According to breaking news from the Wall Street Journal, Google will be resuming talks with China after the Chinese New Year holiday over the future of the company’s search engine in the heavily censored country.
Why is Google Considering Leaving? A Basic Timeline of Events
If you have missed the boat on this story then here is an timeline overview:
1) 2005: Google opens in China and censors its content heavily to ‘respect’ the Chinese legal system. Many scuffles over free speech occured over the next few years but Google ultimately buckled to Chinese law. (more on Google China at Wikipedia)
2) Mid-December 2009, Google gets hacked by cyber-terrorists and after some research, deduces that China was the source of the attack.
Here are some excerpts from Google’s extensive media release about the cyber attacks:
In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.
… we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective.
… as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.
… 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.
3) Jan 14, 2010, “Google China cyberattack part of vast espionage campaign, experts say” – The Washington Post. The cyber-attacks turned out to be FAR more wide-reaching and effective than anyone had imagined:
Computer attacks on Google that the search giant said originated in China were part of a concerted political and corporate espionage effort that exploited security flaws in e-mail attachments to sneak into the networks of major financial, defense and technology companies and research institutions in the United States, security experts said.
… At least 34 companies — including Yahoo, Symantec, Adobe, Northrop Grumman and Dow Chemical — were attacked, according to congressional and industry sources.
4) Feb 3, 2010, “The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution condemning cyber attacks against Google in China” - The Canadian Press
5) Feb 12, 2010, At Ted 2010, Google’s Sergey Brin pronounces unfailing optimism that Google will reach an agreement to show unfiltered results in China.
6) Feb 21, 2010, “Google-China Talks to Resume” - The Wall Street Journal
Why Would China Care if Google Leaves?
That is an honest to goodness question on my part. I am a very simple guy, without a lick of political know-how. That said, to my knowledge the Chinese have never been flexible with their censorship and I don’t see any way they will buckle just to keep Google. Sure, they said to their people that Google was acting like a “spoiled child” and that the search company wouldn’t follow through on its threats (sorry can’t recall the source of that info). All I do know, is that I am very pleased to see Google put the foot down on censorship in China – even if it did take a lot to make that happen.