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Google Waits for China License; Search Partly Blocked

Google and China may be starting another game of hardball: users in mainland China are finding that Google’s “Suggest” feature—which offers possible queries in real time as users start to type a search string—is no longer functioning, while the feature remains active for users in Hong Kong and other areas outside China’s “great firewall.” In the meantime, Google is waiting for the Chinese government to make a decision on renewing its Internet Content Provider license: Google stopped redirecting Chinese users to its Hong Kong-based search service earlier this week (offering a link instead) after China indicated the redirection could cause Google to lose the license.

The application deadline for Google’s renewed Internet Content Provider license was June 30; Google’s license actually runs through 2012 but must be renewed annually. Earlier today Google said it had not received any notice from Chinese regulators whether the renewal would be accepted.

The Chinese state new agency Xinhua said the Chinese government regarded the Google renewal application as “very late.”

Google began redirecting search traffic in mainland China to its Hong Kong operations in March of 2010, following a series of sophisticated cyberattacks carried out against Google and other U.S. companies in January of 2010. In response to the attacks—which in part targeted accounts of Chinese human rights activists—Google said it would no longer filter search results in China and would re-examine its business practices in the country. China operates the most extensive Internet censorship regime on the planet, routinely blocking access to information it believes harms Chinese culture or subverts state power.

Unlike most of the rest of the world—where Google has a commanding presence in the search market—Google currently accounts for about 30 percent of the Chinese search market. Industry watchers speculate that if Google were to lose its license to operate in China, its share would quickly be snatched up by Chinese-based search operations like Baidu, which currently accounts for about 60 percent of the Chinese search market.

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