Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft all maintain versions of their search engines for the Chinese market that censor political content. One of the key issues that emerged concerned transparency. In 2006, all three search engines, following Google's
lead, introduced a message that informed user when the results of their searches were censored. The presence of a mechanism of notification is a critical component of transparency. This notification informs users that their search results have
been censored and indicates, to a certain degree, the reason (often unspecified “local law”) why based on what the user searched for. The message appeared only when the user's results were censored and thus it was possible to connect the
censorship to specific keywords or websites.
By 2008 the level of transparency has decreased. While Google's censorship notification has remained essentially the same as it was in 2006, Yahoo! and Microsoft have altered the way in which users are notified of censorship. Yahoo! has put its
censorship message at the bottom of every page regardless of whether results are censored or not, in effect de-linking the censorship notification from the results. Microsoft has removed the text completely and buried the censorship notification
with a separate “help” page. These developments represent a significant degrading of transparency and accountability.
January 25, 2008
Notification is placed under results
Notification only appears when results are censored
Notification is placed at the bottom of every page
A link to a separate “help” page which contains a link to section that contains the notification