Is it the end of the road for Google.cn?
Yesterday on the official Google Blog, David Drummond, Google’s Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer announced that following a cyber attack in December Google is now considering withdrawing its operations from the Chinese market. Clearly there’s more to this though and we think market leaders should make a stand against the restriction that Chinese government censorship applies to Chinese web users.
Through a thorough investigation since mid December Google allegedly has evidence to suggest that the attack originated in China and its aim was to access the Gmail accounts of several US, European and Chinese based human rights advocates. The company also has evidence to suggest that the attacks did not only affect Google, advising that an additional 20 large corporations in various industries including the Internet, media, finance and chemical sectors were also affected.
- Official Google Blog: A new approach to China
The Register reports that one of these additional companies was possibly Adobe, although the company has not confirmed whether or not the two incidents were related. Adobe also announced news of its attack via its corporate blog advising that they had become aware of “a computer security incident involving a sophisticated, coordinated attack against corporate network systems managed by Adobe and other companies.”
- The Register: Google may exit China after ‘highly targeted’ attack
- Adobe.com: Adobe Investigates Corporate Network Security Issue
Both companies insist that the attacks were in the main unsuccessful, with Google ensuring users that “only two Gmail accounts were accessed and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.” Google also stated that the company is working with the relevant US authorities.
Regardless of the success or failure of the attack the incident has persuaded Google to re-evaluate its current position in the Chinese market, where it has historically received criticism for agreeing to censor its search engine results in line with the Chinese Government’s requirements.
On the Google blog Drummond continued “We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will nothesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”
The announcement follows recent criticism of the company following the launch of the Australian Firewall project. Whilst the Australian division of Google vocally criticised the Australian government’s new policy no comment was made over the increasing levels of censorship in China.
Iarla Flynn, Google Australia’s head of policy stated “moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information”. She went on to cite websites about euthanasia and instructions for safer drug use as examples of content that is currently blocked but that although unpleasant “should not be blocked by the government as such information can inform the debate over controversial issues.”
- The Register: Google weighs in to Aussie firewall row
Although Google does not categorically state anywhere in its blog that it believes the hackers were state sanctioned it is clear from its response to the attack and its re-evaluation of its participation in the Chinese market space that the company is concerned by this obvious possibility. Back in 2007 MI5 issued warnings to 300 UK CEOs of just such potential government sponsored attacks. These allegations were replicated by several other countries including France, Germany and Australia. Therefore it is hardly difficult to join the dots and we would be very interested to find out more about the evidence Google has uncovered.
- The Register: MI5 warns over China hacking menace
Google’s withdrawal from China will be welcomed by human rights advocates throughout the world who have long campaigned for an end to the Chinese government’s censorship of the Internet and free speech. We believe that it is about time large powerful corporations such as Google (who admittedly have less dominance in the Chinese market than elsewhere in the world) stood up to the Chinese government and either withdrew their business completely or at least pro-actively challenged their censorship regulations. Instead too many are willing to go along with such questionable morals purely for the profitable gain achieved by entering new markets.
The real shame though is the opportunities that will be lost by Chinese citizens. As innovative companies such as Google withdraw from the country, it is the citizens who will suffer. Google itself states that “In the last two decades, China’s economic reform programs and its citizens’ entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.” However if more and more foreign businesses become reluctant to work with the country due to its controversial human rights policies, that will surely affect the country’s ability to grow further and flourish.
Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, perhaps Google has ulterior motives for withdrawing from China. Perhaps the attack has provided Google with the excuse it needs to withdraw from a market where it has less success, less market share and which is causing it some negative PR?
As you know from several of our previous articles we are very much in favour of-net neutrality and fundamentally opposed to any form of censorship.
Have your say!
Do you agree with Google’s plans to withdraw from China in response to the hacking attack or do you think this potential withdrawal is actually based on ulterior reasoning’s? Let us know by leaving us a comment below.
- CNN.com: Google reports China-based attack, says pullout possible
- Search Engine Land: Google Just Says No To China: Ending Censorship, Due To Gmail Attack
- Wikipedia: Google China
- BBC News: Google ‘may pull out of China after Gmail cyber attack
- New York Times: Google, Citing Attack, Threatens to Exit China