Google’s Blogger Attempts to Protect Content by Country: Redirects .com Blogs to Country-Specific Domains

Yesterday one of my Twitter followers pointed out that his blog on the blogspot.com domain was, oddly, redirecting to the Canadian country domain blogspot.ca. I had a look, and soon determined I was seeing my own blog, http://conniecrosby.blogspot.com being redirected to http://conniecrosby.blogspot.ca. Blogs on the blogspot.com domain are from Google’s Blogger platform.

Upon further investigation, I learned that I would see all blogs on the blogspot.com domain on the blogspot.ca domain because I am in Canada. Those in other countries except the U.S. will see blogs on the country-specific domains for their own countries, whether .co.uk, .fr, .de, or .in to name a few. Those in the U.S. will continue to see all the blogs on .com.

No notice was sent to Blogger subscribers, and this has caused confusion for a number of us (most have not noticed the change yet). Here is an excerpt of the explanation found on the Google Support site:

Q: Why am I seeing a URL change?
A: In the next few months the website address of a blog you’re reading may be redirected to a country-specific domain. For example, if you’re in Australia and viewing [blogname].blogspot.com, you might be redirected to [blogname].blogspot.com.au. The country-specific domain should correspond to the country where you’re currently located.

Q: Why is this happening?
A: We are doing this to provide more support for managing content locally. If we receive a removal request that violates local law, that content may no longer be available to readers on local domains where those laws apply. This update is in line with our approach to free expression and controversial content, which hasn’t changed.

Q: Where will I see this change? 
A: We’re rolling out these changes in stages, so in the coming months you will see country-specific domains implemented in additional countries.

Q. Does Google provide notice to blog owners when it removes content?
A: Yes. When content is removed from a blog, the author and any account administrators are notified by email and receive a message on their Blogger dashboard.

Q: What would a reader see if a post is removed from a blog?
A: When content is removed from a blog for any reason, readers attempting to access it will see a message indicating that the content has been removed. A copy of every removal notice we receive relating to Blogger is sent to Chilling Effects for publication on their web site. In addition, we disclose the number and nature of government requests for content removal biannually in our Transparency Report.

It appears that Blogger is attempting to partition content by country to allow for compliance to take-down orders by countries while maintaining the content for other countries. See the full explanation from Google.

Early reports are that this change has broken a number of gadgets (plugins or widgets) that people have on their blogs. One of the contributors to Forbes yesterday noted the change also broke Disqus, a third party blog comment tracking system that some bloggers and commenters use.

And while Google says that this should have no effect on domain redirects where people have the sites directing to their own custom domain names, I am not convinced this is working (I haven’t come up with enough examples to show this one way or the other, though).

I have never seen this solution used before. Do we have other examples of this type of selective mass redirecting? Do you think this will be effective in protecting content from one country to the next?

And do you care if you see all the .com blogs showing up as .ca (Canadian) even if they originate from other countries? I would be curious to know what CIRA thinks about this.

I believe in .CA

Image source: excerpted screen shot from the CIRA website.

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Comments

  1. I came across a related article from Wired in their “Threat Level” section from January 2012: Google to Censor Blogger Blogs on a ‘Per Country Basis’. It sounds like Twitter is or will be doing something similar, but in a less obvert way. See the related article from Wired: Twitter Censorship Move Sparks Backlash: Is It Justified?

  2. Matt @emailkarma

    Makes me glad I switched to self hosted WordPress for all my sites a couple year ago… Blogger was a good ‘starting’ platform for me, but I outgrew it and move on.

  3. I’ve seen some pretty good arguments that Twitter’s attempts to comply with country laws on a national level are a good development in online censorship. Basically, by removing content only in one particular country, it remains available to users outside that country—users who are aware of it, can copy and share it to people via other means, etc. This is censorship, but it is a censorship that is more transparent. (And censorship itself is something that Twitter and Google cannot avoid unless they decide they don’t want to comply with local law—in which case, they would probably be shut down in those countries.)

