07:00 AM

Google Finds Its Backbone - Won't Censor China Search, May Close China Operations

Yesterday I wrote that when it comes to China, "Google's backbone is as flexible as that of a Chinese circus contortionist." Because Google is quick to bend over backwards and appease the Chinese authorities over any complaints compared with its dealings with other countries.

But it seems that Google has found its backbone. Today Google announced it will stop censoring its search results on its Google.cn site. (Hat tip: Danny Sullivan.)

This change is because of cyber attacks on the gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists and their supporters in several countries. Google security technology managed to rebuff the attacks. Only two accounts were compromised and very little information was exposed.

David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, writes:

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. 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.

Foremski's Take: Wow. This is excellent news. Google's compromise of its normally strong position in regard to Internet censorship was a troubling anomaly in China. It appeared that its commercial interests were more important than its stated ideological position.

What would it lose if it had to pull out of China? It's not the leading search engine but it has made progress. However, last year it lost its head of China operations, Kai-Fu Lee. I interviewed him here: GOOG's Kai-Fu Lee Becomes China's Archangel Investor

China could find itself increasingly isolated. Back in January of 2006 I asked: "What if Chinese Internet users were banned from US access?" If there is value to being able to access the global Internet then would limiting access for Chinese Internet users help remove or reduce Internet censorship in China?

China's government however, is unlikely to view the Internet in this way. It sees the Internet as a media technology that distributes alternate views to that of its own. An isolated China is a concept that is a familiar one in its history and culture.

An isolated China might make its government less paranoid but it has not been a successful strategy. China fell behind in key technologies and became easily exploited by foreign powers for several hundred years until the mid-20th century.

Is this the start of China's Internet isolationist policy?

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Please see:

Google Just Says No To China: Ending Censorship, Due To Gmail Attack

RConversation: U.S. and China on Internet freedom vs. security

RConversation: China tightens Internet controls in the name of fighting porn, piracy, and cybercrime

What if Chinese internet users were banned from US access? - SVW