Google Considers Leaving China If China Will Not Allow Uncensored Search

from the wow dept

Did not see this one coming at all. Four years ago, there was tremendous attention paid to Google’s announcement that it was offering a search engine in China, which would censor results in accordance with Chinese law. This resulted in a massive amount of criticism directed at Google, and Google’s PR response was quite weak, with waffling explanations. The company did eventually make a reasonable (to some) argument that it hoped it could effect more change from within the system, by doing things like alerting users to the fact that results were censored. However, many were still quite critical of Google’s position, even as most people assumed that Google felt it had to do this just to get access to the lucrative Chinese market.

But in a surprising blog post discussing an online attack that tried to access a bunch of Gmail accounts of people seen as activists for human rights in China, Google also announced that it found the situation in China to be untenable and it would no longer censor results in China (it’s at the very end — talk about burying the lede):

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, 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, and potentially our offices in China.

I have to admit that my first thought is that there’s something much bigger happening behind the scenes to lead to this. I doubt that this decision came out of some hackers trying to access Gmail accounts. The real question is what China does now — and whether either side is bluffing?

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Comments on “Google Considers Leaving China If China Will Not Allow Uncensored Search”

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Liz says:

One large company refuses to do business in China. Others may (but probably won’t) follow Google’s lead. Yes, Google will remain on the internet. And people will bypass the Great Firewall through proxies, spoofing their IP addresses, and a multitude of other tricks.

Google removing it’s physical presence from China will mean loss of revenue, loss of local jobs, and loss of control for the Chinese government over some operating aspect of a foreign corporation.

It isn’t like Wal-Mart, Mattel, or Nike who made themselves dependent on cheap labor and goods to maintain their bottom line. Google is an internet resource that that built and maintains their presence in the virtual world. However, if Google can break away from the largest, fastest growing economy, I’d wonder who else could?

TriZz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That sounds nice…but I doubt anyone else would. Google breaking free from the largest, fastest growing economy in the world just means that they CAN do that. Other companies might not have the resources to just pass on that market.

Mainly it’s a political statement. Or, as Mike suggests, something else happened behind the scenes that has Google more concerned than they let on.

tom says:

net still trumps?

But hopefully we will see the internet, that has trumped businesses and industries, can also trump countries. Google may lose some business but maybe not much. It will be interesting to see if the Chinese still use Google because they can.

I am sure Nike and Walmart and the others will continue to get down and dirty with China becasue they ‘have to’.

akston (user link) says:

So, not evil now?

I find Google somewhat confusing… First they decide to “Don’t Be Evil”, then there’s the turn to the dark side with the initial capitulation to China’s censorious demands (plus the whole debate abont whether holding all the books in the world digitally will be evil or not… and now it looks as though they’ve recanted and are not evil again.

ethorad (profile) says:

who defines evil?

Playing devil’s advocate here, I always thought Google’s claim to do no evil was rather amusing. After all, who defines what is “evil”?

There are probably some things that pretty much everyone can agree are evil, I won’t mention examples for fear of invoking Godwin’s law. However, various cultures around the world have differing viewpoints – the case in point here being the US and Chinese governments. I’m sure anyone on here can list large numbers of countries where the government/people have very different values and beliefs to us in the west.

Is following the law in a country in which you operate evil? Or is inflicting the beliefs from one country on another country evil? After all, if America throws her weight around trying to get the world to fall into step just because the US is currently top dog they’re not going to be so happy when/if China overtakes the US.

Following on from this I’d like to see whether Google is speaking to the French and German governments over their censorship of anything relating to the Nazi party and holocaust denial. (damn … and I did try to avoid Godwin’s Law …)

ethorad (profile) says:

Re: Re: who defines evil?

To continue with devil’s advocate …

What’s more poisonous?

