back to article Google's Brin admits he under-estimated Chinese censorship

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has admitted he was wrong to question China’s long-term ability to restrict the free flow of information online, as the Communist Party’s crack down on internet rumours following suggestions of a failed coup continues. Speaking to The Guardian, the billionaire said he didn’t believe five years ago …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a foreigner living in China...

    I have seen many iterations of vpn come and go. If one is too popular it will be blocked. I refuse to pay for one as it is never certain how long it will be able to tunnel under the Great Chinese Firewall.

    I long have wished for a China (as it is a great country) that has the same freedom as western countries when it comes to expressing their feelings toward their government.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a foreigner living in China...

      I think the day will come when "China has the same freedom as western countries when it comes to expressing their feelings toward their government". I'm just concerned that we may be headed towards them, rather than the other way around.

  2. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The joys of absolute power

    That's the problem with living in a democracy: you tend to take things for granted. So we all blithely assume that we have and always will have a "right" to express ourselves (although in practice it's never been as far-reaching as it's fans would have you believe) by whatever means available. So we build our infrastructure without even acknowledging the assumption we've made. Whether we should consider the internet's inability to circumvent censorship as a bug is debatable. in the early days (ahh, so young, so naive) it was popular to say "the internet sees censorship as a fault and routes around it". That was fine until the assumption was tested and found wanting - presumably because none of the idealists ever thought than censorship could be done on such a wide scale.

    The only question now is whether our western governments are quietly sidling up to the chinese and surreptitiously whispering "can you help us with our internet 'problem'?". Meanwhile, we're just waiting for the Big Yellow Taxi to turn up.

    You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dignified typing!

    "But in the long run, its leaders must understand it's not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can't live with the consequences of that."

    Yes, they could, and they most certainly would if it was preferable to the alternative.

    China has managed to both quell and remove all trace of entire schools of thought, logistical networks, scientific achievement and so forth from itself since about the end of the Xia dynasty. It has and always will survive because it actually has it's priorities straight ( usually) in that the people are fed(more often than not), and they are not attacked from the outside (often). China invented the idea of a dark age before anything in Europe still standing was laid down, and they have proven time and again they don't actually need anyone else, we're a nice to have who can try out new ideas, suffer the failings, and hand over the useful parts to be re purposed.

    Like any jumpy artist, yon gentleman obviously doesn't know his history well enough.

    China will get the Internet(s) `right` from a governmental perspective, and the rest of the world will probably copy them.

    But perhaps not in this century.

    1. asdf

      Re: Dignified typing!

      >It has and always will survive because it actually has it's priorities straight ( usually) in that the people are fed(more often than not),

      Wow what a fail statement. See Great Leap Forward (where wacky priorities led to 50 to 100 million people starving to death) or the Culture Revolution. As for more distant history if you look almost all the largest famines in history have been in China.

    2. asdf

      Re: Dignified typing!

      Also perhaps China will exist in a century but a single Communist party for a government won't. Our system has just proven it can take a massive downturn without revolution. China hasn't. And with China having the mother of all real estate bubbles with completely empty cities being built its going to be ugly when the growth rate trends the wrong direction for the first time in a generation.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Darn right

    Wait until they start forcing PayPal to freeze your account, credit card companies to stop accepting transactions to your account, banks to freeze your assets and ATM access, phone companies to record your phone calls and location etc.

  5. Danny 14
    Thumb Down

    how naive

    So he thought citizens would start some kind of cyber uprising? Good lord does he know nothing about china? They control things in much the same way as apple. They want everything to look and appear the same. If they dont like something they squash it at source.

  6. JaitcH

    Good but not perfect

    I have many friends teaching in the more remote parts of China, essentially farmers children, and from many geographically separated areas I hear of uprisings and riots by farmers upset with prices or other concerns.

    The Chinese Swat Teams are more properly described as Swat Regiments with personnel carriers with fire nozzles on top used for spraying Pepper Gas. The ordinary Chinese policeman is not really a nice person, but these masked Swat types make the local Chinese cop look like a best buddy.

    How often do you hear of these gatherings in the West? The Chiese firewall works well on public communications.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: ...from many geographically separated areas I hear of uprisings and riots...

      And therein lies the root problem. While I am opposed to the totalitarian nature of the Chinese regime, I still must recognize their fear of their greatest threat: a small riot becomes a medium revolt, becomes a full-fledged civil war with casualty counts to make the combined Axis and Allies counts pale in comparison (and that's including the Holocaust in the total). And unfortunately, when dealing with something irrational like fear, it doesn't matter how logical it is to point out that continuing repression ensures that the civil war aspect is even more likely if you can't resolve it at the smaller levels.

      1. JaitcH
        Thumb Up

        Re: ...from many geographically separated areas I hear of uprisings and riots...

        The Central Government fears the farmers as they have so much power. Food.

        Large cities require uninterrupted supply lines. Consider ChongQing (aka ChongChing): it has 30-million residents and is a great manufacturing centre with emphasis on vehicles. One days food stoppage would have an immediate effect on markets which function much like Covent Garden or Smithfields. What comes in in the morning is gone by the afternoon, the difference being the end customer is retail in China.

        A couple of years ago a farmer, with huge numbers of hectares under crop, told the GuangXi Government that he wold not deliver tomatoes to NanNing. The cost of transporting the produce 30 kilometres was not worth it.

        The GuangXi Government sent police and troops but he was adamant. So they sent fuel trucks and he delivered the tomatoes - and dumped them at the market, free for all to take.

        Subsequently the GuangXi Government set up a marketing scheme whereby farmers costs were met and no more free food - which disturbed the market equilibrium.

