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Google’s China ultimatum could paint the company into a corner

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Google, ChinaGoogle delivered an ultimatum to the Chinese government Tuesday, stating on its blog that it is no longer willing to censor results on Google.cn, the Chinese version of its search engine. If the Chinese government fails to acquiesce, the company says it may shut down Google.cn as well as its offices in China.

Google’s stance is the result of several discoveries regarding recent cyber attacks on its site originating from China, including one aimed at accessing Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Despite Google’s clout in the tech world, sentiment expressed in the Chinese media is that the government is unlikely to give in, forcing Google’s hand.

China’s Internet users and Google itself would be the bigger losers if the company parts ways with China, Guo Ke, a professor on mass communication from Shanghai International Studies University, told the country’s Xinhua News Agency Wednesday. Chinese users of Google Docs, G-mail and the company’s other services would lose access to their documents and pictures, and Google would miss out on the revenue it collects as a result of millions of loyal users in China, Ke said. (About 80 million Chinese use Google.cn, The Washington Post reports.)

Ke said he does not expect the Chinese government to offer to stop censoring Google’s site. An anonymous employee told Xinhua that most of Google’s 700 employees in China were likewise pessimistic about the outcome of the negotiations.

An official with China’s State Council Information Office Wednesday told Xinhua that Chinese Internet authorities were seeking more information on Google’s statement that it might shut down both its search engine and offices in China.

Google detected a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" originating from China last month, David Drummond, the company’s senior vice president of corporate development and its chief legal officer, wrote Tuesday on Google’s "official" corporate blog. Drummond says an investigation led to the discovery that at least 20 other companies had similarly been targeted. Google has also determined that the attackers were after information contained in the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

In his blog post, Drummond explains how a convergence of problems led to Google’s decision to question ongoing operations in China. He also revisits his company’s initial concerns about the Chinese government censoring Google.cn search results when the site launched in January 2006. Google plans to discuss with the Chinese government whether the company can operate an unfiltered search engine in China, according to Drummond.

Of course, Google isn’t the only large U.S. Internet company that has run into problems with China’s tight controls on the Web. Yahoo has also given in to that country’s censorship rules and even provided information that helped Chinese state security officials convict a local journalist for leaking state secrets to a foreign Web site, The New York Times reported in 2005. Yahoo sold its China search engine site to Alibaba Group later that same year.

In a bit of irony, Baidu.com, China’s top search engine that stands to gain much from a Google departure, was forced Tuesday to use a domain name server based in Florida after hackers tampered with the site’s domain name, rendering the site inaccessible, All Headline News reported.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Thumb





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  1. 1. canovac 1:06 am 01/14/2010

    About time that Google took a stand against China.

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  2. 2. Skydancer365 2:27 am 01/14/2010

    You GO Google! Google vs China! Yeah! Google vs China! Yeah!!

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  3. 3. MCMalkemus 7:50 am 01/14/2010

    No need. I wrote to Mr. Drummond, if I recall the attorney’s name at Google, and suggested they just offer a Chinese version of Google without email.

    People can get email and be spied upon by the government from any source, doesn’t have to be Google.

    In the mean time, Google can still offer Chinese people at least limited access to the Internet, which is better than nothing.

    We may not agree with some aspects of Chinese culture, but it is their culture. We should police our own, not attempt to force them to change.

    They’ve been a nation for thousands of years. Something is working…

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  4. 4. MCMalkemus 7:51 am 01/14/2010

    Sorry, needed to post again to get email responses.

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  5. 5. janpla 8:18 am 01/14/2010

    Hmm, let me get this right: Google decided some time ago that they don’t want to stay in China, but needed an excuse to pull out so they don’t look bad, right? So they have now chosen to go for the "moral high ground" posture.

    They question, I think, is – what is the real reason for them pulling out? Is the competition from Baidu too hard?

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  6. 6. Earl Wajenberg 9:10 am 01/14/2010

    Tolerance is a wonderful virtue, but I cannot agree with MCMalkemus that "We may not agree with some aspects of Chinese culture, but it is their culture. We should police our own, not attempt to force them to change" as an excuse to ignore China’s lousy human rights record. It is foundational to OUR culture that things like freedom of speech are universal human rights, belonging to everyone, everywhere.

    "They’ve been a nation for thousands of years. Something is working…" Yes, they have been surviving. They haven’t been particularly free, either under the emperors or under the Communists.

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  7. 7. MCMalkemus 11:08 am 01/14/2010

    Earl Wajenberg at 09:10 AM on 01/14/10

    It is foundational to OUR culture that things like freedom of speech are universal human rights, belonging to everyone, everywhere.
    [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]
    While I agree that these rights should be for people everywhere, I draw the line with trying to enforce them on others. It sounds too much like the communist manifesto to me. People in America are free or not because of the people in America, not because some outside force, like China, imposed it’s will upon us.

