The Internet search engine Google has admitted compromising its principles by accepting censorship in China and raised the possibility of pulling out of the country.
In a meeting with reporters yesterday, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the company had agreed to censorship demands only after Chinese authorities blocked its service.
Google's rivals agreed to the same demands, which Mr Brin described as "a set of rules that we weren't comfortable with".
"We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference," he said.
Google's China-approved web service omits politically sensitive information that could be retrieved during searches, such as details of the June 1989 suppression of political unrest in Tiananmen Square.
The company's agreement with China has provoked considerable criticism from human rights groups.
"Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense," Mr Brin said.
The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday that Google's main site was no longer accessible in most Chinese provinces due to censorship, and was completely inaccessible throughout China on May 31.
Mr Brin said Google was trying to improve its censored search service, Google.cn, before deciding whether to reverse course. He said virtually all the company's customers in China used the uncensored service.
"It's perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say: 'Look, we're going to stand by the principle against censorship, and we won't actually operate there.' That's an alternate path," Mr Brin said.
"It's not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing."
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