Google Threatens to Pull Out of China

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 13, 2010

Note:  This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

(by Malcolm Moore in Shanghai and Peter Foster in Beijing, Telegraph.co.uk) — Google, the internet search engine, has said it is ready to close down its business and quit China because of the country’s increasing censorship.

In a head-to-head confrontation with the Chinese government, the company said that it will pull out of the country unless it is allowed to provide a totally uncensored service.

After the announcement, Google’s China website immediately began to offer reports and images of the Tiananmen Square massacre and other highly sensitive events that Beijing has suppressed for decades.

The surprise move was accompanied by a signal from Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of State, that she was preparing to throw her weight behind a campaign against China’s lack of free speech.

The State department said that Mrs Clinton had met with executives from Google and Microsoft, as well as with Cisco Systems, which provides much of China’s internet infrastructure, to discuss how to stop countries from “stifling” access to information.

Next week the U.S. is to launch a new technology policy to help citizens in other countries to gain access to an uncensored internet.

“I defer to Google for details of its decision. Google was in contact with us prior to the announcement,” said a State department spokesman.

Human rights groups, which have criticized Google’s decision to submit to Chinese censorship after setting up in China in 2006, applauded the company’s stand. The New York-based Human Rights Watch described it as “an important step” to protect human rights online.

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Since launching in China, Google has self-censored its Chinese website, arguing that “the benefits of increased access to information for people in China outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results”.

However, a number of recent attacks on the company, coupled with a new campaign last year to limit information on the internet, has convinced Google’s executives that its Chinese business may no longer be viable.

Google said that it had been the target of “highly sophisticated” attacks in December that had succeeded in stealing the company’s intellectual property. It added that twenty other major corporations from sectors including finance, technology, media and chemicals had also been targeted.

Google also accused Chinese hackers of trying to gain access to its email service in order to spy on Chinese human rights activists. It said dozens of activists based in the U.S., China and Europe had their accounts “routinely” broken into by third parties.

As a result, said David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, “we have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn”.

He said the company would discuss the matter with the Chinese government but that it recognised “that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”

Google only has 30 per cent of the Chinese market, where it is outgunned by the local company, Baidu. In the past, Google has described its operation in China as “immaterial” to its overall revenues, which were nearly $22 billion in 2008.

Mr. Drummond said that the company’s executives in China had been kept in the dark about the move, which was decided at its U.S. headquarters.

John Liu, Google’s chief executive in China, is believed to have been notified only in the past two days.

Mr. Liu took the helm at Google China last September after the abrupt departure of Kaifu Lee, the company’s previous China head. Mr. Lee’s departure was prompted by a series of attacks on Google by the Chinese government, which accused the US company of not limiting access to pornography through its search engine. Since September, Google has slimmed its Chinese office to a skeleton, recalling several engineers to the U.S.

“The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences,” said Mr. Drummond.

China blocks access for its 350 million internet users to politically-sensitive information and is in the middle of a new campaign to cleanse the internet of pornography.

Last year, the government tried, but failed, to force computer manufacturers to install a censorship program on their new PCs called Green Dam.

Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which is owned by Google, are also blocked, as is the movie information website IMDB.com.

However, Beijing insists that the Chinese internet “has the most free internet in the world” and that it does not censor its citizens.

A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology could not be reached for comment. Microsoft and Yahoo, the other two major foreign internet search companies in China, also did not comment on whether they intended to follow Google’s lead.

Information appearing on telegraph.co.uk is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Telegraph. Visit the website at telegraph.co.uk.

Questions

1. What announcement has Google made about their Chinese market?

2. For what reasons is Google taking this potential step? Be specific.

3. How has Human Rights Watch attitude toward Google’s presence in China changed with Google’s announcement?

4. What percent of the market does Google have in China?

5. What popular websites are currently blocked in China?

6. Why do you think Google said that its executives in China had not been told about the withdrawal before announcing it publicly?

7. How has the Chinese government reacted to accusations of censorship?

8. When Google launched its Chinese division four years ago, it complied with the Chinese government’s orders to censor information (e.g. Tiananmen Square Massacre in China). At the time, Google argued that “the benefits of increased access to information for people in China outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results”. Why do you think Google has reversed its policy now?


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Resources

Read about Chinese government censorship of the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary at studentnewsdaily.com/daily-news-article/china-begins-internet-blackout-ahead-of-tiananmen-anniversary.

View two editorial cartoons on Google’s willingness to censor information in China at studentnewsdaily.com/cartoon/google_china_lang_nowak.

Read a commentary from 2006 on Google’s willingness to censor information in China at studentnewsdaily.com/commentary/google_and_the_government.