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Google Inc. on Wednesday launched a special version of its search engine in China, choosing to drop Web mail and blogging services in the country where government censors actively monitor its citizens' Web activity.
The Mountain View, Calif., company had previously offered a Chinese-language version of its U.S. search engine, "resulting in latency and access issues that have been unsatisfying to our Chinese users," Google said in a statement.
Experts have speculated that Chinese censors may have blocked access to the site at times, while considering whether certain information was acceptable. Google officials, who declined a request for an interview, told The New York Times that the new version was launched in part to avoid legal conflicts with the Chinese government, which has grown more sophisticated in censoring Internet activity.
In launching a new version of its search engine with China's Web suffix ".cn," Google has removed some content from search results in accordance with local law, regulation or policy, Andrew McLaughlin, senior policy counsel for Google, said in the company's statement.
"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission," McLaughlin said. That mission is to make "all the world's information universally available and accessible."
In addition, the search engine will not offer Web mail or its blogging service in China, until the company is "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," McLaughlin said. U.S. Internet companies have walked a tightrope in China, which is trying to keep a firm grip on the dissemination of information through the Web. While trying to lure customers to their sites, companies have also been forced to allow government censorship, and to cooperate with officials.
Yahoo Inc. last year gave information about journalist Shi Tao's personal email account to Beijing, which later jailed him for 10 years on charges of divulging state secrets. Microsoft Corp. in January confirmed that it took down from its hosting service the blog of outspoken Chinese journalist Zhao Jing, saying that it was complying with China's laws.
U.S. search engines, such as Google, Microsoft MSN, and Yahoo, also censor their Chinese-language search results at the request of the government.
Google is battling Chinese search engine Baidu.com, which leads the market. Google officials have told The Times that the company is loosing share to Baidu, partly because of the difficult people have had in using Google.com. Yahoo China trails both Baidu and Google, which owns a small share of Baidu.