The Internet search engine giant has said that the censorship and increasing cyber attacks on its sites from China may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially its offices in China
Internet search engine giant Google has said it has decided that it is no longer willing to continue censoring its results on Google.cn, and will be discussing with the Chinese government over the next few weeks the basis on which it 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,” said Google on its blog.
"The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised," said David Drummond, senior vice president for corporate development and chief legal officer, Google.
Google said that like many well-known organisations, it also faces cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, Google detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on its corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. "However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident—albeit a significant one—was something quite different," the search engine giant said.
Google said as part of its investigation it discovered that at least 20 other large companies from a wide range of businesses—including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors—have been similarly targeted. Google said it is currently in the process of notifying those companies, and the company is also working with the relevant US authorities.
Google has taken an unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just due to the security and human rights implications of what it has unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.
In the past two decades, China's economic reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.
Google.cn was launched in January 2006 so as to provide benefits of increased access to information for people in China. At that time, Google had said that it will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on its services. If it determines that it is unable to achieve the objectives outlined, it will not hesitate to reconsider its approach to China, Google had said.
Google said that it has evidence that the regular attacks on its sites, especially on its mail service, suggest that the primary goal of the attackers was to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists."Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves," Google said.
Google further said as part of its investigation, which was independent of the attack on Google, it has discovered that the accounts of dozens of US, China and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers, it said.
The search engine service provider said that it used information gained from this attack to make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for its users. In terms of individual users, Google said, it would advise people to deploy reputed anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and to update their Web browsers. Always be cautious when clicking on links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share personal information like passwords online.
Whether Google exits China or not will be known in the next few weeks, there was other interesting story regarding a search engine from China. According to media reports, Baidu.com, China's biggest search engine with 60% share was hacked by the ‘Iranian Cyber Army’. The same hacker group was responsible for hijacking social messaging service provider Twitter a few weeks ago.