Citing threats from China's government that would make its search engine go dark in the country, Google June 28 said it will cease rerouting visitors to its Google.cn search engine to its Google.hk portal.
Following a cyber-attack that originated in China, the search engine in March began redirecting all searchers to its mainland Google.cn portal to Google.hk to avoid Chinese censorship. Google offers search unfiltered in simplified Chinese there.
While Google claims this has been working fine for users and Google, the Chinese government has let Google know it does not appreciate the redirect, which it sees an end-run around its censorship laws.
"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)," David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, said in a blog post.
"Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial Website like Google.cn-so Google would effectively go dark in China."
Google has started taking a "small percentage" of its Google.cn users to a landing page on Google.cn that links to Google.com.hk. There, users can still conduct Web searches or use uncensored Google.cn services such as product search, music and text translate.
Google, which resubmitted its ICP license renewal application based on this approach, will end the redirect entirely and shuttle all Chinese users to this new landing page over the next few days.
The landing page features the Google logo and a non-functioning search box, below which sits a message that reads, "We have moved to Google.hk." Clicking anywhere on this landing page redirects users to Google.hk.
Reuters said China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Google's latest workaround to the censorship dilemma. Google believes the approach ensures it stays true to its commitment not to censor results on Google.cn and gives users access to its services from one page.
"As a company we aspire to make information available to users everywhere, including China," Drummond said. "It's why we have worked so hard to keep Google.cn alive, as well as to continue our research and development work in China."
The move shows that Google is willing to bend but not break in its quest to conduct business in a country that boasts more than 400 million Web users, a valuable market Google can't afford to be shut out of.
While China only accounts for 1 to 2 percent of Google's search ad revenues, the company has already lost search share to China's No. 1 search player Baidu as a result of its moves.
Google, Yahoo and some 20 total companies late last year were the victims of the cyber-attack, in which hackers accessed Gmail accounts via phishing scams or malware placed on users' computers.
In retaliation, Google threatened to stop censoring results on Google.cn; rerouting users to Google.hk was its way of going about this.