Google March 22 ceased censoring its Google Search, Google News and Google Images sites on Google.cn, the search engine’s response to a cyber-attack in which the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists were accessed.
Google is now redirecting those who visit the search engine to its Hong Kong site Google.com.hk, where it is serving users uncensored search in simplified Chinese.
This workaround was designed for users in mainland China and delivered via the company’s servers in Hong Kong, said David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer.
Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored Chinese service from Google.com.hk. Google, which employs some 600 workers in China, will retain its research and development and sales teams in China.
The move comes more than two months after Google shocked the world Jan. 12 by threatening to exit China in the wake of hacks on Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents and human rights activists.
Google, Yahoo and some 20 total companies were the victims of this widespread cyber-attack, in which hackers accessed Gmail accounts via phishing scams or malware placed on users’ computers.
Drummond wrote in a blog post Jan. 12 that Google will cease censoring results on Google.cn, and would discuss with the Chinese government whether or not the company can continue to offer its search engine in China.
For the next two months, Google and China talked about how to resolve the situation before word came last week that Google was close to stop censoring its Chinese search results.
But none of the pundits foresaw redirect to Hong Kong, a touch of cloud computing craftiness to retain traffic and keep users from flocking to Chinese search giant Baidu while seemingly complying with Chinese law.
“We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement,” Drummond said, referring to comments from China leaders who threatened consequences for companies that disobeyed China’s censorship laws.
“We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced – it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.”
Drummond also acknowledged China could block its service, noting that Google would monitor its Hong Kong site to see if there is any disruption. Consumers who plan to use the search site can visit this Web page to see which Google services are available in China.
Analysts at Jefferies and Co. said that while Google.cn accounts for $250 millon to $300 million (1 to 2 percent) of Google’s net revenue, the long-term impact could be greater because China boasts some 400 million Web users the search engine won’t be able to serve.