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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Google halts China search engine

By Jon Swartz
USA Today

Google shut down its search engine in China yesterday, but it isn't ready to leave the country yet.

Google began redirecting visitors of its Chinese site, www.Google.cn, to its Chinese-language service based in Hong Kong, www.Google.com.hk. The page said, according to a Google translation, "Welcome to Google Search in China's new home."

But Google said it will maintain R&D and sales operations in the fast-growing China market, where it employs 600 people, or 3 percent of its worldwide workforce.

The compromise over censorship vs. commerce could resolve a monthslong showdown between the world's most powerful Internet company and the government of the world's most populous country.

"We believe this new approach ... is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced. It's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China," David Drummond, chief legal officer for Google, said on its official blog.

"We hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services," he said.

Google has been at loggerheads with the Chinese government since January, when Google said it would stop censoring its search results after it was hit by a cyberattack it traced to China.

China routinely blocks Internet content, restricting access to sites such as Facebook and YouTube. (Google started operations in China in 2006 and had censored search results since.)

Though Google executives have huddled with government officials about operating an unfiltered search engine, Chinese ministers have publicly said Google must continue to obey Chinese law or face consequences.

"The Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement," Drummond said.

While Google's decision lets it take an ethical stand, it also preserves business operations in China, where Google rakes in $300 million to $600 million a year, a tiny slice of its $24 billion in annual revenue.

The move "forces China to play its hand," said Leslie Harris, CEO of Center for Democracy & Technology. "If the Chinese government blocks access, it will be clear as to the extent of censorship there."

Jillian York of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, said she doubts Google will "withstand Chinese censors" long but is glad it is making a "principled stand."

Google's investment in China runs deep, from search, to deals with wireless companies to offer phones based on its Android operating system.