Evil Empires

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Searching in good conscience ain't easy.

Microsoft as "Evil Empire" has always seemed a little trite, especially when accompanied as it often is by Photoshopped pictures of Bill Gates as Borg Queen. But the company's recent decision to shut down Chinese blogger Zhao Jing's MSN Spaces page due to dissenting posts about the Chinese government took the cuteness out of the moniker.

And Microsoft is not alone. Google blocks sensitive results on its Chinese search engine. Yahoo exposed reporter Shi Tao, who'd been using a supposedly anonymous e-mail address, to Chinese authorities last year, landing Tao in prison for ten years.

How's an ethically-minded Internet user to search the web without the big threeGoogle, Microsoft (through MSN Search) and Yahoo?

It's not easy. AltaVista offers news, image and video searchbut it's owned by Overture Services, Inc., which is owned by Yahoo. A9, Amazon's search engine, is powered by Google. WebCrawler and DogPile are meta-search engines that compile results from the big three. AOL lacks a news search, Technorati and Feedster search only blogs and Snap's touted vertical search does not give comprehensive results.

That leaves only AskJeeves, a subsidiary of IAC/InterActiveCorp, which also owns RealEstate.com and dinosaur search engine Excite. Despite its childish-looking natural language site, AskJeeves provides strong image, news, and product searches. Occasional error messages are cleared on refresh, and results are comparable to Google's.

But the implication is troubling. Those who want to use a non-China complicit search engine have only one viable option. All of a sudden, Reporters Without Borders' call last week for the Internet search giants to establish a set of protocols for dealing with repressive governments is no abstract matter.

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