So the “solution” to providing uncensored Chinese-language search, at least right now (beginning 22 March, 2010), is to have Chinese citizens use google.com.hk (hk==Hong Kong) rather than mainland-based google.cn. I guess it’s a breakthrough idea to do this, since under Hong Kong law, the uncensored search is legal, but of course the arguments going on these days about restrictive access to the Internet have to do with nations trying to restrict the access of their citizens based on physical location. And the location of a server is important because the local authorities can come in and physically shut you down.
But the great firewall is already blocking Google.com.hk content, as would be expected.
We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced—it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. —David Drummond, Google
An experiment gone wrong: I’m glad they did this, but well, why didn’t they do it this way in the first place? Why all the hair-tearing and gnashing of teeth while making the decision, and then put an office and servers in mainland China in the first place, and now have to revisit the decision? Hmmm. To many executives I’ve worked with, that would be a terrible admission of weakness, but to engineers (and to more and more investors) it’s just something they tried that didn’t work, and so they moved on.
When it started (2006): Here’s a report from Human Rights Watch about the new Google.cn service, Race to the Bottom, written at that time.
The cantonization* of the Internet: Ultimately what I’m concerned about is that the Internet is fragmenting into national enclaves or cantons where 1) content from “outside” is filtered or prohibited, and 2) what can be written by citizens is severely restricted. Most likely that’s not exactly what the early Internet developers were expecting in 1973. [also see canton]
What’s interesting to me, working on the edge of network security, is that the law-abiding citizens of many countries are going to be denied open access to information while hackers (who are “criminals” by their own national standards), who circumvent the technologies and the law, will probably have the most complete access to the wealth of information and communication taking place on the Internet. —Sky
Some good background viewing and reading on the issue:
Yeah, I’m calling it Cantonization rather than the traditional term, balkanization. I think it’s more appropriate to the Chinese situationcanton. [“Canton” comes from the Portuguese pronunciation of Guangdong, the Chinese province.]
What will happen if countries draw international borders on the Internet? [2008, Odeo, MIT] And some comments on Laitman.com
Apple’s iTunes, NPR, Barriers to Giving, and the “Appliancing” of National Boundaries  Some materials can only be downloaded within certain geographical areas, and it may be illegal to take them into certain countries due to local restrictions (wipe your computer before you travel…)
Adrian Monck, Unrequired Reading – particularly the last part where he points out that Google is [December 2008] becoming able to negotiate with national governments on what will or won’t be done with respect to searches performed by residents of their countries.