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Google balances censorship issues

SAN FRANCISCO – Google Inc. didn’t stop wrangling with censorship when the company moved its search engine out of mainland China to shed its restraints on what can be shown on the Internet.

Even in countries Google has no intention of leaving, the world’s Web search leader has been under increasing pressure to filter information. For instance, local laws prodded Google to help shield Turkey’s founder and Thailand’s monarch from public ridicule by blocking unflattering videos of them in their home countries.

The company also complies with laws in Germany, France and Poland that force it to exclude information that promotes or supports Nazi causes. Google has edited discussion forums in India to remove comments that the government flagged as violations of its restrictions against speech that’s indecent, immoral or threatens public order.

The censorship demands often thrust Google into a tricky balancing act. Its pursuit of higher profits from international markets has entangled the company in vastly different cultures and laws that conflict with its idealistic crusade to make the world’s information “universally accessible.”

“We are fundamentally guided by the belief that more information for our users is ultimately better,” said Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general counsel.

After four years of censoring search results in China, Google finally abandoned the effort recently. That decision was driven not only by the extent of Chinese censorship demands but also by hacking attacks traced to China on Google, at least 20 other U.S. companies and human rights dissidents.

But the censorship compromises seem likely to continue in other countries.

And even when Google resists censorship requests, its search engine and services can be cut off in a growing number of countries that are erecting barriers similar to the so-called “Great Firewall” that China has built to prevent traffic to its list of forbidden sites.

Access to Google’s services have been blocked at some point in at least 25 of the 100 countries where they’re offered, according to the company.