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Google Ends Internet Search Censorship in China

Google will stop censoring Internet search results in China, the company announced on Monday.

Instead, Google will provide uncensored results to China from its site in Hong Kong (Google.com.hk), according to a blog post by David Drummond, Google's senior vice president for corporate development and chief legal officer.

Google had long censored search results on its Google.cn portal in compliance with China's legal requirements on Internet companies. However, in January, the company announced that it was reconsidering that practice. At that time, Google and other companies had been subjected to hacking attacks said to have originated in China. Google also claimed that the e-mails of human rights advocates outside China had been monitored. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed Google's stance.

Drummond said in the blog that Google's new approach is "entirely legal" but that the Chinese government could still decide to block access to Google's services. The Xinhua news service quoted an unnamed Chinese government official as saying that Google is violating "its written promise" to filter content.

The issue of censorship, human rights and the conduct of Internet businesses around the globe was supposed to have been addressed by a voluntary coalition of companies and nongovernmental organizations called the Global Network Initiative (GNI). Google is a participant in the GNI, along with Microsoft and Yahoo. However, the GNI has only issued a noncommittal statement in the wake of Google's announcement.

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., noted earlier this month that the GNI's membership has not grown since it started nearly two years ago. Durbin, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., led a two-part hearing on the Internet and the law in which he suggested that businesses were resisting efforts to take action, or even join the GNI. He suggested legal action would be forthcoming for Internet companies.

"Today I am announcing that I will introduce legislation that would require internet companies to take reasonable steps to protect human rights or face civil or criminal liability," Durbin said in a statement released March 2.  

Microsoft officials have consistently said they plan to remain in China, despite Google's actions. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that Microsoft would abide by China's laws. Presumably, that would include censoring search results. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates dismissed the issue, saying that "the Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited."

Should the Chinese government block Google's service, Microsoft stands to gain a piece of the Chinese search share that was held by Google. U.K.-based Internet search engine optimization consultancy Greenlight estimated that Google may have about 30 percent of China's search market. The majority (50 to 60 percent) of that market is held by Baidu, a Chinese search company.

In a lengthy statement released by Microsoft on Monday, the company reiterated its position and pointed to the GNI for guiding principles.

"We appreciate that different companies may make different decisions based on their own experiences and views," a Microsoft spokesperson stated by e-mail. "At Microsoft we remain committed to advancing free expression through active engagement in over 100 countries, even as we comply with the laws in every country in which we operate."

"We have done business in China for more than 20 years and we intend to continue our business there," the spokesperson continued. "We also regularly communicate with governments, including the Chinese, to advocate for free expression, transparency and the rule of law. We will continue to do so. We believe engagement in global markets is important, as an open and healthy Internet involves not only access to information, but access to network connectivity, computing power, innovative and easy-to-use software applications and the basic IT skills needed to leverage these capabilities. We believe all technology companies should make public commitments to help protect Internet users.  We look to the Global Network Initiative guidelines, in particular, as a process to show respect for user rights when doing business around the world."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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