(a) Using censorship to decide what citizens can see / say
(b) Premitting people to cause unrest and damage under cover of free speech

We argue that (a) is poisonous, but we still make use of it. For example, in some central European countries Nazi symbols are banned and you can be jailed for Holocaust denial. In the UK (and I believe the US) you can be jailed for Hate Speech crimes. In both these instances the government has decided that free speech only goes so far and in the interest of keeping the peace that certain forms of free speech are not permitted – that (a) is less poisonous on the whole than (b).

(Granted in China the restrictions on free speech go further than here in the West, but as we don’t have completely free speech here either so it becomes a matter of degree, shades of grey rather than black and white)

My point is that we tend to draw the line to declare things evil, or limit free speech, when it goes against our values. Just because someone else’s line is in a different place to ours doesn’t *necessarily* make them evil.

After all, China could consider supporting pro-democracy movements evil to the same extent that we consider their censorship evil. Who is right?

I would state that generally I don’t agree with censorship – people should be allowed to learn about tiananman square, and to deny the holocaust. Because it goes against my values I agree with placing restrictions on people when what they do causes harm to others – actual harm, rather than upset because you disagree with them. My problem is with countries / people being tarred with the “evil” brush simply because we disagree with them.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: who defines evil?

“In the UK (and I believe the US) you can be jailed for Hate Speech crimes.”

Not in the US. The hate speech laws here only kick in when you have committed some other crime, and make the punishment for that other crime more severe. It is not a crime to engage in hate speech alone. (Although I consider US hate speech laws to be unjust, they are a lesser injustice.)

There is speech that is prohibited in the US, but it is speech that tends to cause immediate and obvious harm. For example, you can’t incite a riot or lie to defame someone (you can defame someone if what you say is true, however.)

You are arguing moral relativism, and I agree with you.

I, however, have no problem calling China evil (in this regard) because China actively uses censorship in order to do direct and immediate harm to people who are guilty of nothing more than criticizing it.

That’s evil in my book. Companies and people who do business with evil are tainted by the evil. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking with it.

:) says:

The Chinese.

The Chinese are much like the U.S. they say one thing to the public and do another behind it.

Many many factories build by japan and latter abandoned because chinese workers didn’t work now work at full capacity.

That is one example of what really happens on the ground.

Behind the curtains the Chinese government knee cap any foreigner company so while Baidu have direct links and even incite copyright infringement to maintain their lead on search engines they force others through impossible rules that the own home grown solution doesn’t abide.

So in a sense the fools that go over china searching prosperity will find themselves at the mercy of the host.

Maybe that is why Google doesn’t seem to care after all they don’t have a chance to compete inside that market being threatened all the time.

But I don’t know nothing, don’t take my word for it, is just speculation at best.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Considering that Google is in deep pooh over digitizing books without permission, and that this is very much at the top of the pile, I think they may have chosen this moment to bury the news:

I also think that Google has come to realize that their “network” isn’t safe or secure in China, that hackers including government sanctioned hackers (usually regional governments, not Beijing) will attempt to access private information, figure out who users are, etc.

My feeling is that Google will find itself blocked off fairly quickly, their .cn domain revoked, put on hold, or redirected. It’s one of those rare times when they don’t seem to realize what they are truly up against.

In related news, shares of Chinese search engine Baidu are way up following this news, it appears that many are betting that Google will be out of the Chinese market.

Chill says:

Re: Re:

“It’s one of those rare times when they don’t seem to realize what they are truly up against.”


“We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.”

I get a sense that they know full well what repercussions could come from this. Their motive? Cold be many things, could just be the hacking.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Weak entry this time.

1) Google isn’t really in deep anything over digitizing books without permission. So far it’s just PR and posturing.

2) I don’t believe Google is just realizing this now, I believe that there was a tacit agreement with China to keep their cyberwarfare off Google so long as Google played nice. Obviously, China lied — and why this might surprise anyone is beyond me — and Google has to respond in the only manner possible, by running their search portal their way. Eventually, Google may have to leave the Chinese market. And good riddance.

