Google May Pull Plug on China
a dramatic reversal of policy, Google said Jan. 12 it will stop
censoring searches on its Google.cn and reconsider the feasibility of
even doing business there after the search giant reported cyber attacks
from within China aimed at gaining access to the Gmail accounts of
human rights activists.
In a blog posting by Google's chief legal officer David Drummond, Google also said 20 other companies from a wide range of businesses had suffered similar attacks. Google said it was in the process of informing those companies of the attacks. Google also it said it had informed the U.S. government of the attacks.
"We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation," Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in a statement.
Google added that the attacks had apparently failed with only two Gmail accounts being accessed and the information gained limited in scope.
Google has long raised the ire of human rights activists and lawmakers over agreeing to do business with China. In 2006, Google agreed to censor searches on Google.cn, a decision defended by Google at the time as a "judgment that Google.cn will make a meaningful - though imperfect - contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China."
The attacks, though, appear to have changed Google's thought process on China.
"These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered -- combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web -- have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China," Drummond wrote. "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
Google apparently hopes its new defiance of China's Internet policy will rally local Chinese users.
"We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech," Drummond wrote. "In the last two decades, China's economic reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today."
As the news of Google's new policy stance spread across Washington Jan. 13, the initial responses were uniformly in support of Google.
The CCIA (Computer & Communications Industry Association) said the controversy should be an opportunity for the Chinese government to stop restricting search information.
"It is increasingly apparent that censorship is a barrier to trade, and that China cannot limit the free flow of information and still comply with its international trade obligations," CCIA President & CEO Ed Black said in a statement. "The Chinese government has said it is gathering more information before deciding how to proceed and we would urge that they look at the issue holistically with government, economic and trade officials involved in the decision."
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called Google's actions overdue but nevertheless welcome.
"When Google went to China, it seemed to forget all about its quirky corporate slogan, 'Don't be evil,' but two cheers now for deciding that making a fortune there may not be worth of cost of accepting the routine oppression that passes for governance in China," Barton said in a statement. "The Chinese plundering of Google's database for the names and e-mail addresses of human rights activists is hardly surprising. Google's announcement that it may abandon the China market is appropriate, if belated, and news that it will no longer censor searches on Google.cn marks a great leap forward for freedom."