Last Sunday, access to Google Inc.'s YouTube inside China was cut off after the Web site was flooded with graphic images from Tibet, including videos of burning trucks and monks being dragged through the streets by Chinese soldiers.
Blocking Western Web sites is routine in China, where the government has tightly controlled the flow of information. But the new YouTube blackout is the latest in a string of clashes between the site and foreign governments in Asia and the Middle East that's forcing the company to grapple with the consequences of its increasingly global reach.
Google chief executive Eric Schmidt raised the issue in a meeting Monday in Beijing with Cai Mingzhao, vice minister of the State Council Information Office, the company said. The council denied any knowledge of the blockage and promised to investigate, according to Google. On Thursday, YouTube remained inaccessible from China except to users who took extra technical steps.
Since last fall, YouTube has been blocked also by governments in Turkey, Pakistan and Thailand. And citizens in a number of other countries, including Syria, United Arab Emirates and Morocco, have reported YouTube outages after sensitive content was posted.
The clashes have implications for YouTube's growth abroad, potentially forcing the company to choose between bending to censorship and losing business opportunities.
"This is a situation that the company and all Internet companies will be facing in many countries with all types of political systems as the Internet matures and millions more people log on," says Robert Boorstin, Google's director of policy communications in Washington. "At all times, our goal is to maximize the amount of information available to citizens around the world."