    Freedom isn’t free, but it’s also dependent upon the culture in question. Or do you really think ME cultures will ever readily adapt to American style democracy? This will never happen. Read the book by Hofstede: "Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival " if you have any doubts about this.

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  8. 8. mapmanic 11:27 am 01/14/2010

    That Google would retreat from the Chinese market because competing with Baidu was "too hard" is a ridiculous concept. The internet market in China is not a zero-sum game and Google already has 80 million regular users there. And Chinese culture is not irreconcilable to principles of freedom of speech. Censorship is despicable idea in any country for the simple reason that it’s not okay for one group of people to set themselves up as being superior to another group. Who would you allow to decide for you what you can and cannot see or read or hear? The fact is, China is in the iron-grip of a totalitarian regime that will not tolerate the slightest dissent. The regime will eventually decline and fall from power BECAUSE they do not allow dissent. Dissent is the only reliable way to correct inadequacies in any political system. A political system needs dissent. The fact that many Chinese are making money now is the only thing that prevents the populace from asserting their most basic human rights–the most basic of which is freedom of speech and thought. The Chinese populace today have effectively been bribed into acceptance of their position as second-class citizens when it comes to these most basic rights. They don’t have to be patient; they need to assert themselves as human beings. That’s the only way things will change in China and ultimately this will be good for China. China will become a more enlightened, more decent, and stronger country as a result.

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  9. 9. mapmanic 11:41 am 01/14/2010

    …. and another thing: there’s a relationship between state-sponsored corruption in China and lack of jobs in the US and Europe. If you pay attention, most government condoned corruption in China is associated with some money or power grab that involves circumventing the law. This is the way you do business in China–there’s always a step in the "business" process that involves greasing some party official’s palms. And there’s always some less powerful person or group who gets the shaft. And the allowable levels of pollution in the country are the greatest corruption of all. These are a few reasons why you in the West do not have jobs. We are all playing in the same game and we have the right to demand that countries who play in this game play by the same rules. We should not do business with countries who don’t have reasonable guarantees of human rights for their citizens.

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  10. 10. MCMalkemus 11:55 am 01/14/2010

    Mapmanic, one reason Americans don’t have jobs is that they love buying cheap products at Wal Mart. Doesn’t really matter if the products come from a sweat shop or slave labor, Americans are only interested in the bottom line.

    So before you point the finger at a corrupt regime, remember, we are culpable too for at least part of the corruption in China, because we look the other way in order to maintain our supply of ultra cheap clothes and goods.

    Care of Wal Mart.

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  11. 11. mapmanic 12:32 pm 01/14/2010

    Yes, very true, McMalkemus, but with corporate money-skewed leadership and propaganda, most Americans don’t put the two together–they want the best deal–a sort of "Tragedy of the commons" situation. I just want to point out that the two problems: jobs in the West and Chinese corruption are somewhat linked. China should continue to have cheaper labor for some time into the future but that’s just part of the equation. We do need to insist that the Chinese government is a more responsible to its citizens. We have tools at our disposal to ameliorate both problems (jobs in the US and human rights abuse in China): and those are tariffs linked to human-rights performance. We should use them and stop crucifying humanity (here and in China) on the free-trade cross. (Won’t happen till we get the corporate money out of our electoral process.)

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  12. 12. mikecimerian 1:35 pm 01/14/2010

    Internet mail services are based on user trust. What happened is akin to breaking into a lawyer’s office and opening confidential files cabinets with a crow bar.

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  13. 13. ormondotvos 5:34 pm 01/14/2010

    " The Chinese populace today have effectively been bribed into acceptance of their position as second-class citizens when it comes to these most basic rights. They don’t have to be patient; they need to assert themselves as human beings."

    This is also true of Americans and Europeans, so proud of their freedoms, until they must make a choice between freedom and a new plasma TV made by wage slaves elsewhere. And then there’s Haiti…

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  14. 14. Oaky 7:40 pm 01/14/2010

    Corrupt people, those who embezzle multi millions, face the death penalty but strangely, some western countries choose to shelter corrupt fugitives from China.

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  15. 15. mikecimerian 11:02 pm 01/14/2010

    Imho "China" thinks we owe them for the one "hundred years of shame", that westerners have shed first blood. It seems they are exacting payback, daring the World to speak against them.

    We have to learn a lot more about China, about their étiquette and when they are blatantly insulting us. We could learn a few beneficial things along the way.

    When Canada’s PM was snubbed; having to wait for two hours in an anteroom, he should have known how to respond.

    Cultural codes are more than translation nuisances. Those who can walk both sides of the street will "win".