3) The domain won’t be revoked or put on hold, and I doubt it’ll even be redirected. Once you start down that path, it becomes a fairly trivial step towards Balkanizing the Internet domains and freezing domains like assets. No one wants that.

4) Of course Baidu is up. The public lesson here? You can compete with free by using totalitarian rule.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Weak entry this time.

1) if you pay attention to the chinese media, the copyright thing is a very huge issue. It is being treated as an attack on culture and Chinese writers.

2) I don’t think Google as a company felt that the copyright issue would become part of the game. Google didn’t play nice, the copyright issue ended up in court, and the Chinese government was “officially angry” or something to that effect over the issue. You don’t want them to be even unofficially angry.

3) We will see. The chinese government has no issue pulling domains out from under people, they do it on a regular basis.

4) Baidu is the winner in all of this, no matter what.

The chinese government can live without Google, that much is clear. Google on the other hand loses a huge market and access to it. This is not to their benefit at all.

Google has made claims about hacking and whatnot, but if they only noticed this sort of activity now, it’s because they have been willfully blind in order to play nice. Their being “officially angry” over hacking shortly after the chinese government was “officially angry” over copyright is pretty telling.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Weak entry this time.

@TAM: I agree with you that the timing is suspicious, but the issue is that these attacks only intensified in the last five weeks.

Google might turn a blind eye to attack theat don’t directly involve Chinese activists. Once your attacks get political, however, then it might be a wise idea to pull and cut your losses.

Victor says:

China has a firewall in place for a reason, they wish to censor information coming in and out of their country. The fact that Google feels it can try to change the rules of a foreign government in which they do business this should not be allowed.
The Chinese have been getting on fine with the censorship in their country there is no reason they should get rid of it, so why should google try to make them change their ways.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“so why should google try to make them change their ways.”

They aren’t. Google is saying that they feel the Chinese government’s position is something that they cannot put up with, and if the Chinese government doesn’t change it, they won’t do business there anymore.

It’s Google’s right to do this, just as it’s China’s right to let them go away.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The Chinese have been getting on fine with the censorship in their country…”

Just like the demonstrators at Tiananman Square got on fine with the military, right? Just like they’ve been getting on fine with all the human rights abuses and the oppresive totalitarian regime that they all love because if they say they don’t they get thrown in prison if they are lucky, and dissapear altogether if they aren’t, right?

Why don’t you ask the Chinese people how fine they’ve been getting on before you make rediculous blanket statements.

:) says:

The Chinese.

See the part about MP3 and video. Even google had a partner to search for mp3 on the internet.

But google is vulnerable outside china on those matters while baidu have no problems one could use the chinese search engine to find mp3 and video and download them and there is nothing some angry people can do about it, those same angry people don’t even have the courage to complain directly after they got slapped silly a couple of times by the reactions of the Chinese government.

Anonymous Coward says:

The US should do no business with China under any conditions, Clinton giving them most favored nation status shows he and his ilk are total idiots. Trying to get rich by using 3rd world labor to reduce you costs, doesn’t make your economy great, it eventually turns your country into a 3rd world nation, as the US is so plainly seeing now.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Good for Google!

I’ve soured on Google quite a lot over the last few years — their behavior has been increasingly obnoxious and worrisome to me, to the point that I’ve stopped using all Google products.

However, this is an extremely positive step (even if it was taken for pragmatic, rather than ethical, reasons). I’ll keep watching and hope that this signals a change in Google’s heart.

Henry Emrich (profile) says:

Wow.....this entire discussion is stupid

1. Google is nothing but a bunch of gutless, money-mad cowards (just like pretty much every other corporation BY DESIGN. Legal “personhood”, anyone?) To expect Google to be anything but “slightly less evil” than *some* other corporations *some* of the time (when doing so doesn’t cut into their profit-margins, or actually cost them anything), is wishful thinking, or worse.

