Google to China: No More Internet Censorship, or We Leave

By Andrew Moseman | January 13, 2010 10:39 am

googlechinaAre the world’s most popular search engine and the world’s most populous country headed for a breakup? That’s the word reverberating around the Internet today after Google said it would no longer put up with the Chinese government’s demands to censor the Internet and the rampant hacking attempts against it, which could result in the company ending its Chinese operations.

The announcement came as a stunning reversal for Google, which had capitulated to the government’s wishes to gain access to China’s fast-growing population of Internet users. Since arriving in 2006 under an arrangement with the government that purged its Chinese search results of banned topics, Google has come under fire for abetting a system that increasingly restricts what can be read online [The New York Times].

The standoff comes as no surprise to China watchers, however. “The idea that Google would be allowed to run an uncensored search engine would be inconsistent with everything the Chinese government has done and every single statement it has made over the past year” about the need for controls on the internet, says Rebecca MacKinnon, an expert on new media in China [Christian Science Monitor]. In fact, the news of this fight over censorship remains itself censored in China, The New York Times reports. Early reports in the Chinese news media mentioned terms like “free speech,” but those quickly disappeared.

The details of Google’s other grievance—China-based hacks against it—haven’t all come to light yet. But these sophisticated attacks against more than 30 firms, mostly Silicon Valley-based, appear to have targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese humans right activists. Perhaps that was the last straw for Google; an anonymous source told that the company already deals with the Chinese government harassing its own people over there. “[Google is] really concerned about their safety and feels that there is a very real possibility that they will be interrogated,” the source said. “They have been [interrogated] numerous times before, and this time they could be arrested and imprisoned” [].

What happens if Google actually breaks with Beijing? Baidu, China’s number one search engine, will benefit, but it won’t be the only one. “With the easing of competition from Google, it’s actually going to benefit everybody. The small operators now see an opportunity to gain some market share,” said Elinor Leung, an analyst at CLSA. [Wall Street Journal]. But what’s good for the market share of Chinese search engines may not be good for Chinese Internet users. Google’s pullout could hamper the fight for Web freedom there and elsewhere, leaving governments with even more power to set the rules about how much of the Internet people within their borders can see.

That’s if Google follows through on its threat and ends its Chinese operations. As the Wall Street Journal reports, an Irish betting site is already taking wagers whether the company will do it by 2012, and the odds aren’t good—the bookies seem to think China is too tempting a market to surrender.

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80beats: China’s Internet Users Force Government to Back Down on Censorship

Image: Wikimedia Commons / M. Weitzel

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Feature, Technology
MORE ABOUT: China, Google, hackers, internet
  • Charlie

    Kudos google. China has been horribly abusive to its own people for just seeking honest information. China’s military intelligence arm hasn’t just hacked into Chineese dissidents computers, they have attacked operating systems around the globe. I hope companies like Fox news follow suit by unlatching themselves from Bejings teat.

  • Andrea

    I wasn’t sure how Google would finally fall on this. I’m glad to read they’ve made the decision to promote free speech.

  • pheldespat

    If I understand correctly, Google is shutting down will still be accessible if the Great Firewall of China doesn’t cut it. This brings the possibility that Chinese people could still use Google, the full uncensored version.

  • Raief

    EXCELLENT POST. Very interesting and compelling reporting. I have to read all of the related articles now.
    I have been watching and reading about China and Google for over a year and did not know about this until I read it here.
    Great work.

  • Curt D

    Google and China are bringing up a 21st century battle of democracy and freedom verse Communism and restricted personal freedom. When we started using cloud computing systems we saw the HUGE area of security problems being created in cross country internet usage. Thrown in that the entire world is “outsourcing” computer stuff to Southeast Asian countries, and you have to plan for these socio-technology issues going forward. We study search demand/supply trends from around the world to find profitable niches and products. A niche, or hot predictions, is not just a demand side issue, but a supply/demand curve. If you predict IPHONE apps will take off, and there are already 100,000 aps, then you aren’t going to hit that one. If you see that demand for cell phone radiation shields is going nuts and there are only two suppliers, then you can be pretty sure that it will be a good year for those 2 supplies. The software at studies both the demand (search volume) and supply (think “results” in Google). The Google Phone is generating much more buzz right now then say the Apple Tablet.
    Here is a video on what I mean..

  • Juegos

    I support Google however we talk about a different country, they have another rules, their own rules.

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