‘Glory to Hong Kong’ became the anthem of the city’s pro-democracy protesters in 2019 – Copyright AFP/File Nicolas ASFOURI
Google said on Thursday it does not manipulate search results, after the Hong Kong government said the tech giant had rejected its demand to remove a popular protest song.
The controversy began after it emerged that links to the pro-democracy song “Glory to Hong Kong” appeared ahead of China’s official “March of the Volunteers” as people searched for the city’s anthem.
The song was accidentally played for Hong Kong athletes at two international sporting events last month, prompting the Chinese city to demand it be removed from search results.
“Google handles billions of search queries every day, so we built ranking systems to automatically display high-quality, relevant and useful information,” the tech giant told AFP in response to a query about the request for the anthem.
“We do not manually manipulate organic web listings to determine a specific page’s rank,” it said in a statement.
Hong Kong’s security chief, Chris Tang, said Monday that Google had turned down the city government’s request. He described the company’s explanation, that the results were based on algorithms, as “evasive” and “inconceivable.”
Hong Kong leader John Lee said this week that Google had a “moral obligation” to honor a country’s national anthem.
China’s foreign ministry backed Lee, saying Internet companies “have a duty to provide correct information to the public.”
Google told AFP that it was in contact with the Hong Kong government to explain “how our platforms and removal policies work.”
“We do not remove web results, except for specific reasons outlined in our global policy documentation.”
Both Tang and Lee have argued that Google’s search results can be manipulated, citing the placement of ads and the removal of certain results to comply with European Union privacy laws.
Police have also been asked to investigate whether the anthem mix-up in South Korea was a violation of the city’s national security law, which Beijing imposed in 2020 to crush dissent after democracy protests.
Google’s search engine is banned in mainland China, but is freely accessible in Hong Kong, where the company also has an office.
It was one of the tech companies that suspended cooperation with Hong Kong police on data requests after the security law came into force.
Earlier this year, YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, canceled Hong Kong leader Lee’s channel, citing US sanctions.
Lee was among the officials sanctioned by the United States in 2020 for his role in restricting civil liberties in Hong Kong.