Much has been made of Google’s blog notice that it may soon be shutting down Google.cn, a search engine built in partnership with the censorship requests of the Chinese government. The post cites a major targeted attack on Google and twenty other top companies originating from China, with an apparent goal of hacking into the Gmail accounts of Chinese rights activists, as well as activists around the world working for freedom in China (I would guess that includes many of my friends and colleagues in the Tibetan independence movement). Senior Vice President David Drummond writes:
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 not hesitate 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.
You know, had they listened to me or other folks from Students for a Free Tibet four years ago and not done this in the first place, Google could have avoided a lot of headaches.
I’ve seen some praise for Google for backing out of what seemed to be a successful business venture, citing Google.cn’s 29% market share. Before Google partnered with the Chinese government to launch Google.cn, their Chinese portal, http://www.google.com/intl/zh-CN/, was the #1 customer rated search engine and had the #2 Chinese market share (32.9%). And it wasn’t censored by Google – only subject to normal Chinese Firewall hurdles. So I’m not sure that this should be hailed as having been a huge commercial success.
In the end, Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing notes that a key impetus was “the search giant experienced an internet attack aimed at Chinese dissidents’ Gmail accounts. The attack is presumed to have been the work of the Chinese government.”
Of course no one could have predicted that Google partnering with the Chinese government would fail to liberalize the Chinese government when it comes to free access to information online.
This is exactly what they claim to have wanted to avoid and any move now is a turn towards the company’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto which was forgotten four years ago.