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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 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, 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, and potentially our offices in China.”

Google 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 – – 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 technology leaders.

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 operations.

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.


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