x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Google challenges China on censorship

Google has previously complied with local laws in implementing what has been called the Great Firewall of China but on Tuesday, the internet giant announced it is "no longer willing to continue censoring" in China.

Since it began operations in China in 2005, Google has complied with local censorship laws in implementing what has been called the Great Firewall of China. On Tuesday, the internet giant announced it is "no longer willing to continue censoring" in China. "In mid-December, Google came under a flurry of cyberattacks that company engineers eventually traced back to a branch of the Chinese government or agents acting on its behalf, according to a person close to the company," the San Jose Mercury News reported. "The attacks appear to have been the last straw for Google, which has had a series of difficulties operating in China. The attacks prompted Google to announce Tuesday that it would consider shuttering its business operations in China unless the government allows it to operate an uncensored search engine. "Google insists it has not traced the attacks to official Chinese agencies. "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday after being briefed by Google that the allegations raise serious concerns and questions. 'We look to the Chinese government for an explanation,' she said in a statement released by the State Department. 'We will have further comment on this matter as the facts become clear.' "The decision to stop cooperating with the government was made in Mountain View [Goggle's corporate headquarters in California]; Google deliberately kept its employees in China in the dark about the move. 'The company took every precaution possible to make sure their people in China would be safe,' the person close to the company said." China Daily reported: "David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in an unusual statement posted online that the company had detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack from China that resulted in the theft of the company's intellectual property. " 'These attacks ... led us to conclude that we review the feasibility of our business operations in China.' "He said Google will no longer continue censoring results on Google.cn, a Chinese-language website it launched in 2006, and is discussing with the Chinese government the possibility that it operate an unfiltered search engine within the law. " 'We recognise that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China,' he added. "The statement marks a shift in the company's China strategy for the past five years, which is to provide censored results under Chinese law through its domestic search engine in exchange for a presence in the world's largest online population. "That strategy helped Google take about 35 per cent of China's search engine market in the fourth quarter of last year, according to domestic research firm Analysys International. "Jiao Jian, an office worker who uses both Baidu and Google every day, said the possible shutdown of the Google search engine will have little impact on his life as many other firms provide similar services. 'But it's hard to find alternatives to Google's other services, such as Google Map, Google Earth and Gmail,' he said. "He also expressed concerns over the availability and safety of his Gmail account if Google exited the country." In The Guardian, Xiao Qiang wrote: "As the Twittersphere exploded with news that Google may leave the China market rather than continue to operate a censored site, one Chinese Twitterer wrote: 'It's not Google that's withdrawing from China; it's China that's withdrawing from the world.' "For Google, the hacking of gmail accounts was the last straw. As a leading global company in technology and innovation, Google thrives on the open flow of information. Yet, since the company set foot on Chinese soil in 2006, it has been a constant target: Google search phrases are often reset. YouTube and Blogger cannot be accessed. Google docs is often interrupted. Search results on google.cn must be heavily censored. "Of course, Google is not the only foreign IT company to face such hurdles in China. The internet is a liberating force for Chinese citizens, and the government fears it as a threat to its monopoly on information. Google has constantly demonstrated its capacity to empower users in China and so has become a special target." The Times reported: "Yesterday Google made contact with Chinese officials, and discussions are understood to be continuing. But for a few hours yesterday some Chinese citizens said they had precisely the liberty which the search engine is demanding. "After the company presented its ultimatum, some users claimed that previously-banned photographs were available on the site, including one of a protester holding the image of a man standing in front of a tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Google insisted that it had yet to lift the filters that Chinese law requires it to install. "Google will be counting the potential cost of a move designed to protect, or rather burnish, the reputation built around its motto 'Don't be evil'. Since facing a barrage of criticism when submitting to Chinese censors four years ago, it had seemed to be gaining a stronger foothold in China, one of the few places it is not the dominant search engine. "But on Tuesday night, Google found itself unable to square the virtuous circle - based on free access and freedom of expression - that lies at the heart of the way it likes to run its business. Web users dismayed by the news - carried prominently on websites but ignored by state-run media - made their way to the company's Beijing offices to leave bouquets. Some bowed before the building. One message read: 'Google: a real man'." The Christian Science Monitor noted: "there are more than a few reasons why a Google exit makes a lot of sense. "First, 155 million Chinese access the internet through mobile devices, a number that Mark Beccue, an analyst at ABI Research expects to rise at a steady clip for the foreseeable future. The question for Google is whether search, its cash cow, will be able to compete with Baidu and a host of China's other favourite web destinations, sites that sell virtual goods, for time on Chinese internet users' handheld screens. "Second, the increasingly difficult political environment may not only knock Google out of China but portend a much riskier future for the entrance of other American Internet firms. " 'This is a no-win situation for an American [company's] entrance,' says Richard D'Aveni, professor of strategic management at Dartmouth University's Tuck business school. 'I think China is going to want control over the internet, and I think the fate of any search engine or Internet-based company in China is one that they are either going to have to corporate with the government by allowing espionage or they are going to have to get out if they want to live by American values.'"

pwoodward@thenational.ae