The decision by Google to move some of its Chinese search
services to Hong Kong may have kept its promise that searches on Google.cn
would no longer be censored – but it could still raise hackles in Beijing.
Google has announced that searches at Google Search, Google
News, and Google Images on Google.cn will be redirected to Google.com.hk, which
is not subject to control by Chinese authorities. The move follows a bitter
dispute in which Google threatened to end its operations in China, rather than
submit to Chinese demands that it censor certain search requests on topics
regarded as sensitive, such as human rights.
China’s government insisted that Google must comply with
Chinese law; Google was concerned that hackers allegedly connected to the
Chinese government had carried out attacks on Google’s servers, and those of
other US companies.
“Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop
censoring search on Google.cn has been hard,” said David Drummond, Google’s SVP,
Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer. “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.
“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.
“In terms of Google's wider business operations, 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. 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.”
What remains to be seen is how Beijing will react to the ‘offshoring’
of free searching in a territory over which it holds sovereignty. While Hong
Kong enjoys freedoms not permitted in mainland China, its rulers are very much
under Beijing’s control, and may feel pressure to impose controls in keeping
with its views. Google is maintaining a Web page that displays which elements
of its services are blocked in China.
Human Rights Watch praised the move as “a strong step in favour
of freedom of expression and information, and an indictment of the Chinese
government's insistence on censorship of the internet”.
“China is one of the world's largest economies, but
hundreds of millions of Chinese internet users are denied the basic access to
information that people around the world take for granted,” said Arvind
Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Google's decision to offer an uncensored search engine is an important
step to challenge the Chinese government's use of censorship to maintain its
control over its citizens.”
Human Rights Watch called on other companies to follow
Google's example and end all their censorship of politically sensitive
“This is a crucial moment for freedom of expression in
China, and the onus is now on other major technology companies to take a firm
stand against censorship,” said Ganesan. “But the Chinese government
should also realise that its repression only isolates its internet users from
the rest of the world – and the long-term harm of isolation far outweighs the
short-term benefit of forcing companies to leave.”
As expected, less than a day after Google redirected its Chinese search engine, authorities have now begun blocking selected sites on Google.com.hk.
It’s reported that websites dealing with issues considered ‘sensitive’ by the Chinese government, such as pornographic sites and those relating to the Tiananmen Square massacre, are not appearing on computers attempting to access them from mainland China.