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Saturday, Feb 24, 2024

Hong Kong may stop buying Google adverts unless national anthem row is resolved

Hong Kong may stop buying Google adverts unless national anthem row is resolved

Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration Warner Cheuk says Google is ‘unreasonable’ and company should make sure public is told the truth.

A senior Hong Kong official has warned that the city will stop buying adverts on Google’s search engine if a row over the search listings for the national anthem is not resolved.

Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration Warner Cheuk Wing-hing on Saturday also said the city would not pay to fix the company’s mistake after it refused to ensure the national anthem appeared as a top search result for certain keywords instead of a song linked to the 2019 anti-government protests.

Cheuk, speaking on the issue for the first time since the tech giant responded to the authorities’ criticism, said it was wrong that Google had refused to display the Chinese national anthem as its top search result for certain keyword inquiries.

“The reasons they gave us are unreasonable,” he said after an appearance on a radio programme. “I think as an internationally leading search engine, isn’t your first responsibility providing correct information?”


Warner Cheuk, the deputy chief secretary for administration, warns tech giant Google the fight over the national anthem is not over.

The news came after a call from another lawmaker for Google executives to be summoned to appear before the Legislative Council to explain the company’s stance.

“To continue to make people believe that a certain song is Hong Kong’s national anthem and not the ‘March of the Volunteers’, through this negligence and inaction, they are actually manipulating results and providing inaccurate information, I think there are some professional and moral issues here,” Cheuk said.

He said that Hong Kong “absolutely will not buy advertisements from Google” to correct the anthem mix-up on the search engine.

Cheuk added the government would question the company again soon, and threatened to pull all government adverts from Google unless the company took action to fix the problem.

“If the same thing happened with the American national anthem, can Google tell people ‘we won’t make any correction’? I think their explanation is just an excuse,” he said.

The row over the tech firm and its search results erupted after a series of mix-ups at several international sporting events, where “Glory to Hong Kong” was played instead of the Chinese national anthem.

The national anthem was also captioned wrongly as “Glory to Hong Kong” in a broadcast graphic at two international rugby matches.

Google broke its silence on the matter on Wednesday and insisted it was not its practice to manipulate search results.

“Google handles billions of search queries every day, so we build ranking systems to automatically surface relevant, high quality, and helpful information. We do not manually manipulate organic web listings to determine the ranking of a specific page,” a spokesman said.

“In keeping with our commitment to maximise access to information, we do not remove web results except for specific reasons outlined in our global policy documentation.”

Lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said he supported summoning Google’s representatives to the Legislative Council to answer questions by invoking the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance.

“We need to take action to correct such behaviour that is this disrespectful to Hong Kong and to our country,” he said.

Security minister Chris Tang Ping-keung on Wednesday said authorities would do “everything it takes” to ensure the problem was resolved.

Beijing also weighed in on the row and Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that internet companies had an “obligation” to make sure the public was given the correct information.

He added that Beijing supported the “resolute defence of the national anthem’s dignity” by the Hong Kong government.

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