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Google bows to China pressure

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By BRAD STONE AND DAVID BARBOZA NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
  • Published 30.06.10
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San Francisco, June 29: In an effort to appease Beijing as it seeks to renew its license to operate in mainland China, Google plans to stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to its Hong Kong site.

For the last three months, Google has found a clever way to overcome its ethical objections to self-censoring search results on its website for mainland China, google.cn. It has automatically redirected Chinese users to an uncensored search site, google.com.hk, maintained on the company’s servers in Hong Kong.

There was only one problem with this solution: the Chinese government objected to it.

Late yesterday in the US, Google acknowledged those objections in a blog post written by David Drummond, its chief legal officer. Drummond wrote that the Chinese government was ready to reject Google’s application for renewal of its Internet Content Provider license, which would effectively mean the company would have to shut down its website in the country entirely. The license renewal application has to be submitted tomorrow.

Drummond wrote that in an effort to continue to serve Google’s Chinese users while placating the government, the company is proposing a compromise. In the next few days, it will stop automatically redirecting users to its Hong Kong site. Instead, Chinese users will see a page at google.cn, which offers a single link to the Hong Kong site, where they can conduct searches or use other Google services, like translation and music, that require no filtering.

The company said it had resubmitted its content provider license based on this approach and hopes the Chinese government will find it more palatable. If the government continues to object, Google would lose its ability to operate a website in China altogether.

Google appears to have made the compromise out of concern that Beijing is preparing to entirely shut down its google.cn, which could confuse users in China by failing to notify them that they can reach the Hong Kong site. Because users have grown accustomed to google.cn it could hurt Google’s traffic in China, the world’s largest Internet market.

“If the Chinese government isn’t happy with them running uncensored search results out of the Hong Kong site — I don’t see why they’ll be any happier just because it becomes one click away,” Danny Sullivan, who runs the search-analysis website Search Engine Land, told Bloomberg News.

“This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on google.cn and gives users access to all of our services from one page,” Drummond wrote.