    Google’s move seems to be in the same vein, so in that sense it might be beneficial for bloggers. That being said, Matt’s point in #2 is extremely apt. Bloggers have to weigh the convenience of a hosted solution like Blogger with the price for that solution—being at the mercy of a trans-national company like Google. Individual web hosts come with their own set of challenges (and are subject to takedown orders too), but ultimately they provide more control over one’s content.

  4. And…I have just seen my first take-down on Google caused by a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint, phrased like this at the bottom of my Google results:

    In response to a complaint we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint that caused the removal(s) at ChillingEffects.org.

    What I don’t understand is why, if Google is doing this on a country-by-country basis, I see the take-down notice and not the search item itself if I am running the search from Canada on google.ca since the DMCA is U.S. legislation.

    Unfortunately the DMCA complaint isn’t yet posted to ChillingEffects.org so I can’t get a sense of why the item was removed and what it might be.

  5. For copyright purposes, most countries hold to the Berne Convention. The Berne Convention has a number of core features, including the principle of national treatment, which holds that each member state to the Convention would give citizens of other member states the same rights of copyright that it gave to its own citizens.

    Bloggers’ claim “if we receive a removal request that violates local law, that content may no longer be available to readers on local domains where those laws apply” makes no sense.

  6. I disagree with Rob’s comment. The Berne Convention makes, for example, Canada give an American author the same rights of copyright that Canada gives Canadians. That does not mean that Canada must give the American author the same rights that US gives him or her. So if US law prohibits the publication of a work because it infringes US copyright law, the Convention does not require Canada to prohibit its publication too.

    An obvious example arises from the term of copyright. In the US copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author (with some exceptions not relevant to the example). In Canada it lasts for 50 years after death. The Convention does not require Canada to protect the American author’s work for 70 years after death, only 50. It presumably does require the US to protect the Canadian author’s work for 70 years after death.

    So arranging take-down notices and other elements of copyright enforcement by country makes sense to maximize publishability, it seems to me.

  7. Redirects should be a Yes or No Choice (in all browsers) and not automatic. Anything else is enforced censorship. E. G. – Question: Auto Direct this browser / (you) to .CA sites – Yes | No ??

  8. Michael Chesley Johnson

    One impact of this change that would be worth looking into is how it affects search results. For example, I live in Canada but teach workshops in the US that I promote in my blog; upon doing a search for the type of workshops I teach, will a US person get different search results than someone in Canada?

  9. Michael, I just did a search for my own blog on Google to see (I am in Canada). It is still listed with the .com; however, if I click through to the site, it reverts to the .ca. So it looks like they have not made the adjustment in the Google search results itself.

    Those in the U.S. will still go to the .com domain when they click through to your blog so it should theoretically be the same. I haven’t done any scientific study of it though to be sure.

    That being said, everyone sees differently ranked results on Google regardless because they do so much customization now. For example, I can search the same terms as you and we will likely see different results even though we may both be in the same city. So what you see in the results won’t necessarily be what others see.

  10. You can force Blogspot to show you your site on the .com by typing in the address with a .com, and appending /ncr — ‘no country redirect’. The /ncr part will disappear as soon as you hit enter, but it will stick on .com, and not show you .ca for that browser session.

    The best way to think about this is that you have a .com domain, but it will be shown as a .CA to people in Canada, .IN to people in India, and so forth. Americans will still be shown the .com, though I’m at a loss on how .com has suddenly become an American-exclusive domain extension.

    Search results will remain showing .COM in Google’s listings, and convert users to the appropriate country code domain once they click through. If your site derives links from Canadians using the .ca extension, Google is canonicalizing your site links all together — regardless of which domain a user is being shown or linked to. PageRank is showing on most domain-versions as the same number; and the rankings don’t seem to be bothered at all.

  11. Thank you for clarifying, Steve. I had not heard about the /ncr trick.