Google And China: The Fog Of War

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Google (GOOG) and perhaps China cannot figure out whether the search company’s results which are displayed on the mainland are being blocked by the government or due to defects with Google’s servers. One of the world’s most powerful nations and one of the world’s most prominent tech firms are confused, or so they say. Sometime yesterday, Google users in the People’s Republic began to have trouble getting access to the search engine’s main Chinese language site which is now based in Hong Kong. The American firm said that the problem was caused by China erecting a “great fire wall” to shield its citizens from the ability to have access to websites that the state does not approve of. Google is almost certainly at the top of that list.

Google, after spending more time analyzing the flow of its traffic changed its mind as to the causes of an apparent Chinese block and said “having looked into this issue in more detail, it’s clear we actually added this parameter a week ago. So whatever happened today to block must have been as a result of a change in the great firewall.” Google customers had restored service in China slightly later. Google added to its comments on the incident, “For the time being this issue seems to be resolved.” The way the statement was phrased Google wants the world to believe that the battle between itself and the communist central government is not over.

The Chinese themselves were content to say nothing about the incident which leaves those who care about Google’s role in the region confused about whether the People’s Republic had any hand is the search company’s problems at all. China’s was a brilliant response to a day of news generated by Google and a mass of customers who had no idea why their search service did not work and whether it would ever be available again.

It may not be Google’s fault entirely, but it has not been able to offer a cogent description of its problems in China. It initially claimed that its servers in China, particularly its Gmail servers, had been hacked and private data had been compromised. The American company hinted that the Chinese government was behind the electronic invasion. It turned out that some mainland “universities” may have been the source of the hacks. Shortly after that, Google said it might ever find the origins of the attacks on its service.

Google appears to have used the hacking incident as an excuse to stop censoring its results in China. Google management also said that it had a change of heart about the freedom of information. It is only right, the company said, that the Chinese have free and unfettered access to online information. The censorship issue went from one of retaliation against the central government to one of human rights.

China made it clear that Google could not keep its mainland-based search operation open and ceased to exist. Google moved its Chinese language service to Hong Kong and experts who have analyzed the People’s Republic internet rules and regulations were certain that search results from the new Hong Kong location would be blocked or screened. Within the last two days, Google said that its service to Chinese cell phones had been disrupted and then that its internet search operation was not accessible to its customers on the mainland. Now, it turns out that the contention may be wrong.