The Great Firewall of China is under fire, the first of Google’s movements in search encryption. However the aim extends to use encryption globally. The goal would be encrypting everything, not only a move against government censorship, but also spying done by agencies such as the NSA. However there has been debate if this search encryption announcement is merely a PR team keeping Google’s reputation up, or if this is actually something that will benefit all search users, beginning with China and working towards NSA protection.
The company is making good on a pledge a year ago by executive chairman Eric Schmidt. He stated eliminating censorship had real potential to be within the decade and censoring could no no longer be possible. Because of China’s reputation of extreme data restriction, this is a smart place to begin. The hold the government has over what their people see involves stopping searches involving “Dalai Lama” or “Falun Gong.” Google will be encrypting censored terms server-side. However there are several questions about if this will have any effect.
One being that Google does not receive much traffic as a search engine in China. Only 1.4 percent of computer users conduct searches on Google. Not all of those may receive the protection encryption which will not work on older browsers, such as outdated versions of Internet Explorer. This is where many have pointed fingers that Google’s encryption of Chinese searches could be more PR than anything else, until a movement towards NSA is made. The effects may not extend far enough to be practical.
“The younger folk who persist with Google may have found ways around these speed bumps already,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, senior associate dean of International Business and Finance at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. Chakraborti explained they could be accessing proxy servers, and over all was not impressed by Google’s new move. “To my mind, this is primarily a smoke signal sent up by Google about its “new digital age” mission. As far as real impact, the state still has the upper hand.” And they certainly do, after all, Google could just be blocked completely by the government.
However some have spoken out that, even if it is just a PR move, it could be useful. Percy Alpha, the founder of Great Firewall of China monitor group GreatFire.org explained that the authorities censoring the Chinese people will be facing “a huge headache.” He also is looking forward to other companies embracing the steps Google is taking, and hopes more will make encryption a default.”
Introducing the encryption is more than just a hope of good publicity according to Richard Clayton, computer security researcher at UK’s University of Cambridge. “I expect it’s significantly easier to have the same setup everywhere,” he said. Google wanting to extend encryption even in liberal western democracies, where government snooping is an issue. They also seek to prevent ISPs from using search data with marketing and monetizing agendas.
Chakravorti continued discussing the commercial challenges that Google is bringing upon themselves. They potentially face being blocked and losing “the biggest growth market in the history of growth markets.” He expects that the result of “playing poker with the Chinese government” will not end long, predicting the government will simply call Google’s bluff because they have nothing to lose. If Google extends their search encryption to cover those watched by the NSA, talk about a PR move will quiet down, until then it remains to be seen how China will react.
By Whitney Hudson