Google 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.
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