Google threatens pullout of China

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-1-14 8:22:02

A Chinese man, under the watchful eyes of a security guard, talks to the media after he places bouquets of flowers in front of the Google China office in Beijing Wednesday. Photo: AFP

By Yin Hang

A Google representative said Tuesday that the company is considering abandoning its China operations after a series of hacker attacks against it.

The search-engine giant also said it will no longer censor Internet search results in China, and some previously blocked material the Chinese government deems offensive was available Wednesday.

A statement posted Tuesday by Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, on the company's corporate blog, claimed that, in mid-December, highly "sophisticated and targeted" hacking attempts attacked  their corporate infrastructure originating from China.

He said the attack resulted in the "theft of intellectual property" from Google, leading to Google deciding that it is "no longer willing" to continue censoring its search results in China.

"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," the statement said.

"We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions," said US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton Wednesday.

"We look to the Chinese government for an explanation," Clinton added.

The move by Google, if followed through, would be a highly unusual rebuke of China by one of the largest and most admired technology companies, according to The New York Times on Tuesday.

An official response from Google China was unavailable Wednesday, though unconfirmed posts on claimed that some employees of Google China had been told not to conduct their daily work, and some may face long paid vacations.

A former employee of Google, who declined to be named, told the Global Times that though Google China contributes very marginally to Google's global revenue, leaving China still would influence its international business.

"More importantly, Google China is hiring more than 700 employees. Half of them are professional IT engineers. It will be a great loss for Google if they are forced to leave," the former employee said.

The possible pullout by the world's largest search engine prompted waves of debate throughout China Wednesday.

Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei told the Global Times that two of his Gmail accounts were penetrated from an unknown source in October, and all documents inside one of the accounts were moved to an unfamiliar Web address.

"With the rest of the world competing for a more open Internet environment in an information era, China should seriously consider what is good and what is bad for its development," Ai said, noting the country's rapid economic growth.

Hu Yanping, director of the Data Center of China Internet (DCCI), told the Global Times that he predicted three months ago that Google would leave China based on its market data and performance.

"The Chinese government's control and supervision is not necessarily the reason leading to its decision to withdraw. The main reason is its unsuccessful business operation," Hu predicted. "It lacks experience in localizing business models in China."

Google's operations in China have experienced ups and downs since it launched its China-based site in 2006. Google's sites were temporarily blocked in China for allegedly spreading pornography last year.


Lü Benfu, director of the Internet Development Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said he believes no winner will emerge in the ongoing struggle.

"Google's exit from China will be a slap to the government, which has long been under criticism by the West over human rights issues; and simultaneously, Google will lose an opportunity to further tap into China's potential Internet market," Lü said.

China's online population, the largest in the world, continues to surge by mil-lions every month. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology put the figure at 360 million in September, up from about 316 million reported by the China Internet Network Information Center in April.

Considering the huge number of Chinese Web users, Google is unlikely to completely withdraw from the Chinese market and would like to retain its site, as well as advertising business in China, insisted Cao Junbo, chief analyst of iResearch, an Internet media consultancy based in Shanghai.

"But its shutdown of service will undoubtedly reduce its user traffic flow because there are five more times users than users of," he said.

Cao also speculated that Google wouldn't suffer a lot from the partial withdrawal since its revenue from the Chinese market is 2.1 billion yuan ($308.8 million), compared with 15-20 billion yuan in revenue from the international market.

According to the latest report by iResearch, the search engine market in China was valued at 6.95 billion yuan in 2009, with Baidu taking up 63.1 percent of the share and Google 33.2 percent.

Data provided by the DCCI Data Center is similar in terms of market share, but DCCI also showed that, in terms of the number of searches, accounted for 81.9 percent last year, and grabbed only 6.7 percent. The rest was split by several Chinese search websites.

Google fans upset

In Beijing, more than 30 Chinese well-wishers, mostly IT engineers and students, delivered bouquets of flowers to Google's China headquarters Wednesday afternoon and evening.

One member of the group, 30-year-old IT engineer Zhao Gang, said the flowers represented their support for the company.

"We have really benefited from Google's service, and I want to know what's going on," Zhao said.

Yin Deyi, a 33-year-old advertising planner in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, ordered a bundle of white roses online and mailed them 1,500 kilometers to Google's Beijing office Wednesday morning.

"I felt hopeless. My life suddenly went dark," Yin said.

Google launched its Chinese-language search engine in 2006, reportedly agreeing to censor some of its results, a move that sparked sharp criticism from human rights groups and Web-industry officials who are critical of any restrictions on the Internet.

Lee Kai-Fu helmed the company's operations in the country until he resigned in 2009 to start a new venture. He was succeeded by John Liu.

Wednesday, said its top search term of the day was "Tiananmen." The No. 2 search topic was "Google leaving China."

Typing in Tiananmen Square on, the image search results showed graphic pictures, including a black and white picture of dead bodies on crushed bikes, surrounded by a dozen people. Another photo showed tanks appearing on the square. Such images have previously been blocked.

But the former Google China employee said that if these were deliberately put up by, it would be very irresponsible for the website to do that to provoke the Chinese government.

There was no government response Wednesday on Google's possible exit from China.

Song Shengxia, Guo Qiang and Zhang Han contributed to this story

Posted in: Economy

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