March 22, 2010

Google Ceases Censorship In China

Google has begun to offer uncensored, unfiltered content to users in China, the company's Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond announced on the company's official blog today.

The move comes in response to a January 12 cyber attack which targeted Google properties, including the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

"These attacks and the surveillance they uncovered--combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger--had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn," Drummond wrote in the announcement.

"So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services," including Google News and Google Images, he continued. "Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong."

Drummond admitted that finding a way to offer uncensored search results to the 380 million Internet users in the Asian nation was "hard," largely due to the threats levied against the Menlo Park, California technology firm by officials in Beijing.

"We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement," Drummond said. "We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced"”it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China."

"We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services," he said, adding that the status of Google services in China could be monitored by visiting http://www.google.com/prc/report.html#hl=en.

As of 4:15 Central time on March 22, there were no issues with the website, Google images, news, advertisements, and Gmail email accounts. Youtube and Blogger features were blocked, while several other Google assets were listed as partially blocked.

Chinese officials have stated on numerous occasions that offering unfiltered search results would be, in their view, a violation both of national law and of an agreement reached between Google and Beijing officials when the website initially launched their .cn service.

"On entering the Chinese market in 2007, it clearly stated that it would respect Chinese law," Ministry of Commerce spokesman Yao Jian told reporters on March 16. "We hope that whether Google Inc. continues operating in China or makes other choices, it will respect Chinese legal regulations"¦ We hope Google will abide by the law, no matter whether it continues to do business in China or makes other choices."

Chinese officials have yet to comment on this afternoon's announcement, but anti-censorship activists, including Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom, are applauding their decision.

"Google is really thinking outside of the box," she told AFP on March 22. "They are technically staying in China but stopping censorship"¦ It should be a message to other companies that they can come up with other solutions other than the simplistic choice of staying in China and censoring or giving up and leaving."

"Google has taken a courageous position against censorship," added Lucie Morillon, chief of media rights organization Reporters Without Borders. "Google is betting in the long-term future on a free Internet. It may be too early to tell, but we hope that the future proves them right," she said.

Google has made it clear that, despite Monday's announcement, they would not be completely pulling out of the country, nor would they be leaving their Chinese employees hanging out to dry.

"We intend to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there, though the size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk," Drummond wrote.

"Finally, we would like to make clear that all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them," he added. "Despite all the uncertainty and difficulties they have faced since we made our announcement in January, they have continued to focus on serving our Chinese users and customers. We are immensely proud of them."


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