Two months ago, Google announced its intention to stop censoring search results in China, while also stating it may even leave the country altogether. The announcement followed the news that Chinese crackers had attempted to crack the accounts of human rights activists. The search giant has stayed true to its word: starting today, search results are no longer censored in China. Google employed a clever trick to get there: they reroute Chinese users to the uncensored Hong Kong version of Google. Instant update: China has already responded: “Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks.”
The announcement was made on the official Google blog by David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer. Starting today, Google Search, Google News, and Google Images are no longer censored in China by rerouteing Chinese users to the Hong Kong Google site.
“Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong,” Drummond writes, “Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk.
Google believes this move is fully legal, but somehow, I doubt the Chinese government sees it that way as well – it’s just a little too easy, don’t you think? Google itself doesn’t have high hopes for this trick to work either, since they’ve set up a page where you can check specifically which Google services are blocked in China.
“We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services,” Drummond explains, “We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China.”
Google also wants to make it very clear that these decisions were made in the US, and that the Chinese Google staff was not involved in any way – probably in an attempt to absolve them of any responsibility that might get them into trouble with the Chinese authorities. Google plans to continue its R&D in China, while also maintaining a sales staff for as long as that makes any sense.
I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, it’s not good of Google to break a written agreement they had, even if they figuratively did a deal with the devil. On the other hand though, I can’t help but be glad they’re sticking to their guns. Honestly, I expected them to either give in or leave China. I didn’t expect them to actually go through with their threat, but I’m glad they have. I’m sure it won’t take long for the Chinese government to officially block google.cn and google.com.hk (the latter is probably already blocked anyway) and not sure where this will leave Google where China is concerned. I’m not going to delude myself into thinking Google is taking a moral stance, but I’m not at all sure what they have to gain by doing this. It seems they’d lose more than they’d gain, especially since Microsoft seems ready to just jump at the Chinese market with Bing. This just got a lot more interesting.