Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Google.cn moves to Hong Kong!

Google.cn finally shut shop early Tuesday morning and was redirecting Chinese traffic to its uncensored search engine in Hong Kong. The surprise move is risky in that it may result in Google being frozen out altogether on the Chinese mainland. According to reports Google said it was closing its China-based website and switching traffic to Hong Kong and insisted  the strategy was 'entirely legal' [Daily Mail / Reuters].

But Chinese officials have said the move reneged on a written promise and was 'totally wrong'. David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said, "We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China." [Xinhua]

Meanwhile the White House voiced regret at the news. A spokesman for President Obama said, "We are disappointed that Google and the Chinese government were unable to reach an agreement."

Google's move to Hong Kong will be a blow for authorities in Beijing. Hong Kong has a separate government and economy, a legacy of its role as a British territory until 1997, though China has since exercised powers to reinterpret local statutes. At the handover of sovereignty, China promised to preserve Hong Kong's capitalist system and free press for a further 50 years. It may push Beijing to block Google's Hong Kong service, something which will anger many Internet users.

On Google's official blog, which is blocked in China, David Drummond put forward Google's case. "On January 12, we announced on this blog that Google and more than twenty other U.S. companies had been the victims of a sophisticated cyber attack originating from China, and that during our investigation into these attacks we had uncovered evidence to suggest that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on their computers," Drummond stated. "We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered—combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger—had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn."

"So earlier today [Tuesday] we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over." 

Google's Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer said the decision had "been hard" and that despite the company wanting to allow as many people in the world as possible to have access to Google's services, including users in mainland China, the "Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement". 

Drummond insisted that the move to Hong Kong was a "sensible solution" and "entirely legal". However he recognised that the Chinese government could block access to Google's services at any time.

In terms of Google's wider business operations, Drummond said the company intended to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there. However, the size of the sales team would be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk. The decision to move Google.cn was implemented by executives in the United States, Drummond said. "None of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible," he added.

Google have made a special page to highlight what services are available within China and which are blocked. That site can be found here.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

No comments: