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November 8, 2019 07:25 pm

In China, Shutterstock Censors Hong Kong and Other Searches

Shutterstock, the well-known online purveyor of stock images and photographs, is the latest U.S. company to willingly support China's censorship regime, blocking searches that might offend the country's authoritarian government, The Intercept reported this week. From the report: The publicly traded company built a $639 million-per-year business on the strength of its vast -- sometimes comically vast -- catalog of images depicting virtually anything a blogger or advertiser could imagine. The company now does business in more than 150 countries. But in China, there is now a very small, very significant gap in Shutterstock's offerings. In early September, Shutterstock engineers were given a new goal: The creation of a search blacklist that would wipe from query results images associated with keywords forbidden by the Chinese government. Under the new system, which The Intercept is told went into effect last month, anyone with a mainland Chinese IP address searching Shutterstock for "President Xi," "Chairman Mao," "Taiwan flag," "dictator," "yellow umbrella," or "Chinese flag" will receive no results at all. Variations of these terms, including "umbrella movement" -- the precursor to the mass pro-democracy protests currently gripping Hong Kong -- are also banned. [...] Shutterstock's censorship feature appears to have been immediately controversial within the company, prompting more than 180 Shutterstock workers to sign a petition against the search blacklist and accuse the company of trading its values for access to the lucrative Chinese market. Chinese internet users already struggle to discuss even the tamest of taboo subjects; now, it seemed, the situation would get a little worse, with the aid of yet another willing American company.

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