This won’t “cost” Google anything — IF they actually follow through with it, the positive PR about how Google “stood up” to dictatorship by essentially “taking it’s toys and going home” will more than counter-balance their efforts in China (which were hampered by the Chinese government being up their ass, anyway — AND cost them big, because they were RIGHTLY seen to be collaborating with the worst aspects of government power.)

This makes Google look “less evil”, when in fact, keeping their Chinese search, but doing a half-assed job with the censorship would *in fact* be far more beneficial to dissidents within China itself.

Funny how that works — Google gets to look good by *failing* to actually do anything against Chinese censorship. Brilliant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wow.....this entire discussion is stupid

Google has done more than any other corporation to give people free tools they can use. I guess you are just used to being f**ked by MS you don’t know a good thing when you see it.

What China does is China’s business. You self righteous idiots should worry about your own country. In reality, exporting US “Democracy” means exploiting countries and marginalizing countries that don’t allow you to rape them (Cuba).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wow.....this entire discussion is stupid

“Google has done more than any other corporation to give people free tools they can use.”

Google gives nothing for free. You are trading access to your personal information for those tools. That may be worth it to you, but it’s far from free.

“You self righteous idiots should worry about your own country.”

I believe that’s exactly what we (and Google) is doing. We (and Google) have no obligation to support a nation that we consider immoral, such as China. Withdrawing support is not the same as dictating China’s internal affairs.

Anony1 says:

OK—Time to go conspiracy mode here. First the attack on Google-frankly-serves them right for trusting the commies in the first place. More importantly however, they were not the only company targeted. According to a story on
upwards of 30 + other major US corporations, including Adobe were targeted in the cyber attack. This is the biggest hack ever probably, and not a word about it in the news. This is cyber war. Second, China’s biggest search engine was hacked today. “Badau” I believe or something like that. Either the US did it, calling themselves the “Iranian Cyber Army” or China did it to themselves.
The point is, if Google pulls out of China over this hack, the Chinese will get what they wanted. Google currently holds 29 % of the search market in China. If they pull out they get zero. Get it yet? Just maybe China has decided that’s one industry where they don’t need competition. The industry of information. In commie land, that probably makes sense. If you have a free market, in order to maintain control, stifle speech. Cheers…

Anony1 says:

@lux: What good is our “infrastructure” when we are completely bankrupt, to the point of not being able to maintain it? Huh? Wha? That’s right.

Oh..and did I fail to mention, the people we need to pay back to get out of bankruptcy, they’re the “disaster” you mention above. They’ve not only touched us, they’re prodding us with a damn sharp pointy stick, and picking our bones with this cyber-attack….

Buckwally (profile) says:

Welcome to World War 3.0

As an IT guy for a major defense contractor, I can, by quoting only widely published data, and not violating any security oaths, state authoritatively that a massive number of packets bombard every ISP in the Free World from mainland China every moment, and a significant number of packets are going back. This isn’t an opinion, this is a fact of life for every IT security organization.
Google pulling out the China market may be a matter of “clearing away the forest so we can see the trees”. Other legitimate web operators in China may soon follow, or be classed as part of the problem and not part of the solution. I don’t see any noble motivation here, I think Google is done a benefits/cost analysis, figuring in the bad press, and the value of their intellectual property, and the cost of having to defend it, and staking out a position. To apply a World war 2 analogy, they would prefer to become something like the Switzerland of the Internet, instead of taking on the role Belgium.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Not Guilty by Association

Google should stop considering and start packing. Censorship is the wrong business for the world leading search provider to engage.

It might just be me, but ever since Google and Yahoo started working with the Chinese, other (formerly) democratic countries, like Australia, and certain members of the EU, have been falling over themselves trying to “catch up” on the censorship curve.

In my mind, censorship is the worst evil a search company could possibly commit. It is pretty alarming how much leeway mainstream media seems to be willing to give on this front these days.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Not Guilty by Association

I agree completely.

It was Google’s willingness to become censors to enter the Chinese market that was the start of Google’s fall from the Forces of Good. They’ve continued on that path ever since.