        The farmers know, as does BeiJing, they have power, the power of supply interruption.

        1. Tom 13

          @JaitcH: Yep, that's exactly the sort of scenario

          where a small dispute is prone to go all the way to civil war.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Behold China

    It is still a communist country. When you put capitalist lipstick on a communist pig, it is still a pig.

    It is not just political dissent. China also censors skeletons in World of Warcraft. Claims that gory/macabre depictions of the undead has a bad influence on society. Go figure.

    The communist regime of China must fall, otherwise things will never change.

    1. J@Register

      Re: Behold China

      My dear friend, I'm a Chinese. I thanks for your concern about the political model of my country which would benefit my fellow people(citizens yet to be), I appreciate.

      However, I do not 100% agree with your thinking. China is not communist, like several but not many other countries still along the road invented by German thinker, it's feudal. it's not kind of democracy. Nazi German may is. But most socialist regime are not, mindset of most its governor remains in feudalism status. It's not that developed qualified to be recognized as Communist of Socialist. None of any country in this world qualified, in Marx's theory.

      Back to China, it's not an issue about what kind of democracy, and democracy is not a patented invention which can learn or adopted from one nation to other, all are natural of human being, you have will to think, you need right to make a sound, to express your attitude, and you need do something in accordance to your attitude. Democracy is not an invention.

      I'm a Chinese, I hate those asylum-favored betrayers selling the idea about divided power, bi-party parliamentary. If you believe in God, trust me, existing model of US or UK or any kind of democracy do make sense in China. Why? Because people need to wakeup, need to learn about self-dignity, need to have common sense about life & value. People don't learn, democracy fails. What will happen if I give you a vote ticket, while you throw it in garbage can???

      What if an event like this time, Mr.Bo's case, so many people don't even care to make an opinion??? What if the governor is shamelessly performing such a disgusting propaganda show while many other's (paid or pressed)following and chanting?

      You ever heard of 50 cents party? That's the problem, not communist, none of human history ever attained that level, no one knows if it could be attained.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    if he is truly worried and WANTS to actually do something to reverse the trend

    He should get Google to develop softwares that would help internet freedom.

    Google's engineering team working on Darknet / Freenet / Tor as well as encryption algorithms without government intervension is the only things that will keep the internet free in the long run.

    Let's not just talk about China. Iran, US, UK, France etc.. every soverign state now has their eyes fixated on controlling the internet.

    Mr Sergey Brin. A man of your abilities should be perfectly capable of helping out. You probably only chose not to.

    Btw, my suggestion is base on the fact that software that counters internet survellance and government intervention on the internet is not widespread enough and also not high quality enough to be able to provide exactly the same performance or close to the vanilla internet.

    If Freenet and Tor can be made to perform, I'd be happy to run it full time, but unfortunately it's not.

    1. Michael H

      @AC 16/04/2012 17:53 Google are not philanthropists

      The fact of the matter is, this won't happen. As much as people like to think, Google isn't a philanthropic organisation, sworn to protect all free speech on the internet. Google is a publicly-traded for-profit company with a market in advertising and web analysis, and a swarm of shareholders to keep happy.

      As projects like Freenet and Tor undermine the traceability of users, which is the cornerstone of their whole profit-making operations that subsidise the squishy PR parts of Google, there's no way they will invest anything significant into their R&D.

      They have provided some small contribution to Tor (under $100k incl. stipends paid out to GSoC participants according to their website), but this is another part of their PR creed of "Do No Evil". It's not enough to make a significant inroad to censorship prevention, and it's certainly not enough to turn it into global censorship resistant network capable of supporting the world's general population. What Google can do and what they will do are not the same.

      As for the Hong Kong move, that was most likely a business move with a PR to appeal to Western consumers. My assumption is that their boardroom felt that the cost of complying with Chinese takedown orders frequently wasn't worth continuing in that market, especially considering they probably felt helpless to compete with a Chinese company that probably had big friends in the party and the national pride of a large part of the billion-strong population.

      1. jaime

        Re: @AC 16/04/2012 17:53 Google are not philanthropists

        As projects like Freenet and Tor undermine the traceability of users, as does Facebook which what the main point of the original article, I believe LOL.

        1. Michael H

          You've either misunderstood me or not read what I've written

          Facebook and Google are all about identity consolidation and profiling in order to gather advertising metrics, which all rely on key aspects of the way the internet and web browsers work. Projects like Tor and Freenet attempt to engineer networks and software which preserve free speech by anonymity, and so undermine the ability of advertisers and analytics firms to track and profile users, a seriously large part of their business. Firms like Yahoo, MS, Google, Facebook, Alexa, etc will never support these projects on a significant scale because it would destroy the foundations of their internet businesses, full stop.

      2. ratfox

        Re: @AC 16/04/2012 17:53 Google are not philanthropists

        Actually, considering the trinity at the top of Google owns a majority of voting shares, they do not need to care about the publicly-traded shares...

  9. J@Register
    Thumb Down

    Mainland China doesn't has a thing called Media

    I understand there's not a thing in Mainland China qualified to be called as Media.

    The efficiency for the authority to extinguish public concern about any dirty news or unrest connecting with itself, is impressive.

    It's well covered its shameless deeds over the country and its people. It's like a infective disease spread all over the world. it's believed that now, the United States and France all brought out law for Internet control. It's a struggle between elites and plain citizens.

    Who fears the rumor is equal to say that he's too weak or far from truth, simple enough. Otherwise, people, the majority are insane/childish most of times, in elite governor's eyes.

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