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Google v China: Battle of the blogs

Rory Cellan-Jones | 11:30 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Google v China battle is fascinating. The company's blog post last night on "A new approach to China" made for startling reading. It's a key episode in the history of the search firm, of China's relationship with the West, and of the web's development as a supposed engine of freedom and self-expression.

Google logoAnd just to be clear on one point, while I found I could get access to terms like Falun Gong on the site from London this morning, Google tell me they have not stopped censoring search results in China yet. "We are continuing to operate within the law".

You'll probably have seen my colleague Robert Peston's take on the story where he made the excellent point that Baidu, a Chinese firm, is the giant in search there, not Google. But have a look at this - the extraordinary reaction on Baidu's blog to Google's move. It's turning into a battle of the blogs:

On Google Quitting China
2010-01-13 13:20
"Google claims it will quit China. What it's proved is not what the Google fans have claimed, that Google is a 'Human Rights fighter'. Just the contrary. It's proved that Google is a hypocrite.
"What the Google Chief Legal Adviser said makes me sick. To quit for the sake of financial interest, then just say it. To beauty itself up and ostensibly mention that Google comes under attack by the Chinese, and that Gmail boxes of Chinese dissidents have been breached, and to use all these as a pretext for quitting China, such tone is insulting the intelligence of the ordinary Chinese people. However, it may well satisfy the imagination of those Westerners who have never been to China and understood nothing of China but still like to point fingers at China.
"Let's put forward one supposition: Would Google top executives still proclaim that they would 'do no evil' and quit China, if Google has now taken 80% of China's search market?
"The only feeling the whole episode has left me is nausea."


  • Comment number 1.

    insulting the intelligence of the ordinary Chinese people

    Because Chinese people know that their security forces would never do such a thing?

  • Comment number 2.

    It’s interesting that Baidu, which happily cosies up to the Chinese govt, appears now to be acting as a Chinese govt mouthpiece rather than a genuine commercial rival.

    If Google are trying to excerpt leverage on China’s govt over censorship then they’ll find that whereas Google would like China’s advertising spend, China can easily dispense with Google. Google haven’t got much to bargain with.

    I’d like to know more about the cyber-attacks on other companies; Adobe has had an attempted hack for example. That can’t be about censorship, but may be about attempting to gain commercial advantage. I’ve read that up to 100 companies have been targeted (that are known about). There has to be something bigger going on in the background than just the hack on Gmail.

    As for Google having moral qualms. Well they chose to jump into bed with China in the first place knowing what was being asked of them.
    Perhaps the move didn’t generate the income that was hoped, perhaps they are genuinely angry about the cyber attacks generally, and perhaps also increasingly uncomfortable that they may be unwitting accomplices to human rights abuses.

    The imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, (founder of the Charter 08 campaign) on Christmas day is difficult to ignore ~ if you profess Do No Evil.

    Having made this statement it’s going to be difficult for Google to now stay in China, under any circumstances.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think the point as far as google is concerned is that google will never be allowed to become the #1 search provider in China. It will never attain 80% of the market because the chinese government would not tolerate a conduit which provided so much information to the chinese people which it did not directly control. And in Baidu, they DO directly control it because it's staff are chinese, it's owners are chinese and in many ways they will self censor themselves without needing any government influence put upon them.

    With those facts self evident to google at this point the government sanctioned criminal interference with it's services probably pushed it over the edge.

    The above response from Baidu? I actually think Baidu are shocked and horrified by googles move, the statement certainly smacks of a shocked and angry response, google leaving gives them near 100% market share, I expect though secretly they always hoped that googles presence in the chinese market would be a catalyst for a more open internet in china and less restrictive search. With google gone it might well fall to *them* to be that catalyst something which obviously terrifies them.

  • Comment number 4.

    This disgusting statement is from Baidu's Product Chief Designer, and represents the viewpoint of china government.
    As I know in china you cannot find any information which harmful to government with Baidu but Google can.
    As more and more young Chinese urge to know truth from internet, which makes government scare. So china government force Google to censer and filter searching results, and suppress Google in all fields.
    I think it's the one factor that Google choose quit.

  • Comment number 5.

    The problem Google has is that as we in the "free West" set the precedent when we let Austria insist on search engines censoring out nazi websites, Google can't really object to filtering out stuff the chinese government finds offensive.

    Once again the West not understanding that the concept of free speech means allowing people you don't agree with to say stuff you might find offensive.

    It's called universal rights - involves things like principles - in which you don't have the ignorance to expect higher standards off of other people than you demand of yourselves. a concept I, to my dismay, find people in this country have difficulty grasping.

  • Comment number 6.