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  16. 16. Iahmad 1:15 am 01/15/2010

    Censorship is common everywhere including west. In America and Europe your free speech may be labeled as hate speech and thus you may be punished. It is not uncommon at all. France wants people to dress the way the tyrant and morally corrupt president likes. If you dress based on your moral judgement, you may be punished. In Switzerland you cant build building based on your liking. Ballot and government have to decide. Western fundamentalists are real hypocrites who preach their enemies to practice freedom while they themselves and their stooges have no sense of freedom of speech and freedom at all. How about google shutting its shop globally because there is not place on earth with absolute freedom of speech and freedom of living.

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  17. 17. mturczyk 12:24 pm 01/15/2010

    Ha, first off, in the West, you do have more freedom of speech. You can publicly tell anyone, anything. Go to the Middle East and say "God doesn’t exist" and you will get a severe punishment. In UAE, if you give the finger to somebody, you are facing jail time. In China, if you have a picture of the Dalai Lama or say "Free Tibet" more jail time. So to say that there is just as little freedom of speech or anything else in USA as there is in China is groundless.

    Second, the Peoples Republic of China has NOT been a country for thousands of years. They have only been a country since 1949. So no, communisms has not been working there for thousands of years and, like the rest of this world, it will eventually fail.

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  18. 18. Biodiversivist 1:24 pm 01/15/2010

    Human nature is so ugly. My blog site has been getting more and more spam with Chinese characters. China has over a billion people. When they all have computers the spammers and hackers among them may overwhelm the ability to defend against them all.

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  19. 19. Iahmad 4:00 am 01/16/2010

    Freedom is relative. In US also you cant say whatever you want to whomever you want. That is a myth not reality. Ask people who have been jailed for hate speech. In any country with separatist movement, separatist leader is considered a criminal and their support is considered treason. Thus Dalai to China is what Osama is to US or Hamas leaders are to Israel.

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  20. 20. Michael Hanlon 4:40 am 01/16/2010

    Throughout history power struggles have gone on around the common man. Until the twentieth century it took the form of nation against nation. Slowly and at a dear cost we learned that government versus government was idiotic and with nuclear weapons at governments’ disposal, a terminal condition. In the Sixties we fought the governing infrastructures and I believe convinced them to cease their warmongering ways (yes, there were and are a few acceptions still around).

    While that anti government battle was waged, a power structure grew to fill the void, That of the multinational corporation.

    Today, There is only one remaining population which remains in control by a government. The rest of the entire developed world is in the hands of the corporations whether you realize it or not. Only China stands as a hold out against the greed of the industrialists and money changers,

    That is the battle that is being developed between Google and China. A struggle for the conglomerates to truly run everything. Until they do, we get concessions. Once they are completely in control, we will begin to have privileges taken away. Some of them cannot wait and you can sense the effect of some of our freedoms being taken away in the facts of high unemployment and lurking inflation.

    Eisenhower was right. He was a prophet. Beware….

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  21. 21. lphere 12:41 pm 01/16/2010

    I’m a guy from china.I really agree with your opinion!We do have our own features.I hope other countries can respect our choices and policies!

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  22. 22. Major Plonquer 3:29 am 01/17/2010

    Sorry but Google have been caught out. Their stance is ludicrous and they are just simply telling lies.

    First, everyone fails to mention that Google are facing over 15000 lawsuits from 3500 Chinese authors who’s works have been ripped off by Google and placed online without copyright permission or any form of compensation. These suits will bankrupt Google China and put a serious dent in Google Inc.

    Moreover, we have a chance to see for ourselves whether Google is as morally correct as they make out. Australia will this year turn on their own national firewall system. It is substantially teh same as that used by China. Will Google disconnect from Australia? Somehow I think not.

    The truth is they got their butts kicked in China. Now they point their finger at the big bad Chinese government and ruin away.

    Pathetic really.

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  23. 23. tylerthemiler 5:51 am 01/18/2010

    "People in America are free or not because of the people in America, not because some outside force, like China, imposed it’s will upon us."

    But how can anything beyond the scope of the individual not be defined as an "outside source?" Frankly, Americans are lucky with what they have. Just because someone lives in China, or anywhere, doesn’t mean that they deserve any less freedom or individuality.

    While I would agree that isn’t necessarily the responsibility of America or any organization to forcibly apply that philosophy anywhere it is needed, I think it is the responsibility of every individual to look out for all others in whatever way feasible, regardless of nationality.

    Nationalism is such a terrible way to run the world. I know that there are many worse alternatives, and that there are limited resources, so working together in groups against others makes sense, but I hope someday that science (and therefore resources availability) and human nature evolve enough for people to think outside the exceedingly narrow lens of flags and tradition.

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