Google stands up to China government over censorship

Google, the world’s biggest online search engine provider, has said that it will no longer bow to the Chinese government’s policy of censoring the Internet, even if it means being forced to cease operations in the country.
Since launching in China in 2006, Google’s policy towards government Internet censorship, which forbids access to material on sensitive issues such as the Tibetan independence movement, has been that providing a degraded user experience was better than not providing one at all. However, the company says the situation is no longer tolerable,
citing recent attempts to hack into the Gmail accounts of human rights activities, and increased efforts by the Chinese government to “limit free speech on the web”.

Writing on the company’s official blog, Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond explained that it has "decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, 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 recognise that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.”

However genuine Google’s humanitarian opposition to Internet censorship, withdrawal from the Chinese market could also be an opportunity to parachute out of a bureaucratically problematic market. The organisation’s market share in China is significantly smaller than it is in other parts of the world, with Beijing-based Baidu currently drawing more than 60% of all Chinese search engine traffic.

Google is not the only foreign search engine company to draw significant controversy in regard to its Chinese operations. Rival Yahoo! attracted criticism in 2005 when it allegedly supplied information to the Chinese government that lead to the eventual imprisonment of a local journalist.

The withdrawal of Google will be of huge interest to rival Microsoft, which recently launched a Chinese language version of its Bing search engine in the country, and would clear the path for a two-way tussle between it and Baidu.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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