The decision of Google to essentially withdraw from China is highly significant and a (better late than never) acknowledgement that Beijing treats its citizens with contempt:
Google shut down its search service in the Chinese mainland last night after a two-month standoff with Beijing over online freedom and an alleged intrusion by hackers.
But Chinese authorities attacked the internet giant as “totally wrong” for its decision to shift its Chinese-language offering to Hong Kong.
The move allowed the firm to stop self-censoring the service, although the government’s filtering system would still prevent mainland users from seeing the results of many sensitive searches.
The furore highlighted the challenges of doing business in China for western companies and drew a line under the era of unfettered optimism about the internet’s ability to change the country.
The company now believes it has found a legal way out, and said it intended to maintain its research, development and advertising sales business in China – which has the world’s largest internet population, of almost 400 million.
But it acknowledged that authorities could block the Chinese search service.
An unnamed official at the State Council Information Office – one of the bodies overseeing internet controls – said Google was “totally wrong” and had “violated its written promise” in remarks carried by the official news agency Xinhua. The swift response was highly unusual given that news of the decision broke in the middle of the night in China.
Google.cn now redirects visitors to google.com.hk – where they are greeted by a message reading: “Welcome to Google search in China’s new home.”
But the Chinese government’s internet filtering system, “the Great Firewall”, prevented results being returned when searches were conducted using sensitive words and phrases such as “Tiananmen Square 1989” on google.com.hk. The internet connection was reset.
Leading web guru Rebecca MacKinnon has a word of advice to the Chinese:
If they [Beijing] are smart they will just leave the situation as is and stop drawing media attention to their censorship practices. The longer this high profile fracas goes on, the greater Chinese Internet users awareness will be about the lengths to which their government goes to blinker their knowledge of the world. That may inspire more people to start learning how to use circumvention tools for getting around the censorship. Chinese censorship is only effective if a large percentage of the population isn’t very conscious of what they’re missing. As I like to explain it: if you’re born with tunnel vision you assume it’s normal until somehow you’re made aware that life without tunnel vision is both possible and much better. The longer this story remains in the headlines, the more people will become conscious of their tunnel vision and think about ways to eliminate it.