A U.S. court dismissed a lawsuit against the Chinese tech and Internet giant Baidu, commonly known as “China’s Google,” that contends the company censors content and suppresses free speech.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of eight New York-based content producers who say Baidu’s search engine algorithms (Baidu’s main Internet function) block material in the U.S. per the Chinese government’s heavy censorship laws, and that violates the Constitution, Reuters says. Their content mostly advocated for more democracy in China.
But U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan disagrees. He likened Baidu’s algorithms to a newspaper’s editorial stance and says that “The First Amendment protects Baidu's right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects plaintiffs' rights to advocate for democracy.”
The activists sought $16 million in damages from Baidu and plan to appeal the ruling. Their lawyer Stephen Preziosi said that “the court has laid out a perfect paradox: that it will allow the suppression of free speech, in the name of free speech,” following the ruling.
Baidu provides access to streaming music and video and it even runs a Wikipedia-like encyclopedia service (that only registered users can edit). It has more than 500 million regular users in China and a small but significant population of users in the United States.
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Baidu is the fifth-most trafficked site on the planet, according to Alexa, an Amazon-owned web traffic monitor. Only Yahoo.com, YouTube, Facebook and Google generate more traffic and unique visitors, all of which are blocked or have subsidiary sites blocked in China.
Additionally, it is the top Chinese language search engine and it opened an English-language site for developers in February 2013. That move opened up English-speaking app developers to write tools for Chinese customers.
Bing, a Microsoft-owned search engine has also been accused of censoring its Chinese-language content. As recently as February 2014, search results for controversial topics were significantly different for Bing’s English and Chinese-language searches.
Google was accused of the same in China before it finally decided it would no longer comply with Chinese government censorship laws and pulled out. You can see if a website is blocked across China here.
Neither Baidu nor the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., responded to Reuters for comment.