Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How far we have come: Google threatens to pull out of China

Google announced this afternoon that it was threatening to shut down operations in China, after it found that someone in China was trying to break into the accounts of human rights activists.
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.
This is a pretty big deal. Google, like so many companies, wants to do big business in China. And they've been relentlessly criticized for doing so (see i.e. 2006 Amnesty report, Undermining freedom of expression in China: The role of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google). The internet companies have so far held off congressional attempts to rein them in.

Google doesn't explicitly lay blame on the Chinese government today. They may not be sure, or even if they are sure they may be trying to leave room for a continued relationship. Google's retaliation, though, of ending its censored search engine, is one against the Chinese government, so it'd be odd to do that if they thought it was just some random dude who had done this.

Google may yet not be changing its ways. We'll see. But for it to make such a statement today, and to so publicly critique China, is a huge step.

We wouldn't have gotten this far if it weren't for the human rights advocates and the members of congress championing this issue, particularly Republicans Chris Smith (NJ) and Frank Wolf (VA).

This issue could have, and could still, just die away. But the advocates have kept it on the radar. And Google would not want to have the PR disaster that Yahoo did with the Shi Tao case.


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