NEW YORK—Internet search giant Google stunned industry analysts, market watchers, as well as its critics on Jan. 12 by announcing that it would stop censoring its search results on Google.cn, the mainland Chinese version of Google tailored for a Chinese audience and launched in 2006.
A post on Google's official blog at 3 p.m. said that over the next few weeks the company “will be discussing with the Chinese [regime] the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law,” and that the “decision to review our business operations in China … will have potentially far-reaching consequences.” It was signed by David Drummond, senior vice president of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer of Google.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) track record of repressing dissent and censoring the Internet may mean that Google cannot operate an uncensored search engine in China, a possibility acknowledged by Mr. Drummond. “We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China,” he wrote.
Attacks by Chinese Hackers
Part of what led Google to review its cooperation with the CCP was a series of cyber-attacks, targeting both Google and other U.S.-based tech companies.
In mid-December, Mr. Drummond writes, Google detected a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.”
After investigation in league with twenty other companies, Google reported that the cyber-attacks were made on a large sector of the industry. The primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google stated that “accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.”
The blog post concludes that “these attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered—combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web—have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China.”
Google said that it was working with U.S. authorities on the issue, also posting links to background information on cyber-attacks originating from China and believed to be backed by the CCP. These include U.S. government reports, and a university study that uncovered the “GhostNet” tracking system that infiltrated thousands of computers around the world, allowing them to be directed by command-and-control centers in China.