Google is mulling the idea of shutting down its operations in China amid concerns about a cyber-attack and repeated efforts to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese activists.
Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond in a blog post Jan. 12 said Google is no longer willing to censor results on Google.cn, and "will be discussing with the Chinese government" whether or not the company can "operate an unfiltered search engine within the law" in the weeks ahead.
Google's threat to end its operations in China is the culmination of several incidents, and comes a day after the search engine found itself embroiled in a controversy about the scanning of books by Chinese authors into Google Books. According to Drummond, Google in mid-December uncovered "a highly sophisticated and targeted attack ... originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google."
Google's investigation found that at least 20 other companies in a variety of sectors had been "similarly targeted," wrote Drummond, who is also senior vice president of corporate development at Google. "We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities."
""Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves."Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers.""
The allegations of the attacks and surveillance are just the latest incident in a sometimes controversial relationship between Google and China. Since it launched in 2006, Google.cn has periodically been a source of criticism for free-speech advocates. John Simpson, consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog, said Google should be applauded for taking a stance against censorship.
"While Google should never have agreed to censor search results in China in the first place, it is doing the right thing by ending the practice now," Simpson said. "The company should be commended."
Drummond said despite the announcement the company is committed to working to resolve the issues at hand.
"The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences," Drummond wrote. "We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today."