I will hang in there with this particular story as I have followed this saga so far. It seems those Utopian hopes of mine for Google to stay in China, even though they may have been slightly misplaced, have been dashed. google.cn is now google.com.hk and even my google.com searches seem to be being redirected to Hong Kong, for now at least (update: 27/03- no longer, .com again). This means that those in mainland China, who although at present have unrestricted access, may soon have no access at all to Google search engines; that is if this new domain, as seems likely, is duly blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall. Or will the GFW be left to take charge of those not quite acceptable searches?
The devil I am sure, as has been the case throughout this story, will be in the detail; of the searches made and the results that are actually thrown up. There will also be a question mark now hanging over remaining Google services, though hopefully (email) gmail accounts are not seen as too much of a threat. We could even say that gmail is less of a concern than other email accounts, as we have after all been made aware of the penetrability of the Google accounts, so blocking them doesn’t seem so necessary. Or is that just a perverse form of wishful thinking?
Here are a few articles about today’s decision, the first from Julen at Chinayouren, who was particularly prescient and just a few days ago made some interesting observations about Google’s choice of action. If you also go back through his archives, particularly for January, he has over the last couple of months posted alot of insightful information about some of the technical and practical issues involved on this subject. The other articles linked to below discuss in order: the breaking news, a brief overview of the situation, the Chinese perspective on this decision, Google founder Brin’s view, a foreign local’s take on the news… and a couple of summary pearls of wisdom.
Will Google.cn Continue in Exile?- China You Ren (prescient and insightful): “This morning I was doing some tests on Google to see if there was any change in the search results, and I noticed one detail I had not thought of before: although everyone is describing Google.cn as “hosted in China”, the IP is American, as you can see on whois…This made me think of a possible outcome I hadn’t thought of before: that Google.cn may uncensor its content completely and continue to function normally served from the US, hosted under a different domain (since .cn extensions are controlled by China). From a practical point of view this wouldn’t make any big difference, as it would just be a copy of Google.com in simplified Chinese. But from a political and “face” perspective, it could be extremely damaging for Google relations with China, and probably lead to GFW of all Google services.” read on
Xinhua News: China Refuses “Political Google” and “Google’s Politics”- China Hush (early news and reflections): “So it looks like Google is finally going to leave China, the date may be set to April 10. Yesterday, “First Financial Daily” had the report about the latest development on Google China. “We already got the news, saying Google will leave China on April 10, this news currently has not been confirmed by Google yet.”’ read on
In Brief: Google‘s China Move- Andrew Lih (overview of proceedings): ’Google announced today in a blog post that it has redirected visitors headed for google.cn to google.com.hk- “So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.”‘ read on
Text of Chinese Official Comments on Google- Reuters (the official word): ‘An unnamed official from the SCIO said: “Foreign companies operating in China must abide by Chinese laws. Google has violated the written promise it made on entering the Chinese market. It is totally wrong in halting (censorship) filtering of its search provider and also making aspersions and accusations towards China about hacking attacks.” read on
Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Urges US to Act Over China Web Censorship- Sergey Brin-in The Guardian (empassioned): ‘Google co-founder Sergey Brin has called on Washington to take a stand against China’s censorship of the internet, urging the US to make the issue a “high priority”…”I certainly hope they [the US Government] make it a high priority,” he said. “Human rights issues deserve equal time to the trade issues that are high priority now … I hope this gets taken seriously.” read on
Google.cn Is No More- Chengdu Living (local view): “How long Google.com.hk remains unblocked from the Mainland remains anyone’s guess, but Google has prepared a China Service Availability page which shows the status of Mainland access to Google’s various services…After being so blunt about China’s refusal to negotiate its terms of self-censorship, I’m not very optimistic about Google’s future in China. If you aren’t already, now’s a good time to suggest that you check out the VPN options available for all of you in Mainland China.” read on
This link is to Google’s own updates on Mainland China Service Availability
So, this is big news and will seemingly shake down in many areas of discussion. Not all good, but as always, interesting never-the-less. Today’s news did make me just think of a couple of things. The first is based on this quote from today’s official post on the Google Website : ‘Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard.’ It does seem from this that Google, somewhat obviously, has been guided by their initial declaration of intent on January 12th to stop censoring google.cn, coming out of China as it is, unlike google.com that is censored according to content by the GFW.
However, as obvious as this might seem it does suggest to me that Google have been somewhat straightjacketed by their original statement and have been unable to rationalise to themselves any way that they could back track even if they wanted to, which points a little towards the fact that their early decision was premature. They may have still taken the same decision today but their options would have been more open if they had not made that January 12th statement, especially after discovering subsequently a number of large organizations had also had serious cyber breaches, that Google at the time of their statement were unaware of.
This in part, points toward a second concern, something that I did raise in my first note on this Google.cn affair, that Google brings a little too much arrogance and moral certitude to the table in these times of search engine dominance (outside China) and under the guidance of their do no evil mantra. A sentiment shared by Julen, again at ChinaYouRen, in his post today (though I should point out he supports Google’s stand just not on these terms):
“This is not about Google offering an open service to the Chinese from outside. If Google wanted to do that, they would quietly close down Google.cn and continue with their HK search site as they were already doing before. There is nothing new on this Google HK except the translation of the interface to simplified mandarin, a simple tweak that has little impact on usability for mainland netizens. If Google really wanted the Chinese to enjoy free search, they could have tried to give some face to the Chinese government, instead of literally forcing it to retaliation. But Google HK is obviously not a sustainable plan, it is just a gesture, an open challenge to the authority of the CCP”.
I will conclude this brief note with a few words from that original post of mine G_ _G_ _.cn/.com?…In reality, the pre-eminence of either [CCP/GFW or Google] would probably not be good for us. Just maybe, the collision between these two enmities will constrain the reach of the other. However, what is more likely is they will both just go from strength to strength in their own backyards, leaving us in our isolated societies [arguably China and much of the rest of the world], whistling into the unforgiving winds of corporation/ government monopolies and modern life homogeneity. As is normal, for the most of us, we’ll wait and see. But, one thing is for sure, there are a lot of sticky issues surrounding this decision and what it means to all our senses of autonomy and responsibility; individually, collectively, culturally and of course politically.