Google has announced that it will no longer abide by China’s censorship laws, and may shut it’s ‘google.cn’ website altogether, following a cyber attack aimed at gathering information on human rights activists.
In a company statement, David Drummond, Google senior v.p., corporate development and chief legal officer, said: 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 search giant attributed its change in stance to cyber attacks from China on dissidents using its Gmail service and on companies.
“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,” Drummond added.
China’s policy of filtering and restricting access to Web sites has been a frequent source of tension with the United States and tech companies, such as Google and Yahoo.
Differences over the Internet now seem sure to intensify tensions between the United States and China.
Pressing China for an explanation, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.
“We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions,” Clinton said in a statement in Honolulu. “We look to the Chinese government for an explanation.”
In response, Chinese authorities were “seeking more information on Google’s statement that it could quit China”, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing an unnamed official from China’s State Council Information Office, or cabinet spokesman’s office.
Shares of Google dipped 1.3% although an executive described China as “immaterial” to its finances. Shares in Baidu, Google’s main rival in China, surged 7%.
Reacting to Google’s move, Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: “This now lays down the gauntlet to other Internet companies operating in China: to be transparent about what filtering and censorship the government requires them to do. And to stand up for free speech where they can, using legal appeals and other judicial measures.
“It’s also interesting that an apparent attempt to target human rights defenders influenced Google’s decision. Anyone who stands up for human rights faces persecution in China, as we saw at Christmas when Liu Xiaobo was jailed for eleven years after his ‘Charter 08’ document called for reform.
“Internet repression continues unabated in China. Search results are filtered and sites are blocked or closed down. People are still in jail for what they have written online.
“The Chinese authorities must release the stranglehold it has on China’s Internet users and grant them the same rights to freedom of speech and information as web users in any other country. And it must stop the systematic persecution of people who stand up for human rights.”
In June 2006 Amnesty International UK published Undermining Freedom of Expression in China: the role of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google. Since then the organisation has campaigned for Google and other Internet companies to stop censoring and filtering Internet search results.