Google in 'new approach' on China


Google has announced a "new approach" in its ongoing battle with China over censorship.

Until recently, the firm automatically redirected Chinese users to its unfiltered search site in Hong Kong to get round censorship issues.

Google has said it will now stop this after Beijing warned it could lose its licence to operate in the country.

Instead, Chinese users will be sent to a "landing page". Clicking anywhere on it sends them to the Hong Kong site.

In practice, this will make little difference to Chinese internet users as searches for sensitive topics are still blocked by China's great firewall.

However, Google said that the subtle change - where users have to actively click on a link to access unfiltered search results rather than being automatically redirected - was "consistent" with its approach not to self-censor search results and was hopeful it would allow it to continue operating in China.

Chinese law demands that companies use web servers based in China and that they agree to censor certain sensitive information.

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said there was no guarantee the Chinese authorities would accept the new arrangement.

'Sophisticated attack'

Google announced the changes one day before the deadline to renew its Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence, necessary to operate in the country.

"Without an ICP licence, we can't operate a commercial website like—so Google would effectively go dark in China," said David Drummond of the firm in a blog post.

"That's a prospect dreaded by many of our Chinese users, who have been vocal about their desire to keep alive."

A spokesperson for the firm said Google was about to submit its new ICP application to the government and had made the changes in an effort to continue operating in the country.

It has already begun to channel some Chinese web users to the new page.

"Over the next few days we'll end the redirect entirely, taking all our Chinese users to our new landing page—and today we re-submitted our ICP licence renewal application based on this approach," said Mr Drummond.

Google has had a long history of run-ins with the Chinese authorities.

However, these escalated in January when the search firm announced that it was considering withdrawing from China altogether following a "sophisticated" cyber attack originating from the country.

The attacks targeted the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, along with the computers and infrastructure of Google and several other US firms.

The firm eventually decided to stay in the country, but offer Chinese users unfiltered search results through its Hong Kong servers.

The latest move was part of the firm's ambition to "make information available to users everywhere," said Mr Drummond.

"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self censor and, we believe, with local law. We are therefore hopeful that our licence will be renewed."

China hopes that nearly half the population will have access to the internet within five years. That figure is nearly 30% at the moment.

Losing business in the country could harm Google's future growth prospects.

However, unlike in other markets, Google is not focused on search in China, which is currently dominated by Baidu.

Instead, experts say, Google aims to develop its music and maps services in the country.

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