January 13, 2010
Google to Review Business Operations in China Following Cyber-Attacks
by Robert Kropp
After years of complying with Chinese demands for self-censorship, Google responds to attacks on
users’ email by announcing it is no longer willing to censor search results.
Responding to last month’s cyber-attacks on its corporate infrastructure and Gmail users in China,
Google has announced that it will review the business operations of its Google.cn search engine
there, and may cease its operations in China altogether.
According to Google, the
goal of the attacks was to access the email accounts of human rights activists in China. While
Google could not determine a definitive link between the attacks and the Chinese government, the
scale of its response strongly suggests that it believes such a link exists.
In a statement posted on
Google’s blog, Senior Vice President David Drummond wrote, “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.”
Drummond continued, “We recognize that this may well
mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”
established its Chinese search engine in 2006, agreeing at the time to the Chinese government’s
request that it impose self-censorship by such measures as removing certain results from the
Internet searches of its users. In his 2006 testimony before
the US House Committee on International Relations, Google Vice President Elliot Schrage said, “We
could provide more access to more information to more Chinese citizens more reliably by offering a
new service – Google.cn – that, though subject to Chinese self-censorship requirements, would have
some significant advantages.”
It now appears that in the wake of last month’s attacks,
Google no longer believes a policy of accommodation with Internet censorship is feasible.
Investors have been targeting companies’ acquiescence to Chinese demands for censorship for
years. In 2005, charges of collusion by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo with the Chinese government in
the suppression of domestic dissent led to the formation of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a coalition of
information and communications companies, human rights organizations, academics, investors, and
Investor participants in the GNI include Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert, Domini Social Investments, F&C Asset Management, and Trillium Asset Management.
The three corporate
founding members of the GNI are Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
In November, 2009, an
investor coalition led by Boston Common Asset Management filed a shareowner resolution with Cisco
Systems, urging the company to adequately manage human rights related risks in its global
US-based competitors for Chinese search engine market share include Microsoft
and Yahoo. It remains to be seen if these companies will follow Google’s lead in finally addressing
the issue of Internet censorship in China.