This is a good step for Google, but I don’t really have that much hope that Google will once again become one of the Good Guys. Still, I’m watching, just in case.

Louise Cloutier says:

burying the lede

This is completely off topic, but you may find it amusing.

I just read this post –loved it, love Techdirt!– and noticed you spelled a word in a way I’ve never seen before, “burying the lede”.

I jumped and thought, “Wow, what does he know that I don’t know? Gosh, maybe I’ve been spelling it wrong. If Mike Masnick says it this way then –I gotta pay attention.” So I dashed over to Wikipedia with your spelling. Turns out Lede is a town in the Belgian province of East Flanders. Oh….

I guess it was just a typo, hey, everyone’s human. Well, I figure, let’s tell him about it. Give him a laugh, let him know how deep his credibility is with readers 😉

Then I decided to give it another try. I Googled the phrase ‘burying the lede’ and –whoa!!– it *is* the correct spelling among journalists. Yay… Techdirt is vindicated again!! 🙂

mhenriday (profile) says:

Have to agree with Mike,

that it’s very likely that «there’s something much bigger happening behind the scenes to lead to this. I doubt that this decision came out of some hackers trying to access Gmail accounts. The real question is what China does now — and whether either side is bluffing?» After all, the Google leadership is reported to have consulted with Ms Clinton before going public with its decision – is Google now an arm of the US State Department – or rather the Pentagon, since it’s obvious that the latter trumps the former in the councils of the Obama adminsitration, just as it did in those of its predecessors.

Note also that in all the articles on «hacking» and «high-technology espionage» that have been published in the corporate media on this development, not a word has devoted to the forays of the United States in this particular area, like the infamous Echelon, which is estimated to intercept up to three thousand million messages daily. Or, for that matter, the infamous «Patriot Act», which allows library loans to be checked without any notice, and imposes Draconian penalties if librarians reveal this to library users. But as noted long ago (Matthew 7:3), the mote in one’s neighbour’s eye is always of greater interest than the beam in one’s own. I, for one, find it difficult to take seriously the indignation at human rights violations in other lands expressed by media organs which support their own country’s criminal wars of aggression abroad….


N. West says:

This is absolutely an irresponsible business decision!

This is for political reason after all – and maybe even at the request of US government, and working with the US government to come up this as part of the geo-political game to press China. After all, it’s totally illogic to make the hacker’s attack as the reason for the stopping of sencership.

But wait, isn’t Google a business entity, or has it become a government branch?

This is absolutely an irresponsible business decision – leaving the largest internet market in the world, giving up all the paswt investment, and the nearly 40% search market share it has gained there, hurting all the investors and shareholder in the long run, simply for political reasons and for working for the government, and without a clear business decision process – local employees were never asked if ths would be a wise decision. As a Google shareholder, I think this is totally irresponsible from business stand point. Why is a business involved in geo-politics, and not look after its investment and long term business interests?

In the end, the loser will be Google. I am particularly mad by the news that Google’s competitor in China Baidu has already got money dropped from sky for them as their stock price jumpped at the news. As the former president of Microsoft China Mr. Jun Tang said, quoting from the Internet blogs news in China: “This is the most stupid decision in history!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is absolutely an irresponsible business decision!

I agree! As a Google share holder I am absolutely appalled at this decision. I want one thing from my Google investment: maximum profits, not pin-in-the-sky idealism. I couldn’t care less what the Chinese government does to it’s own citizens as long my stocks go up.

I thought the law required publicly owned companies to run for the best return of the share holders. It seems to me that Google is now violating that law and should be held accountable in court for doing so.

new says:

Oi galera, gostaria de uma ajuda, eu adquirir um pacote de TV HD no PC no site tenho acesso a vários canais através de um painel de controle que eu visualizo no próprio navegador, como eu faço para gravar os programas e série de TV no meu PC, lembrando que não tem nem um programa instalado no meu PC é todo pelo próprio navegador.
Quem tiver uma luz por favor me ajude meu e-mail:

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