    Let's hope this positive spin on Google doesn't detract from their otherwise poor attitude towards hording data and personal privacy.

    Incidentally, whilst a search for Falun Gong in English on gives you uncensored results, a search in Chinese is quite different.



  • Comment number 7.

    "Psycho B Delic wrote:
    The problem Google has is that as we in the "free West" set the precedent when we let Austria insist on search engines censoring out nazi websites, Google can't really object to filtering out stuff the chinese government finds offensive.

    Once again the West not understanding that the concept of free speech means allowing people you don't agree with to say stuff you might find offensive."

    No it doesn't. Even free speach must have boundaries of decency. Even in the UK I am pretty certain that Google will filter out any references to,say, child pornography on the grounds that a) it is illegal and b) harm is caused to others. The same applies to Nazism in Austria which is also a) illegal and b) caused massive harm to millions (ask the families of the 6 million Jews who were murdered durinng WW2).

    China is responsible for terrible human rights violations which we rarely here about here in the UK and it is good that Google are standing up to them, irrespective of their true motives.

  • Comment number 8.

    @Doctor Dave

    Whose standards of decency define these boundaries you speak of? Yours? Mine? Silvio Berlusconi's? Don't be a pompous fool.
    Free speech can have no boundaries or it becomes propaganda for one person's set of values. Using circular reasoning by saying free speech should be limited by something that is illegal is just intellectual laziness, while your rationale for censoring Nazism because it caused harm to a lot of people just doesn't work in any sense, or are we to censor Communism, Christiantiy, Islam, Capitalism, the motor car.....
    Austrian censorship of Nazism is indefensible but typical of that country's fondness for totalitarian solutions and Psycho B Delic has made an excellent point.
    Censorship is a crime against freedom. It really is that simple, unless you are happy to let others decide what you should think. I know I'm not.

  • Comment number 9.

    It's interesting that so many people have spouted vitriol at Google's decision to censor search results.

    Bear in mind they were asked to censor the results by the Chinese government, and whereas almost every other company censors 'silently' (i.e. just returns something like a 404 error), Google apparently displayed a page along the lines of "You're not allowed to view this content". It's still censorship, but it's more informative to the user than a bog-standard HTTP error (which could occur for a number of reasons, and could be generated at numerous places between the user and the page).

    I suppose in a way it's a case of "Be less evil than the competition" (let's face it, it would be very difficult for a profit-making public company to be completely pure and innocent!)

  • Comment number 10.

    I think that we in the west, particularly here in the UK, should realise that email is sent over the wire in the open. There is no encryption.

    The UK and US governments regularly scan all emails using anti terror legislation as their authority. So if the Chinese Government reads emails belonging to people whom they consdier a threat, then they are not doing anything our own governments are not doing.

    Not only does our government spy on our emails, they get reports from our ISP's which tell them every website we have ever visited. They can use this information thanks to the music industry who complain about illegal downloads.

    So basically, anything that you do on the internet, you must assume that your government either knows about or can find out.

    On the subject of Google censorship, just remember that Google itself will block a site from its search results if someone uses certain techniques to try and get a higher page rank (search position) in Google's search results.

    When is it right to block websites?

    Would you be in favour of Search Engines and ISP's blocking websites that load malicious software on your computer?

    Would you be in favour of blocking websites that perpetrate phishing attacks in order to get your bank account and credit card details?

    If you agree that such websites are breaking the law and should be stopped, should all websites that break the law be blocked?

    Or, should websites that only break certain laws be blocks?

    Or, should websites that only break the laws of certain countries be blocked?

    Maybe Google China is just not profitable and Google threw a hissy fit, who knows?

  • Comment number 11.

    I think Baidu is actually scared of google pulling out of China, because face fact once Google goes, Yahoo an Microsoft an other western search firms will follows shortly afterwards, which would leave just China government an Baidu to fight it out an Baidu would be without any friends or allies to help. An the government would just have one company to monitor instead of many it currently has. Probably whiles the Chinese order the attacks on google in the first place.

  • Comment number 12.

    As a sysadmin at a small non-profit, I monitor the traffic coming to our site. I typically retain info for subsequent actions. The largest number of attempts, by a good percentage, come from China. Is it because there are so many people there? How many have the skills to attempt breakins from a country still working on bringing standards up to western levels? Obviously I don't know, however there is more than a touch of cowardice in enforcing a closed system and at the same time taking advantage of an open one. I wonder at times just how many of its values the west is willing to sell for the benefit of access to "the Chinese market"? Actually, I wonder too how many of its values will it give up for the "benefit" of the western market? I suspect the two questions are not unrelated.

  • Comment number 13.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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