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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

China's Google users see little change after move

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

An internet user in a Beijing cafe, 23 March
Google launched in China in 2006

Google's decision to redirect its China-based website to Hong Kong could have major consequences - but not yet for Google users in China.

The US firm is now offering unfiltered services through this website, but search results are still being censored in mainland China.

Sensitive information that was not accessible before is still being blocked by the Chinese government.

And some other services - such as free music downloads - are still available in China, as they were previously, through the internet firm's google.cn site.

Google announced on Monday that it had stopped censoring search results for news, images and other information.

It had originally agreed to self-censor those results when it set up the google.cn site, based in mainland China, in 2006.

Internet users who now try to log on to google.cn are redirected to the firm's Hong Kong-based site, where in theory they can get uncensored information.

That is because Hong Kong, though part of China, is governed by a different - and more liberal - set of laws established when it was still a British colony.

Alert to censorship

But Google's search results were not just being censored by the company itself - they were also being censored by the Chinese government.

So even though Google is now providing unfiltered information, China's internet screening programme, known as the Great Firewall, is still at work.

The effect is that many search results on google.com.hk are still unavailable in China.

For example, searching the words "Tiananmen Massacre" in English in China can bring up results, but internet users are still prevented from opening these pages.

The search in Chinese gets no results, just a page with the message, "the connection was reset".

The same message appears when searching for information in Chinese about the Dalai Lama, the exiled head of Tibetan Buddhism.

Chinese-language information about the spiritual movement Falun Gong - banned in China, but legal in Hong Kong - is also blocked. A message tells users that there is a problem loading the page.

Google's decision to redirect its Chinese searches to Hong Kong may still have an effect on internet users in the mainland in terms of perception.

Chinese journalist and blogger Michael Anti said users in China might now become more aware that their country censors the internet.

He told the BBC: "For those people who've got used to self-censorship, they will notice the existence of censorship. That's the big impact."



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