Google's application to renew its Internet Content Provider License in China is being reviewed by government officials, who told news agencies there was no set deadline for approval. The announcement represents another step in the sometimes-contentious relationship between the search-engine giant and Beijing.
"Google's annual check-in is under way," Wang Lijian, chief propaganda official at China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told Reuters on July 6. Google had apparently submitted its application "late," according to Wang.
Google announced June 28 that it will cease redirecting visitors to its Google.cn search engine to its Google.hk portal, a move the company enacted in March after falling victim to a cyber-attack that supposedly originated in mainland China. The rerouting through the Google.hk portal also allows Google to sidestep the Chinese government's censorship of Web content, by giving users the ability to search unfiltered in simplified Chinese; officials in Beijing, however, were apparently quick to express their displeasure over the company's fancy digital footwork.
"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," David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, 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."
Google has found itself confronted with something of a dilemma in its China dealings; on the one hand, the country boasts more than 400 million Web users, representing a market that the company can't afford to lose. At the same time, however, the Beijing government's attempts at censorship run counter to Google's stated philosophy of making the entirety of the world's information accessible and useful.
"As a company we aspire to make information available to users everywhere, including China," Drummond wrote. "It's why we have worked so hard to keep Google.cn alive, as well as continue our research and development work in China."
The relationship between Google and China became particularly contentious in March, after hackers supposedly within China targeted the IT infrastructure of Google and some 20 other companies. Among the targets: Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents. Enraged, Google threatened to stop censoring results on Google.cn, but ultimately decided on the Google.hk reroute.
While Google does not censor the searches on Google.hk, results are 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 first hand."
Google's need for China's burgeoning market, and the Beijing government's own desires, will likely ensure further twists and turns in their relationship.