Google adopts new China approach in hope of license renewal
WSJ has news that Google is adopting a new approach to China in response to the threat that the company’s soon to lapse Internet license will not be renewed.
From the WSJ piece.
Google Inc. said it would change how Internet users in China access its search service after the Chinese government objected to its recent strategy of redirecting Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong and threatened the company with the loss of its license.
It’s unclear whether the small change to Google’s Chinese site will meet with Chinese government approval and lead to the extension of the company’s license to provide online content in China. Google said in a post on its blog late Monday that it had resubmitted its application to renew the license, which comes up for renewal as of Wednesday.
Losing this license would mean Google were unable to operate a commercial website in China meaning, as the company blog put it, “Google would effectively go dark in China”.
Google’s latest move comes three months after the Internet search giant said it would stop obeying the Chinese government’s requirement to censor search results, which It had been following since the China-based site opened in 2006. Since March, instead of providing censored search results, Google has automatically redirected users of google.cn, its mainland Chinese address, to a Hong Kong-based site, google.com.hk, which doesn’t censor search results.
But, according to a Google post on Monday, the Chinese government has told Google that its approach is “unacceptable” and that its Internet license won’t be renewed if it continues the practice. Chinese regulators frown on local Internet sites that link directly to foreign sites outside their control. Hong Kong, because it has a separate legal system, is treated as a foreign country in many areas of Chinese law, including censorship.
In response, Google said it would stop the automatic redirect, requiring that users take the additional step themselves. Visitors to google.cn are now presented with a message in Chinese that says, “We have moved to google.com.hk.” They must then click on an image to get to the Hong Kong site. Google doesn’t filter results on that site, although the Chinese government blocks certain results for users inside mainland China.
More from Google’s blog post on the topic – though words like “aspire”, “believe” and “hopefully” do not resonate confidence.
As a company we aspire to make information available to users everywhere, including China. It’s why we have worked so hard to keep Google.cn alive, as well as to continue our research and development work in China. This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self censor and, we believe, with local law. We are therefore hopeful that our license will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via Google.cn.
Though, as is often quoted, China is responsible for just 1-2 percent of Google revenues, China such a huge market (as blogged here) that maintaining a presence, and renewing its Internet license, keeps the company involved, with potential to grow.
Leaving China cold turkey extinguishes any opportunity in the world’s most populous country.
It remains to be seen if, by publically opposing China in a major way with its exit earlier this year, Google has burnt its bridges and will not receive a new Internet license regardless of its latest manoeuvre.
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