In an unusually angry movie, Internet giant Google has announced it plans to defy Chinese government authorities and cease censoring Internet search results delivered via the Chinese version of its search service. Furthermore, Google plans to review its business operations in China over the next few weeks and make a determination whether it is feasible to continue conducting business in the country.
Google’s public defiance of the Chinese government comes in the wake of a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” on Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists. Although Google’s services in China (and around the world) are constantly subjected to probes and attacks, Google claims to have discovered they were not the only company attacked: Google claims at least twenty other large companies in the technology, finance, media, and chemical industries had been similarly targeted. And although Google doesn’t actually say it, the company strongly implies the attacks and surveillance efforts were the work of the Chinese government. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton has also expressed concerns about the attacks, saying in a statement “we look to the Chinese government for an explanation.”
Google claims only two Gmail accounts were compromised, although dozens of other accounts belonging to Gmail users in the U.S., Europe, and China were also “routinely accessed” by third parties, probably as the result of malware or spyware intercepting passwords.
Google has always had a testy relationship with Chinese authorities and the country’s massive Internet censorship and surveillance regime, and now the water is going to get that much hotter: Google has announced it is “no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn” and will be re-evaluating whether to continue doing business in China.
Industry watchers are skeptical that Google would actually withdraw from China: the nation is the world’s largest Internet and mobile communications market, both of which are absolutely core to Google’s business. But by taking its complaints about Chinese surveillance, censorship, and ongoing disdain for human rights public, Google perhaps hopes to shame China into making some concessions—or at least thinking twice before attempting to gain clandestine access to Google’s systems. It’s also possible Google’s public stance is also intended to put pressure on other Internet companies with significant business presence in China—like Yahoo and Microsoft.
Unsurprisingly, news that Google may withdraw from the Chinese market was heavily censored in China, with almost all coverage omitting references to free speech, surveillance, or Google’s intent to cease censoring search results.