Unfortunately, because China is such a black box when it comes to getting information, neither we nor Google knew in a reasonable amount of time whether Google service outages were technical issues or China's great firewall.
Google moved to improve its service reporting software Sept. 21 with a Transparency Report, which officially replaces the China serviceability Web page.
Essentially, with this report we reporters should be able to see whether a service outage is the result of Google going wonky, or Google's parlance is "government-induced."
David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, noted:
"When Google's services are blocked or filtered, we can't serve our users effectively. That's why we act every day to maximize free expression and access to information. To promote transparency around this flow of information, we've built an interactive online Transparency Report with tools that allow people to see where governments are demanding that we remove content and where Google services are being blocked. We believe that this kind of transparency can be a deterrent to censorship."
Google's thinking is that by showing where its Web services are being censored, it will embarrass the countries who are doing the censoring.
I'm not sure such a move will deter censorship in China and Iran, but it could further anger countries that are already militant about what info gets in or out.
Behold an example:
Clearly, that was government induced! Iran's disavowal of YouTube has been well-chronicled. Each traffic graph shows historic traffic patterns for a given country and service.
Not only does this tool replace the China serviceability Web page, but it consolidates Google's Government Requests Website, which shows on a Google Map the number of government requests for information about users and to take down or censor content.
Google has significantly upped its transparency quotient as it faces increased pressure from advocates about its privacy policies.
The company introduced its Google Dashboard last November to show users the complete activity of their Web service data, including how much resides on specific Web services.