucker (691882) on Friday June 16, 2006 @01:21PM (#15549893) Journal
    You think the Chinese have it bad... I can only get to slashdot at work from 11:30 - 12:30! In the US even!
  • wtf? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Chutulu (982382)
    In Google.com if i search for 6-4 it displays 6 - 4 = 2 What kind of censorhip is this?? XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (censored) .....
  • Would this work? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Astatine210 (528456) on Friday June 16, 2006 @01:36PM (#15549981)

    As a possible tactic to foil China's crippling of internet searching (or, for that matter, any country's policy of censoring its internet input), set up a number of "code word" euphemisms for events happening in China that match phrases that don't initially look suspicious to the authorities, and which will blend into the background of most searches until long after the proverbial cat is out of the bag.

    For instance, set up a website that details the Tianenmen Square massacre of 1989; however, instead of plastering "Tianenmen Square Massacre" all over it, refer to it as the "Hunan Blossom Harvest". The language and pictures will make certain to anyone viewing the site that this is anything but horticultural; it's a depiction of a vicious crackdown on a peaceful public demonstration, with plenty of blatant "clues" to when and where it happened. Get plenty of friends to make websites referring to this event in the same manner.

    All it takes is for one returning "dissident" armed with the phrase, and I'm fairly certain the news will spread meme-like far faster than the authorities can crack down on it.

    Rinse and repeat with clear criticism of the Saudi royal family in slightly euphemistic Arabic, and other fun stuff.

    • You assume that the Chinese people are really interested in defeating the filters, and would be motivated to spread the information as required for ideological reasons. Seeing how weak the dissent in China is (don't forget to consider the population of the country), I'm afraid it won't work simply because people with more loyalist feelings will simply self-censor.
  • Ferengi Rule of Acquisition Number 33:

    It never hurts to suck up to the boss.
  • I've been saying during this whole debate that it's better for Google (and the others) to be there, rather than not be there. Mainly because they will be providing the Chinese people with more and better information that they had before. And the fact that censorship can never be 100%. So this study is telling us that Google is providing 17% more "undesirable" content than if they were not there. OK, maybe that math is not correct (assuming Chinese censorship was 100% effective before, it'd be infinitely mor
    • Yes but the fact that they exclude better than Baidu would be the counter argument.

      Likewise, it's good to know as the US gets more fascist that Google and Yahoo will march in lock step with them as they suppress our freedoms and make more kinds of information sharing illegal.

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