Google representatives met with government officials over the weekend to discuss concerns with the service of Google.cn, and its displaying of pornographic images, after authorities ordered the company to remove such search features last week.
"We will continue to meet with the government to address their concerns, and we wish to communicate directly with them in regard to our services and progress in addressing this problem," Cui Jin, a press officer at Google China, told the Global Times via e-mail yesterday.
The e-mail said Google is conducting a thorough review of their service and taking all necessary steps to fix any problems with their results. "This has been a substantial engineering effort, and we believe we have addressed the large majority of the problem results."
Public opinion remains divided on whether Internet search engines should be held responsible for jeopardizing the "well-being" of China's juvenile Web users by providing them easy access to online pornography.
The debate comes after State media blasted Google with intensive coverage, criticizing it for facilitating searches for pornographic content.
"Google China's website has not installed filters to block pornography in accordance with the laws and regulations of our nation," the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Centre (CIIRC) said Thursday.
CCTV coverage under fire
China Central Television (CCTV) has also participated in the coverage seen as a mounting campaign to punish Google.
In Thursday's edition of Focus, CCTV's flagship news-analysis program, a university student named Gao Ye was interviewed and blamed Google China for having a negative impact on one of his course mates, claiming the search engine offered links to pornographic websites.
However, online posts about Gao Ye's identity as an intern at the State-run broadcaster began to circulate the following day. A staff member working with Focus also confirmed Gao's identify to the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily.
The exposure set off a cyber manhunt for Gao, with Web users quickly circulating his private information, including his mobilephone number, the name of the university he attends and a photo of him and his girlfriend.
To escape harassment, Gao reportedly changed his mobile number Saturday after deleting his blog a day earlier.
Many Web users said the incident not only hurt CCTV's credibility, but also makes the reports about Google look more like organized attacks rather than objective reporting. The only other people interviewed by CCTV were three teachers who shared the same opinion as Gao.
A blogger on Sohu.com, named Chezou, questioned the lack of balanced reporting, saying, "Where is Google China?" in the story.
The program was also accused of asking leading questions to an interviewee to solicit comments against Google China.
"Focus is famous for its in-depth reporting," Chezhou wrote. "But its June 18 program was nothing but biased reporting."
About half of the 3,600 Internet users polled by huanqiu.com, the Global Times' website, claimed that they believed Google China had a role, to some degree, in facilitating the spread of online pornography, while 37 percent ruled out the charge. Meanwhile, 52 percent of respondents said Google China deserves to be punished, though 40 percent held the opposite view.
Gauging Google's duty
"I don't think it is Google China's responsibility for what people want to search for," Linus Lee, a British expat in Beijing, told the Global Times. "As a private company whose main product is a search engine, Google's objective is to help people find what they are looking for as quickly as possible, not deciding what is and isn't an appropriate search."
But a search-engine specialist and IT engineer surnamed Zhang told the Global Times that it isn't unreasonable for authorities to task Google with helping prevent the spread of pornographic contents, adding that search engines help spread unhealthy information.
"Search engines, as means to spread information, give the same weight to porn or non-porn content on the basis of information sharing," Zhang said. "Ultimately, it is a matter of how overseas companies adapt themselves to Chinese law."
Zhang said it is easier, in terms of cost and technology, for the government to regulate domestic search engines rather than crack down on porn servers abroad.
Various takes on China's huge online population, estimated at 300 million, have filled the country's popular news portals and online forums.
On Sohu.com, an Internet user named bgyl wrote, "Google not only helps spread obscene information, but also impinges on the personal information of online users."
But the government's crackdown on Google has also fueled indignation among some Web users.
Lisa Chen, a Beijing-based business consultant specializing in corporate social responsibility, told the Global Times that this isn't the first time a well-known Internet company has been blamed for illegal or improper operations regarding information searches.
Chen noted that Baidu.com, a leading domestic search engine in China, was accused of fraud last year for its bid ranking, a service enabling firms that have paid fees to appear first in search results.
"Social responsibility also applies in the IT industry," Chen said.
"China's Internet market has huge untapped potential. As an important service provider, Google China should give priority to the requirements on Internet management set by the Chinese government," said Su Jingxiang at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
"The Internet is the most important infrastructure in modern societies, and it also serves as a new battleground and complementary tool in the battle of international politics, militaries and economies," Su said.
In the meantime, Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University, called for more legislative and parental efforts to cement protection of the country's children.
"It is not a matter of barring what a search engine can provide; it's a matter of the legislature calling for guardians to fulfill their responsibility to help the under-aged stay away from porn," Shen said.
Kang Juan and Guo Qiang contributed to this story
Source: Global Times