My 7/05/10 Missoulian column
There’s an interesting cat-and-mouse game going on right now between Google and China over censorship and Google’s ability to do business in the country.
Google has mostly been playing nice with China. In 2006, Google agreed to start censoring its search results after its business was stymied by the Chinese government in an effort to prevent citizens from finding political information the government didn’t like.
China is a huge market, with hundreds of millions of Internet users, and at the time many people made the assessment that Google had given in to the government’s demands for business interests.
But things changed in March when Gmail accounts were hacked into by people based in China. In March, Google announced that it would stop censoring search results and simply redirect all users to its servers in Hong Kong (google.com.hk), which provide uncensored results.
Hong Kong is a special case in China’s political and economic world. It’s part of China now, but was a British colony starting in 1841. Britain handed Hong Kong back in 1997, with China guaranteeing some political and economic freedom. (Coincidently, last week was the July 1 anniversary of the handover, and Hong Kong saw its annual street demonstrations demanding more democratic reforms).
Of course, China wasn’t happy with Google circumventing its censoring, and now the current cat-and-mouse game has to do with the company’s business license. It came up for renewal on the last day of June, and Google’s play was to blink.
Google stopped automatically forwarding users to Hong Kong and put in a link on the search page that users will have to click to go to uncensored results.
The move was small, but it was an effort to make some amends to China and to give China a small reason to renew Google’s business permit to operate, without which the search engine would have to go dark in the country.
And now, some minor Google services are being blocked in China. What’s also interesting is that this past March, Google had some search slowdowns that appeared to be China testing out how it could block Google once again.
The cat-and-mouse game will keep playing out this next week. Will Google and China play nice? Who will blink?
This week in Mac Q & A: Mac Q & A: Recover Deleted Digital Photos