Google still censoring porn for redirected Chinese users

Users of one version of Google's Hong Kong site cannot change the SafeSearch filter setting

Google is still censoring pornographic search results for users in China, even though they are now being redirected to a Google search engine that does not block sensitive political content.

Google this week started redirecting users who visit its China-based search engine to a version of Google.com.hk, the company's Hong Kong site, that uses simplified Chinese script. Google's SafeSearch filter, which blocks content such as porn and profanity, currently cannot be lifted on that version of the Hong Kong site.

That contrasts with the version of the site based on traditional Chinese script, the written version of the language that is used in Hong Kong but not in mainland China. Users of that version can adjust the strength of the SafeSearch filter.

A Google spokeswoman said the company was working on allowing users of the simplified-Chinese version to adjust the filter.

Users of Google's Hong Kong site can easily switch between its two Chinese-language versions. Native Chinese speakers can often read both written versions of the language, so circumventing the checks on pornographic content would be simple for a user who experiments with settings.

But blocking porn by default for redirected users could be meant to soften government anger over Google's switch to Hong Kong. China shut down thousands of Web sites last year in repeated crackdowns on Internet porn. Pornographic search results sparked a row between Google and China last year that ultimately led to Google.com and other Google sites being blocked briefly in the country. Google defused the tension by changing the algorithm on its China-based search engine, Google.cn, to exclude the problematic results.

Google angered Chinese authorities again this week by starting to redirect users of Google.cn to its Hong Kong site, acting on a pledge made two months ago to stop censoring search results for Chinese users. Sensitive political content blocked in mainland China, such as discussions about Tibetan independence, appears in the unfiltered search results on Google's Hong Kong site. China slammed the move as "totally wrong" and users expressed fear that the Hong Kong site or other Google services could be blocked in retribution.

Google also said on Wednesday that it plans to keep offering censored search services to some of its business partners in China.

"We have over a dozen syndication deals with partners in China," a Google spokeswoman said. "Over time we will not be syndicating censored search to partners in China, but we will of course fulfill our existing contractual obligations."

Google already lost one of its China search partners this week as portal owner Tom Online switched the provider for searches on its site to Baidu.com, Google's top rival in China.

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Owen Fletcher

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