Posted by Senior Director, Juliette Terzieff:
Google has joined Twitter as the latest major Internet player to limit content as needed on a country-by-country basis as a means to answer varied restrictions that could prevent the provision of services. Twitter announced earlier this year it would be censoring tweets by country—meaning that if a tweet could be construed as offensive in a country or violate the country’s laws, the microblogger would remove it from view in that country. Google has now followed suit with a similar statement in regards to its blog content.
Google has previously limited its search engine, blocking content specific searches in places like China, where the demand had to be met or the Internet company wouldn’t be allowed to operate in the country.
Blogger, Google’s free blogging website, can now be censored by country, just like Twitter, although there remains a way to gain access. Google changed the URL of each site automatically by country, converting the site to blogspot.co.uk, blogspot.co.nz, .blogspot.co.au, and so on, depending on which country users are accessing the website from. The way around the country by country system is to use blogspot.com/ncr (i.e. no country redirect). Using the bypass will allow users in any country to see all content posted on Blogger.
Twitter employed a similar bypass when it began censoring tweets. In a post on January 26, 2012, Twitter stated, “As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.”
“One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice,” the Twitter post said. “We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The tweets must continue to flow.”
The bypass Twitter employs is very easy to find in its Help Center so that content can’t be censored or deleted, and all it requires is changing the country in which one resides, much like Google has done. The tweets can’t be censored if they’re being tweeted from a country where the law isn’t being broken.
While Google’s decision to restrict posts on a country by country basis could be construed as a suppression of expression, it actually allows for the information to remain accessible elsewhere and improves on previous availability.
Before Google made the change, it “needed to take down material under the laws of one or another country,” and that meant that no one could see the content because it was removed from the system entirely. “Moving to the new system means that [Google] can make it inaccessible only to those in a country where the statement is indeed potentially illegal, leaving the rest of the world to carry on as before.”
Google responded in a question and answer statement, “Migrating to localized domains will allow us to continue promoting free expression and responsible publishing while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law.
“By utilizing ccTLDs, content removals can be managed on a per country basis, which will limit their impact to the smallest number of readers. Content removed due to a specific country’s law will only be removed from the relevant ccTLD,” the Internet giant said. “If you visit a blog that does not correspond to your current location as determined by your IP address, the blogspot servers will redirect you to the domain associated with your country, if it’s a supported ccTLD.”
The actions taken by Google and Twitter to moderate posts where potential legal action could incur allows the companies to continue offering services in restrictive environments where access to information may be needed most. Even if current conditions require some limitations, keeping the information highway open—even partially—can help foment climates where change is possible.