Google and China Both Looking for a Way to Save Face and Stay Together

Last Updated Jun 29, 2010 5:57 PM EDT

The strange saga of Google (GOOG) in China continues, although the latest twist (more in a second) really just illustrates that both parties want to continue doing business with each other, and neither one is willing to back down on censorship. The result is a elaborate fan dance for all the world to see.

Currently Google redirects everyone who visits Google.cn to its Hong Kong search engine. But David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, wrote on the company's official blog last night that,

It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable -- and that if we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed (it's up for renewal on June 30). Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like Google.cn -- so Google would effectively go dark in China.
So instead, Google is going to take users to a landing page on Google.cn that simply links to its Hong Kong site. Google has now entered the strange, Kafkaesque territory that comes from doing business in a Communist regime. As Barry Schwartz wrote over at Search Engine Land,
As I expressed on my other blog, I feel this type of landing page is deceptive on some level. The landing page is one large graphic that if clicked on, anywhere, takes you to Google Hong Kong. The page actually looks a lot like a Google Search Box and I believe Google designed it this way to encourage people to click in the search box, thinking they can search on Google China, but then ultimately being taken to Google Hong Kong. It seems a bit confusing to me.
Nothing has changed. Google will not censor any of these searches. The Chinese government will continue to filter and censor these searches. That is how things have been since January. Only now an additional click is required.

Many people have assumed that Google is the sole actor behind this, because it has a lot to lose without the Chinese market. But as I've written before, China also wants Google. China's minister of industry and information technology, Li Yizhong, condemned Google's actions, but noted that "If you don't leave, China will welcome that; if you don't leave, it will be beneficial for the development of the Internet in China."

The language of Google's post makes it seem as though it is in discussions with Chinese officials, and perhaps this arrangement is acceptable to both sides. We'll know July first, after the decision comes down on Google's licensing renewal.

Related Links

  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.