when is a search engine not a search engine?

Is it okay to remove sites from search results in response to lawsuits? Check out this search and make sure you read the disclaimer at the bottom. Then read about Google agreeing to censor their results in China, begging the question “Are censored results better than none at all?” Gmail and Blogger will also not be available to Chinese users of Google. As a quickie example, you can see the results for Tiananmen Square searches: US Google, Chinese Google, Chinese Google search using Chinese characters. The Chinese searches have the disclaimer “据当地法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示” or “In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of these search results are not displayed.” This is all in addition to other blocking strategies, commonly referred to as The Great Firewall of China. However in this case Google.cn doesn’t just block searches for keywords, it blocks selectively sometimes without saying that it’s doing so. Slightly more explanation and intrigue over at Search Engine Watch, Google Blogoscoped and Google’s own official blog.

Why does this matter to librarians? Well, it’s obvious how it matters to librarians in China. It also calls into question the very idea of objectivity in search engines everywhere. As Google spends more time and effort currying favor with librarians trying to show how sympatico they are, this move is a departure from expanding access. People who search Google.cn for topics like Tibet or Falun Gong (or possible even other less innocuous topics) won’t just find an absence of results, they’ll find results that are skewed towards the Chinese government’s policies about those topics. That’s wrong. Pundits argue that this is a sensible move for Google from a business perspective, and I won’t debate that, but it does serve to starkly highlight the differences in saying “free acces to information” if you’re a for-profit shareholder-owned company. Any librarian who has had to grapple with a filter with an unknown blacklist will be familiar with the struggles that people on the non-filtered side of Google are going through trying to figure out just what is happening. [metafilter]