Google threatens to pull plug on Google.cn

14 Comments
Well-wishers leave flowers at Google China HQ earlier today
Well-wishers leave flowers at Google China HQ earlier today

Google has announced that it might soon pull the plug on its operations in China, citing grave concerns over some recent, bizarre hack attacks, and lack of freedom of speech.

The official notice on the main Google blog reveals that a concerted hacking attack, which originated in China, has been using phishing and malware to access the accounts of human rights activists.

In the statement, the Chief Legal Officer of Google, David Drummond, detailed the attacks in full. It was not stated explicitly, but I read in the implication that these concerted attempts to get into the Gmail inboxes and Google accounts of these human rights activists was actually government sponsored.

In addition, Mr. Drummond called-out “the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web” in China, but did not name any sites in particular, not even mentioning its own sites which are blocked (of which there are many: Youtube, Blogspot blogs, and Picasa Web Albums, to name only three of over a dozen).

So, if Google.cn is canned, and its offices in China closed (they employ 700 people right now), it will also end Google’s enforced policy of self-censorship in China, whereby Google.cn results are ‘harmonised’ of critical, anti-government material, as well as any sex or nudity.

Already, many in Silicon Valley are praising Google for taking a stand against repression and sinister interference. But is that really what motivates Google?

The most recent figures suggest that Baidu has 75% of the search users in mainland China, to Google’s 18%. So, this being the cost-benefit analysis world of business, perhaps Google is deciding that Google China is not viable.

Or, more curiously, perhaps the GOOG is trying the Jedi mind-trick of folding a failing business while making it look like they’re the do-gooders.

Another possibility is that Google knows that threatening the authorities here is dangerous and counter-productive, and so this ‘threat’ is actually just a final shout of desperation; knowing that Google China is screwed, with no hope of being able to do business here without any state-level intervention.

So, what’s next? Google.cn will allow all search results as soon as this evening? A blockage of Google.cn – and maybe other Google domains, too – by the Beijing authorities? Perhaps the government will say “Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out” and Google will leave, to a hero’s welcome in the Western media? Or, more forward-thinkingly, perhaps Google will do a ‘Yahoo!’ and pull out in order to focus on investment in Chinese start-ups instead?

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14 Comments
  1. Pingback: Google Threatens to Pull Out of China « Patrick Chovanec

  2. Avatar of

    @Steven: I think your bang on the money saying that Google’s mostly doing this to restore some of its rather tarnished “don’t do evil” motto while finding an easy exit from a failing (and not-improving) market.

    Many of us were here in 2006 when Google changed it to “don’t do evil, on US soil” and all the blogentary that followed. They weathered it in hopes that China would pay off, it hasn’t.

    And where that might be a motivator to re-envision their product line for the Chinese market, the simple fact is that even with concessions the majority of their products are blocked in China.

    I read The Google Story a few months ago, and the impression I got about the company is that they’re not one to hesitate to give the finger to someone (or some place) that is being uncooperative.

  3. Pingback: google将从”中国队“”被退役“再追踪 | 文通博客

  4. Last I heard there were 300 million people using the net in China – surely 18% of that can still pull in a nice chunk of change?

  5. @Ryan yes, despite a lot of concessions, Google has been whipped hard in China in the past four years. Right now, several of their top web apps are blocked, causing a huge amount of lost revenue, and giving rivals an unfair advantage. That leads to the prospect (hope, even) that the GFW might become a trade barrier issie to be investigated by the WTO.

    @Matty K – According to the NYT, they “estimate” an annual revenue of USD 300 mil. for Google China. How much more would that be if YouTube were not blocked, eh?

  6. google is the lastest in long line of international internet brands that are unable to crack the chinese market due to a lack of being able to localize and chinese government protectionism.

    while regrettable to see them go, it is another example of how the china market while as we are always told is “different” than other markets, and requires a different approach, is also an isolated one.

  7. Grave as the issue itself has ever appeared to be.
    How could I imagine days without goole RSS reader…..
    News, News????!!! too much dust fullfilling those soooooo-called Door Website….

  8. Avatar of Matt M

    The force is strong here.

    The situation here is not what it seems. There is something else behind all this. The company is not doing well in China and is using human rights as an excuse to pull out of China and score points with the EU, which wants to severely tax Google to subsidize industries hurt by free content (i.e., the publishing and recording industries). Google has a strong track record in helping China track down dissidents, so its sudden “strong stand” in China is not credible – it’s a PR stunt. There’s a lot more to this story than is being reported.

  9. Pingback: Suffer the Little Children | Lost Laowai China Blog

  10. I agree with Matt M … there must be more to this story.

    Maybe I’m thinking too much like a conspiracy theorist but he fact that the US government has had a play in this seems significant.

  11. Threaens to pull out of China? Are you kidding me? It’s a buyers market in China and Google is losing, so who’s threatening who here? It is incredible so many in the US actually believed this human rights crap as the reason for the Google stunt. Wal-Mart is far from No1 in China, neither is MacDonald. But I haven’t heard their “threat” to pull out. Perhaps these little geeks at Google are too full of themselves this time around? Don’t be like eBay, a sore loser.

  12. Avatar of

    @yc: By your logic, wouldn’t lack of market domination therefor not be a reason to pull out if Wal-Mart and McDonalds are still expanding and ever-pushing in China (despite not being the leader)?

    I agree that the HR stuff is mostly just PR stuff. But careful that you don’t buy in to the propaganda machine on the other side of the fence. Chinese media (and its puppetmasters) is working hard at putting out the opinion that you yourself are spreading — that Google is some sort of anti-Chinese dickhead of a company for abandoning and insulting China.

    That’s laughable. Whatever the reason for Google’s pulling out, ethical or financial, I’m sure it had nothing to do with its opinion of the Chinese people.

    As for a sore loser, even conservative estimates of them having 15% of the search market in China would still be 60,000,000 users — that’s twice the population of my home country.

  13. This is a silly argument of the ego. 18% of a market share of over 300 million has a small civilization of over 50 MILLION people. Looking at “the most” or the biggest of a certain “type” of company is not just over simplifying the matter but yielding to whatever authority of the herds you might subconsciously wish to guide you.

    I can only hope that with ever more increasing access to information and psiritual knowldge we’ll rid our selves of this human tendecny to sensationalize the media and evolve one hate group to the next, as a means to create a collective unity. A National furrier will collect he slaves into his debt pyramid and shape their minds as to find Masters anywhere they go.

    The USA based censorshp, fradulent banking and fascist 911 laws and civilian espionage are no better. Not to mentioned their endless war of terror on everybody with some oil.
    I just hope this singularity will be happy :)

    I’m writing this high, so u may simply negate me on that.

    Peace and Namaste :)

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