Google on Thursday announced that it will display warnings to Search users in mainland China when their query is likely to result in an error beyond the search giant's control.
In recent years, Google has received a number of complaints about certain search terms that result in error messages like "This webpage is not available" or "The connection was reset." When this occurs, access to Google is typically cut off for a minute or more.
"We've taken a long, hard look at our systems and have not found any problems," Alan Eustace, senior vice president of knowledge at Google, wrote in a blog post. "However, after digging into user reports, we've noticed that these interruptions are closely correlated with searches for a particular subset of queries."
As a result, Google will now warn users when they type a phrase or term that is likely to result in an error. A drop-down menu will read: We've observed that searching for [query] in mainland China may temporarily break your connection to Google. This interruption is outside Google's control." There will then be the option to "Edit search terms" or "Search anyway." Google China Censorship Warning
The word "interruption" in the warning will link to Google's help center article about the problems.
"By prompting people to revise their queries, we hope to reduce these disruptions and improve our user experience from mainland China," Eustace said. "Of course, if users want to press ahead with their original queries they can carry on."
Google identified these terms by looking at a list of the 350,000 most popular search queries in China. The company found that many triggers are average Chinese characters with multiple meanings. Searching for the character Jiang, which means river, appears to cause problems, which can affect searches for things like the Jinjiang Star hotel chain or the Jiangsu Mobile phone service. The character for Zhou, which means week, results in similar problems.
One option, Eustace said, is to conduct searches using pinyin, which is used to transliterate Chinese characters into Latin script.
"We've said before that we want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services," Eustace concluded. "Our hope is that these written notifications will help improve the search experience in mainland China."
Google has had a rather tumultuous relationship with Chinese officials in recent years. In January 2010, Google said there were attempts to hack into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
At the time, Google pledged to no longer censor search results in China, even if that meant pulling out of the country entirely, and re-routed all Google.cn traffic to the uncensored Google.com.hk. Unsurprisingly, a Chinese minister warned of "consequences" if Google continued redirecting its results. Finally, the two parties settled on a hybrid solution.