China researchers express anger over Google’s decision to retire Internet archiving tool | Technology News

In Taipei, Taiwan, researchers of China already have difficulty keeping up with the country’s opaque leadership and pervasive censorship. However, now they face a new challenge from an unexpected source: Google. Late last year, Google quietly removed links to cached pages from its search results, a function that allowed Internet users to view old versions of web pages. Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for search, confirmed earlier this month that the function had been discontinued. He stated that the function was originally meant to improve internet performance, but its unintended effect was boosting transparency and becoming an invaluable resource for researchers.

Academics, journalists, and others used cached pages to view past incarnations of websites and deleted content – a particularly useful tool for China’s internet, which is carefully edited by Beijing to avoid embarrassment and ward off potential dissent. The loss of the Google cache function will be a blow to China researchers who have long leaned on this function to preserve access to information that may later be removed. There are alternatives to Google’s cached pages, such as the non-profit Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, but Google’s removal of cached links makes it harder to know what is missing in the first place.

Google’s decision to step away from “backing up the internet” raises questions about whose responsibility it should be to keep a record going forward. Dakoda Cary, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, suggested inspiration could be taken from the US government, which extensively archives online content produced by foreign governments and other sources. He stated that adapting our systems to the digital age could help in preserving the information that’s published on the internet.

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