Google to China: We've Had Enough
Facing criticism is part of the cost of doing business for large companies, and Google is no exception. Among the chief sources of criticism for the search giant is its accession to the censorship demands of the People's Republic of China. The outcry may soon see a change of tense, however, as the company has announced an end to its cooperation.
Google has long contended that its actions, which include filtering thousands of banned search terms are a matter of complying with applicable law — its operations within China are subject to Chinese law, just as its activities in the United Sates are governed by U.S. law. (In the case of the latter, it complies with demands to block content subject to DMCA complaints.) Moreover, it is a matter of practicality: As has been aptly demonstrated by the "Great Firewall of China," ones options are censor or be censored.
Critics have long called for Google to end its cooperation with the Chinese government, while the company has countered that Chinese users would suffer greater harm from a complete block than selective filtering. That position has changed, however, after an internal investigation into recent attacks aimed at breaching email accounts from its Gmail service as well as services from at least twenty other large providers. The accounts targeted in the attack belonged to individuals involved in Chinese human rights activities, including activists within China as well as in the United States and several areas of Europe.
In a post to Google's official blog, Chief Legal Officer David Drummond revealed the results of the company's investigation into the events, which he described as a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure." Though the attackers "did not achieve [their] objective" in December, Drummond that Google's team uncovered evidence that dozens of activists were subject to regular invasion of their accounts over an unspecified period. A combination of malware and phishing, rather than a breach of the service itself, is believed to be responsible.
While noting the country's continued growth, calling it a "great nation...at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today", Drummond wrote that a combination of increasing restriction and the recent discoveries "led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China." Though the post never explicitly accuses the Chinese government of orchestrating the attacks, the company will no longer comply with the government's censorship demands, a move that "will have potentially far-reaching consequences."
Google plans to "discuss" the future of Google China with government officials, though the tone of Drummond's post was far from hopeful. He acknowledged that the company's Chinese site, Google.cn, may go offline, and that it may be forced to cease operations entirely. He also stressed that none of the company's Chinese personnel were consulted, or informed at all, presumably in an effort to protect them against government retaliation.
Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.
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