Google has carried out its threat to shut down the Google.cn search engine following its censorship dispute with the Chinese Government. All users are now redirected to the Hong Kong-based Google.com.hk. Although Hong Kong is part of China, it retains a level of independence and its search engine delivers uncensored results.
Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, stated:
The Chinese Government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced. It is entirely legal.
The US Government backed Google and expressed disappointment that an American company was forced into taking such drastic measures.
The Chinese Government immediately criticized the company and accused them of violating the terms agreed when the search engine was launched in 2006. A spokesman for the State Council Information Office said:
This is totally wrong. We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.
Google threatened to quit China in January 2010 following sophisticated attacks on their corporate infrastructure which originated from within the country. The hackers were believed to be targeting GMail accounts owned by human rights activists. Google announced they were no longer willing to censor results and have been in talks with the Chinese Government since that time.
Google has not pulled out of China altogether and retains their 700 research, development, and sales staff. Does this highlight a conflict of interest within company? On one hand, Google has its moralistic “do no evil” stance against oppression and censorship. On the other, they are a commercial operation in a country with 400 million internet users, a population of 1.3 billion, and the world’s fastest growing economy.
In my opinion, Google has a simple choice:
- It can trade in any country it chooses — as long as it abides with local regulations.
- If those regulations are utterly abhorrent to the company, it should not be there.
Perhaps that’s too simplistic, but Google appears to be making considerable amount of money within a regime they openly despise. However, I suspect it won’t last long — the great Firewall of China could come online at any moment.
What do you think? Should Google quit China? Should they continue to work within the country? Could they change China’s human rights policies when so many others have failed?
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.