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Google to stop censoring in China after cyber attacks
Google on Tuesday said it will stop censoring search results in China after it detected "highly sophisticated and targeted" attacks on the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
The Internet giant didn't go so far as to accuse the Chinese government, but that seemed to be the allusion. Announcing it will stop cooperating with China over censorship, Google said it acknowledges that it may have to pull out of the world's most populous country.
"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," the company said on the Official Google Blog. "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. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
Google said the e-mail accounts dozens of activists of human rights in China, located not just in China but also in the U.S. and Europe, were found to be accessed by third parties. The December investigation found that the accounts were not breached, but accessed via phishing scams or malware.
Google was not the only company targeted – at least 20 more companies were attacked, Google said. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has contacted those businesses and U.S. authorities.
The surprise move comes after months – perhaps years – of escalating concern over censorship in China. Microsoft recently got entangled in controversy when New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called for the boycott of its Bing search engine, after it was found to return pro-Communist photos in its image search.
Google, which is by far the search leader in the U.S. and Europe, claims about 30 percent of the market in China. Chinese search engine Baidu is the dominant player – Bing, for its part, trails far behind.
"We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results," Google said Tuesday. "At the time we made clear that 'we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.'"
It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does in response. Surely, there will be calls for Bing to follow suit and stop censoring Chinese search results. But Microsoft did recently peg China as its top search priority.
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