Updates to this story
Google is changing its search engine redirect method in China after the Chinese government threatened to pull the plug on its Internet Content Provider license, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The license is to be renewed on June 30, but that may not come to pass if Google continues its approach since January of this year, when it announced that it would no longer allow censorship of its search engine results on Google.cn.
Since then Google has been automatically been redirecting users to the Hong Kong search engine at Google.com.hk, which allows unfiltered results. This angered the restrictive government, however, which would rather keep its people away from the many websites it deems inappropriate.
Google is now forced into a situation where it can either give in to the Chinese government or close up shop in the region completely, which it says it and its Chinese users do not want. Google has developed a workaround by creating a landing page at Google.cn, which links to Google.com.hk instead of automatically redirecting. This should, according to Google's lawyers, comply with local Chinese law.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, said today that “the Chinese government encourages foreign enterprises to operate in China according to the law and we also administer the internet according to the law.” This, when translated into British English, means: “Do as we say, or else.”
Google has been operating a censored version of its search engine in China since 2006, but a large scale cyber attack in January of this year prompted the company to reconsider its role within China. The attack resulted in some of Google's code being stolen and the Gmail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists allegedly being spied on.
Google decided it would no longer cooperate with the Chinese government on censorship and has been very vocal over the past few months about the censorship requirements, saying that it had the “earmarks of totalitarianism”.
Google is hoping that its new approach will not compromise its morals, while also appeasing the Chinese government enough to let it continue to operate there. It is unclear how the Chinese government will react, but not renewing Google's license may send a bad signal to other companies willing to set up shop.
David Drummond, SVP of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, said: “As a company we aspire to make information available to users everywhere, including China. It’s why we have worked so hard to keep Google.cn alive, as well as to continue our research and development work in China.
"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self censor and, we believe, with local law. We are therefore hopeful that our license will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via Google.cn.”