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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Freedoms Hang in Balance in this Clash of Titans: Google vs. China, Final Part

Mr. McGrath has run a series of blog posts regarding the dispute between Google and China, primarily because, whether we realize it or not, both of these entities influence billions of people on a daily basis and are locked in a battle over money and control - and, ultimately, freedom and civil rights. Part 1 dealt with the background of Google and other internet search engine companies entering China. Part 2 covered the events just after Google officially launched inside China in 2006 after compromising with the Chinese Government. Part 3 addressed Google's growing pains in China from 2007 - 2009.

This is the final blog entry on this topic, for now, and brings us up to date: Part 4: Google Rebels Against Chinese Censorship and Pulls Out

We left off in Part 3 by mentioning the resignation of Google's head of Google China, and the intermittent interference with Google's products by Chinese authorities in 2009. In December, 2009, Google and other large 'Western' corporations with significant internet presences were subjected to repeated sophisticated 'cyber attacks'. Occasional cyber attacks are not new, and, unfortunately, not unexpected. However, Google's investigation of these concentrated attacks lead it to some chilling conclusions.

January, 2010: Google Announced Refusal to Censor Within China


Google has an official "Blog", found at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/. On January 12, 2010, a now famous (or infamous, from the Chinese perspective) blog posting titled "A New Approach to China" appeared, posted by Google's Chief Legal Officer and Senior Vice President of Corporate Development. The blog posting indicated that Google's investigation of the December, 2009 cyber attacks came to the following primary conclusions:

  1. the primary goal of the attackers was to access the GMail accounts of Chinese human rights activists; and

  2. independent of the attacks made directly against Google itself mentioned in #1 above, dozens of other GMail users advocating for human rights in China had their email accounts repeatedly hacked by third parties.


Google's January 12, 2010 described China as a "great nation" which is "at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today." The blog also emphasized that, upon officially launching inside China in January, 2006 (and thus agreeing to censor itself inside China), Google had publicly stated it would "carefully monitor conditions in China, including . . . restrictions on our services." Google announced that it would no longer censor its search results in China, and acknowledged that failure to do so may result in shutting down its operations inside China.

Those with any understanding of the innerworkings of China may have read between the lines as to the following sentence, which helped to wrap up the blog post: "We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today."[i]

India Chimes In


The week after Google made the results of its investigation public, India's National Security Advisor was questioned on the topic of cyber attacks. Mr. Narayanan informed the London Times that various Indian government departments, including his, had been the subject of sophisticated cyber attacks originating in China on the same date Google and others were victimized. India, of course shares a physical border with China.

The Chinese Reaction to Google's Refusal to Continue to Censor


One week after Google's announcement, China's Foreign Ministry reacted by stating that Google will not be an exception to Chinese law. The Foreign Ministry spokesman pointed out that foreign firms need to respect China's laws, regulations, public customs, traditions, and social responsibilities. He did not specifically mention censorship requirements. Chinese authorities denied any involvement in the cyber attacks in American and India, proclaiming that 80% of China's own internet connected personal computers have been subject to hacking.

Microsoft Says its 'Bing' Search Engine will Remain in China, Continue to Censor


When asked about the possibility of following Google's lead and leaving China, Microsoft's  CEO said "I don't understand how that helps us, and I don't understand how that helps China." Microsoft indicated that its 'Bing.com' search engine would continue to operate inside China and in conjunction with Chinese law.

February, 2010: Google & Disney May Invest $100 Million into Internet Based Chinese Media Company as China Announces Crack-Down on Hacker Training Website?


Four weeks after Google's dramatic announcement, it was still operating its censored search engine inside China. In fact, Google was reportedly partnering with Disney (yes, that Disney) to purchase up to 40% of a Chinese Digital Media company whose revenue was over $46 million in 2009.  Speculation was that Google and China were trying to mend fences, which may have been why the Chinese government announced on February 8, 2010 that it had shut down the website largely responsible for training internet computer hackers.  Interestingly, the shut down had apparently taken place in November, 2009.

March, 2010:  Google Shuts Down its Internal Chinese Search Engine; GoDaddy.com Stops Registering '.cn' Domain Names


On March 22, Google shut down its internet search servers inside China.  Thus, anyone attempting to access 'Google.cn' (the Chinese equivalent of 'Google.com') was redirected to an internet address of 'Google.com.hk' - Google's Hong Kong based search engine servers. Hong Kong is partially controlled by China, with the arrangement being loosely similar to that the United States has with Puerto Rico.

On March 24, GoDaddy.com announced, during a congressional hearing (ironic, given the infamous GoDaddy.com Super Bowl commercials), that stopped registering new domain names in China.  GoDaddy's General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Christine Jones, said the Chinese government had begun to demand photographs and other identification information from those registering websites in China, and that GoDaddy made the decision that it "didn't want to act as an agent of the Chinese government."

The Chinese Government Responds by Blocking some Searches Routed through Hong Kong; Google's Stock Drops


Within days of Google shutting down 'Google.cn' and redirecting such users to its Hong Kong based search engine, China responded by interfering with that search engine as well. By the end of March, persons using 'Google.com.hk' to search for prohibited content - be it porn or politics - often found such searches blocked. On March 30, likely as a result, Google's stock dropped 2%.

So What Happens Today, May 5, 2010, if one Attempts to use 'Google.cn' or 'Google.com.hk' to Search for Prohibited Items?




The Civil Lawyer Online typed in 'www.google.cn' today and was redirected to the 'www.google.com.hk' welcome page, written in "simplified" Chinese.  Choosing the "translate" option resulted in a welcome page, in English, similar to what those of us in the USA find when we go to 'www.google.com'.

One search attempted today was "Tibet independence".  Google Hong Kong's primary search results brought back websites both for and against Tibetan independence.  Google.com's primary search results were all pro-Tibet independence or sites more neutral in tone.

Another search attempted was "Tiananmen Square".  The outcome was similar, in that the majority of Google Hong Kong's primary search results made no mention of the infamous 1989 political rally there, while about half of the Google.com primary search results did.

Finally, a search was attempted using the term "hot naked ladies".  The results, all of which appeared to be unblocked porn sites were almost identical; apparently porn is more powerful than politics.


[i] Among those in the know, this was largely read as Google saying two things: A) to the Chinese government: "Don't punish the Google employees there in China, they had nothing to do with this; and B) to the Google employees in China: "Sorry about this, and we are going to try to keep the Chinese government from retaliating against you."