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Google Excludes E-mail and Weblogs In Chinese Version of Search Engine

By David Barboza
THE NEW YORK TIMES


SHANGHAI, CHINA

Google is bringing a special version of its powerful search engine to China, leaving behind two of its most popular features in the United States.

In an effort to cope with China’s increasingly pervasive Internet controls, Google Inc. said Tuesday that it would introduce a search engine here this week that excludes e-mail messages and creating blogs.

Google officials said the new search engine, Google.cn, was created partly as a way to avoid potential legal conflicts with the Chinese government, which has become much more sophisticated at policing and monitoring material appearing on the Internet.

Web sites have exploded in popularity in a country eager for freer flow of information. But Web portals and search engines trying to win Chinese users face a significant balancing act: They do not want to flout government rules and guidelines that restrict the spread of sensitive content, but they want to attract users with interesting content.

One result has been that search engines and Web portals have censored their sites by themselves and cooperated with Chinese authorities. Indeed, the move to create a new site comes after Google itself as well as Yahoo and Microsoft have come under scrutiny over the last few years for cooperating with the Chinese government to censor or block online content.

Currently, people in China use Google by accessing its global engine, Google.com. But industry experts say the problem is that the site is often not accessible from inside China, possibly because it is blocked by Chinese authorities culling what is deemed to be sensitive or illegal information.

Google’s new Chinese platform, which will not allow users to create personal links with Google e-mail or blog sites, will comply with Chinese law and censor information deemed inappropriate or illegal by the Chinese authorities. This approach might help the company navigate the legal thickets that competitors have encountered in China.

Foreign companies say they must abide by Chinese laws and pass personal information about users on to the Chinese government. In one case two years ago, Yahoo provided information that helped the government convict a Chinese journalist sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets to a foreign Web site.

The challenge, though, is also trying to attract Chinese users to a censored engine. Google officials conceded that the company was struggling to balance the need to bolster its presence in the huge China market with the increasingly stringent regulations that govern Internet use here.

“Google is mindful that governments around the world impose restriction on access to information,” a senior executive wrote in a response. “In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy. 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.”