Google's Internet Content Provider License has been renewed by the mainland Chinese government, reported the search-engine giant, two days after Beijing officials reported that the application was under review but with no firm deadline for approval. The relationship between Beijing and Google has been rocky in recent months, following a March cyber-attack that the company insisted originated from mainland China.
"We are very pleased that the government has renewed our ICP license and we look forward to continuing to provide web search and local products to our users in China," David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, wrote in a July 9 update on the Official Google Blog.
On June 28, Google had announced that it would cease redirecting visitors to its Google.cn search engine to its Google.hk portal, a move that allowed Google to somewhat sidestep the mainland Chinese government's restrictions on Web content. Officials in Beijing, however, had been quick to indicate their displeasure.
"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," Drummond wrote in a June 28 blog posting. "Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial Website like Google.cn-so Google would effectively go dark in China."
While China's 400 million Web users constitute a huge market for Google's products, its government's attempts at censorship have led the company to engage in some very public soul-searching. That already-fraught relationship became even more brittle in March, after hackers supposedly within China targeted the IT infrastructure of Google and some 20 other companies. Targets included Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents; an enraged Google initially threatened to stop censoring results on Google.cn, before compromising with the Google.hk reroute.
Searches on Google.hk are likely still affected by China's keyword filtering. "Even if a user in China uses search queries that are not filtered by China and retrieves results from Google's .hk version, they will still be affected by China's filtering if they click on the link and try and view those results directly," censorship expert Nart Villeneuve wrote in a March posting on his blog. "Users in China will be affected by China's filtering, not Google's. The difference is in the user's experience-instead of retrieving results and carrying on as if censorship did not exist, the user now experiences censorship firsthand."
While Beijing's approval of Google's license suggests a bit of a thaw between the two, the future likely holds more twists and turns in their relationship.