Google Defies China on Web Censorship

Google has stopped censoring search results in China by sending traffic to Hong Kong service.

The company will shift its search engine for China off the mainland but won't shut it down altogether, and it will maintain other operations in the country. It's an attempt to balance its stance against censorship with its desire to profit from an explosively growing Internet market.

On Monday afternoon, visitors to Google.cn were being redirected to Google's Chinese-language service based in Hong Kong. The page said, according to a Google translation, ``Welcome to Google Search in China's new home.''

In a blog post, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond, said the decision was reached after long consideration.

"Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced-it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China"

Google's attempt at a compromise could resolve a 2 1/2-month impasse pitting the world's most powerful Internet company against the government of the world's most populous country.

Google plans to keep its engineering and sales offices in China so it can keep a technological toehold in the country and continue to sell ads for the Chinese-language version of its search engine in the U.S.

But Google is still taking a risk. The revolt against censorship threatens to crimp Google's growth, particularly if taking the stand prompts the Chinese government to retaliate by making it more difficult for the company to do business in the country. The ruling party, for instance, could use its filters to block people on China's mainland from connecting with Google's Hong Kong-based service.

On Jan. 12 the search company vowed to shake loose from government-imposed restraints on the Internet after determining that Google, along with more than 20 other U.S. companies, had been targeted in a wave of computer hacking attacks originating from China.

The attackers also tried to pry into the e-mail of human rights activists opposed to the ruling party's policies, according to Google. That raised the specter that the Chinese government or its agents played a role in the espionage, although Google never made a direct accusation.

Despite its outrage, Google had hoped to persuade the Chinese government to let it run a search engine that could deliver unrestricted results. Failing that, Google wanted to find enough common ground to maintain its research center and sales team in the country an objective that was apparently achieved after the company navigated the labyrinth of ministries in China's government.

The prospects for a truce seemed remote at times because China's communist leaders publicly did little to conceal their indignation at Google's defiance.

"In the view of the Chinese government, censorship is a nonnegotiable issue," Nicholas Bequelin, a senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "They're never going to go back on this."

Here is the full text of Drummond's post:

On January 12, we announced on this blog that Google and more than twenty other U.S. companies had been the victims of a sophisticated cyber attack originating from China, and that during our investigation into these attacks we had uncovered evidence to suggest that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on their computers. We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered-combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger-had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn.

So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services-Google Search, Google News, and Google Images-on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.

Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced-it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services. We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China.

In terms of Google's wider business operations, we intend to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there, though the size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk. Finally, we would like to make clear that all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them. Despite all the uncertainty and difficulties they have faced since we made our announcement in January, they have continued to focus on serving our Chinese users and customers. We are immensely proud of them.
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