Web site shows search censorship in different countries

March 14, 2006

Search engines might be created with the intent to give all users equal access to the same information, but a Web site created by researchers at the Indiana University School of Informatics visualizes how some countries' censorship laws affect search results. CenSEARCHip examines versions of Google and Yahoo used in the United States, China, Germany and France. It compares any two countries' results from a single engine's Web or image search using the same keywords.

The project was spearheaded by Filippo Menczer, associate professor of informatics and computer science; and Mark Meiss, a computer science doctoral student. CenSEARCHip largely was inspired by Google's decision in January to create a new version for China (google.cn) and adhere to the government's free-speech restrictions.

In announcing its decision, Google argued it would be more damaging to pull its services from the world's most populous country than to offer a localized search engine compliant with China's constraints. Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN.com also have submitted to the Chinese government's online restrictions.

"We wanted to explore the results returned by major search engines and in so doing to foster an informed debate on the impact of search censorship on information access throughout the world," says Menczer, an expert in Web intelligence and data mining applications.

When a user enters a keyword and then clicks on the "Web Search" or "Image Search" button on the CenSEARCHip site, each side of the display highlights the results unique to that national version. For "Web Search," cenSEARCHip uses so-called "tag clouds" to highlight those terms that are most common in results from one version of the engine and least common in the other.

"For Web search the system downloads the top few pages unique to each country's results," explains Meiss, a researcher at IU's Advanced Network Management Lab, who constructed CenSEARCHip based on a prototype created by Menczer. As the pages are downloaded, a set of words of varying size appears in each half of the display.

"When comparing the U.S. and Chinese Google sites, users tend to get quite different results when searching political topics such as human rights and democracy," says Meiss. "In China, the blocked sites tend to be Western news media, political parties and the military, international organizations, militant Islamic groups, information related to Taiwan and Tibet and sites with pornographic content."

For example, the keywords "Tiananmen Square" yield starkly different returns. On the U.S. site, there are numerous text and image results referencing the Chinese government's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in 1989. The Chinese site version largely displays hotel and tourist information.

But limited access to information is not unique to Chinese search engines. Meiss says neo-Nazi Web "hate sites" are commonly blocked by Germany. Both Germany and France prohibit the online sale of objects that incite racial hatred.

"Search engines have become the main gateway to access information on the Internet. Therefore, their policies have a huge impact in forming opinions," Menczer says. "We don't yet have quantitative models of how engines affect the complex dynamics of information diffusion, but ongoing research at the School of Informatics is probing these phenomena."

To access CenSEARCHip go to http://homer.informatics.indiana.edu/censearchip

Source: Indiana University

Explore further: Tech's design goal: get users to click 'yes'

Related Stories

Tech's design goal: get users to click 'yes'

April 3, 2018

Three years ago when Facebook Messenger users opened the app on an Android device, they were greeted by an adorable cartoon yeti. It was shown texting a big pink heart. Below it, a prompt read: "Text anyone in your phone."

PDX finder—Free global portal for cancer models

April 5, 2018

The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) have jointly developed the first open cancer research portal for Patient Derived Xenograft (PDX) models. The freely available PDX Finder is ...

Algorithms reveal patterns to help fight against fake news

March 27, 2018

In February, the Justice Department charged 13 Russians with stealing U.S. citizens' identities and spreading "fake news" with intent to subvert the last U.S. presidential election. The case is still unfolding, and may do ...

Recommended for you

New theory shows how strain makes for better catalysts

April 20, 2018

Brown University researchers have developed a new theory to explain why stretching or compressing metal catalysts can make them perform better. The theory, described in the journal Nature Catalysis, could open new design ...

Is dark matter made of primordial black holes?

April 20, 2018

Astronomers studying the motions of galaxies and the character of the cosmic microwave background radiation came to realize in the last century that most of the matter in the universe was not visible. About 84 percent of ...

Muons spin tales of undiscovered particles

April 20, 2018

Scientists at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories are collaborating to test a magnetic property of the muon. Their experiment could point to the existence of physics beyond our current understanding, including ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.