Censorship: Coming to a blog near you!

A few days ago when I blogged about Twitter’s new country-specific censorship capability, I did not know that the platform I was blogging on had already initiated a similar program three weeks earlier. Apparently the only indication of this fact was a new help article published on January 9th. There was no official announcement, and no attempt at transparency as there is from Twitter. Google does not say what will happen to censored blogs. Will they simply be invisible or will there be a notice saying they are censored? Will Google be publishing the take-down orders they receive the way Twitter will?

In any case, what this means is that if I blog about human rights, for instance, my blog could be blocked in any number of countries, and I may never even know it. But I am even more concerned about bloggers in those countries. When WordPress was approached by China in 2006 to censor blogs, they were also asked to hand over user information. To their credit, they refused, and WordPress blogs are still blocked in China (though the blocks are easily circumvented). But consider the implications if China made a similar request of Google. Google, along with Twitter, has now committed to obeying local laws, even if they violate universal human rights, in exchange for permission to operate in that country. If a country like China were to make a law that a web service must not only censor but supply information on all violators, how can a web company with resources invested in that country refuse? Now add in Google’s new “privacy” policy, which amalgamates user data across almost all Google services, including Gmail, YouTube, Google+, and of course Blogger. It is conceivable that a blogger who violates some censorship law might end up having their email, the videos they watched, and their friends’ names on Google+ handed over to their government. Now a service that used to give ordinary people a voice will not only take away that voice but could potentially denounce users to governments that imprison, torture, and kill dissidents.

I was already thinking of leaving Blogger but this is definitely the last straw. I do not want my blog to be subject to censorship laws in other countries, nor do I want to support a company that carries out censorship for the sake of ever-increasing profits. I am inclined to move to WordPress, which has already refused to censor and so is blocked in several countries (though as I said above, it is easy to circumvent those blocks and indeed WordPress is popular in China). They even state explicitly on their website that they support freedom of speech and will not censor blogs (with the usual exceptions of spam, pornography and hate speech). The only question is whether to use WordPress.com or self-hosted WordPress. Since I left Typepad in 2009 I’ve gotten used to not paying for my blog, but free WordPress.com is somewhat limited in design and widget options. Moreover, with US media companies trying to clamp down hard on copyright infringement, I may be better off locating my blog in Canada. I do like the idea of owning (or at least renting) my own little piece of cyberspace, but I’m not sure I want to deal with the technicalities of running WordPress on my own. I will have to investigate the options, but I certainly will be moving this blog in the near future. Stay tuned…

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7 comments on “Censorship: Coming to a blog near you!

  1. Stefanie says:

    I'm sure you know Google has been censoring search results in China and other countries for years. I resent that they do that and it is all because they don't want to lose money. Apparently making money at the expense of free speech doesn't fall under their “do no evil” motto. If you go the self-hosting route you will suddenly find you have loads and loads of WordPress templates to choose from. Have fun figuring it all out!

  2. Google was censoring search results in China but they stopped in 2010 after China hacked into the Gmail accounts of human rights activists. They now operate out of Hong Kong, which I guess is out of the Chinese government's control. You'd think they'd have learned from that but apparently not.
    The more I think about WordPress the most inclined I am to go the hosted route. Picking from zillions of templates might be fun, but doing all the maintenance… not so much!

  3. Matt says:

    What can I say? What ever happened to freedom of speech in the internet? What happened to Google's commitment to “do no evil?” I guess, they decided to throw out their principles, when they found out that they're going to lose a lot of money.

    I'm just glad to find out that WordPress (where I blog) didn't cave in to the pressure of censoring their blogs. I hope other companies in the internet would do the same.

  4. The crazy thing is that Google is already making bazillions of dollars every year. They don't *need* any more business, but it seems to be the religion of business nowadays that it's not enough to make a profit, they must make bigger profits every year or else the shareholders will elect a board of directors that will. Unfettered greed is causing such destruction worldwide that it's no wonder it is damaging the internet as well. None of us is immune!

  5. Matt says:

    Indeed we live in a crazy world. I can't, for the life of me, understand why a company like Google (which earns billions of dollars) would like to have more money, to the extent that they're sacrificing their principles just to earn more.

    You're right the reason is summarized in one word: greed. Not only Google, but even a lot of people in our materialistic and consumeristic society are never satisfied with what they have. They want more. So sad, because, at the end of the day, people are still unhappy even though they have a lot of stuff. What's more, companies like Google, in their desire to have more, end up hurting a lot people.

  6. Yes, you're absolutely right. It is no accident that the Bible says “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” I think most religions and philosophies point out the foolishness of chasing after riches and yet after thousands of years we keep doing it!

  7. […] I posted earlier, I am leaving Blogger because of their decision to start censoring blogs at the request of […]

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