As it was widely expected
, Google has updated its stance on China yesterday. Unsurprisingly, it was forced to leave China. It hasn't shut down Google.cn altogether, but it now redirects users to Google.com.hk, its Hong Kong search portal from where it can serve uncensored results. Reports from inside China say the Hong Kong site is already being filtered with certain queries blocked or returning error messages.
Google made its position official in a blog post saying negotiations with Chinese officials failed to reach any compromise as the authorities would not cede any ground on the self-censorship matter. Google in China
"Earlier today [22 March] 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," David Drummond, SVP of Corporate Development and chief legal officer at Google, said
Other services will continue to be served from Google.cn, such as Google Maps and the company's music search service in the country. Google will also keep its R&D team at its China headquarters and plans to keep as much of the sales team as possible as well. Since the Hong Kong site could be blocked altogether by Chinese authorities, something that hasn't happened yet, the ad sales team's position is not a very solid one. Google gets to save face
In the end, everything went in line with expectations. The search engine at Google.cn is gone, but Google will keep the rest of its operations in the country. Google had very little revenue from China, so it won't impact the company financially. With the move to the Hong Kong servers, Google washes its hands of the whole deal.
It is unlikely that Google will do anything further, for example provide tools for users to circumvent China's censorship. Google Founder Sergey Brin, thought to be the one behind the decision to stop censorship in China, said as much in a brief interview with the New York Times. "I think those tools are going to come of their own accord. I don’t think we have to do anything," Brin shared
. Google has set up a page
to monitor the state of its services in China, though it's not that up-to-date.
The ball is now in China's court and the authorities are scrambling to block unwanted results on Google.com.hk, which is probably what Google expected. In the end, for the regular users, not much will change, but Google gets to save face on the matter and make the Chinese government look like the bad guy. Still, it's the first US company to publicly confront the Chinese officials on the censorship issue. If this will have any impact whatsoever on how regular people access the Internet in China remains to be seen. China's response
The authorities have responded to Google's move, both officially but also covertly. As noted, the Google Hong Kong site is already being filtered just like any other foreign site including Google.com. As for the official response, it doesn't come as any surprise and it is in line with China's recent stance
"Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks," a Chinese government official explained, cited
by the state news agency, Xinhua. "This is totally wrong. We're uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts," the official said.