Search giant ends automatic redirection for Chinese web users in effort to placate Beijing censors
Google's conflict with Chinese censors took a fresh twist today as the search engine added an extra step for mainland users wishing to access its homepage, in an effort to placate the country's internet authorities.
The company began diverting google.cn users to its Hong Kong site google.com.hk in March after saying it was no longer willing to censor search results as required under Chinese law.
But today it said users were now being redirected to a holding page with a link to the Hong Kong search service, after officials made it clear it could not renew its licence on the mainland if it continued with its current model.
In a post on the Google blog, the chief legal officer, David Drummond, wrote: "This redirect [to Hong Kong], which offers unfiltered search in simplified Chinese, has been working well for our users and for Google.
"However, it's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable – and that if we continue redirecting users our internet content provider license will not be renewed (it's up for renewal on June 30). Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like Google.cn – so Google would effectively go dark in China.
"That's a prospect dreaded by many of our Chinese users, who have been vocal about their desire to keep Google.cn alive."
He said some users were already being taken to the landing page and that over the next few days all users would be diverted that way. He said the firm had resubmitted its licence renewal application on that basis.
"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, [to comply] with local law," Drummond said.
Without a licence, the firm would be unable to offer services such as music and mapping from the Chinese mainland. Some analysts said it might also have to give up the right to the google.cn domain.
"Only time will tell whether we will be allowed to continue," said Google spokesman Peter Barron.
Although Hong Kong is part of China, it is governed under different laws. Users from the mainland are still unable to see many search results on google.com.hk because the country's firewall blocks sensitive terms.
"I have always been of the mind that the idea somehow Google had got through everything and now it was hunky-dory was a bit hopeful," said Beijing-based internet expert Bill Bishop, who blogs as Niubi. "People here have long memories."
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