At around 7AM local time, Google updated their official blog with an entry titled “A new approach to China.” It states that around mid December, Google discovered a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure” coming from within China. And this, they asserted, was the last straw for their operations here.
Basically, Google discovered that:
1. the security of various multinational companies had been breached
2. a main directive of the hackers was to access the personal emails of Chinese human rights activists
3. the personal emails of human rights activists concerned with China around the world were routinely being accessed, far beyond the incident in question.
As a prominent website, Google said it was used to hackers trying to breach its security. But its months of research into these attacks raised such serious issues that it may spell the end of Google in China completely.
From the Official Google Blog:
We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China’s economic reform programs and its citizens’ entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.
We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and 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. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
Google has always had a tenuous place in Chinese cyberspace, particularly when it comes to issues of censorship: the ideological discord has been apparent since the company first came to China in 2006, hoping to expand their informational services without compromising their integrity. But in the light of China’s increasing internet restrictions, it seems Google’s very presence in China facilitates the government’s censorial agenda.
Word on the street is that the move is Google doesn’t plan on “negotiating” in the true sense of the word: rather, they’ve laid out their motives and beliefs, and expect to walk away when the government refuses to accept them. A pretty bold move from any company… though some have already wondered if this was also a way to “back out of a market it was losing to Baidu”.
We’ll be following the story for the rest of the day, so stay tuned for updates.