Google China Stops Censoring… Sort of

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Ever since Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) discovered its users were the target of a Chinese cyber attack back in January, the company has been teasing the idea that it would either stop censoring content in China or leave the country all together. Now, it seems to finally be making good on that threat.

Google announced Monday that it is routing all traffic away from its Google China search engine, which is censored by the Chinese government. "Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong,” David Drummond, Google’s Chief Legal Officer, wrote in a blog post.

As Time magazine notes, searches remained uncensored for several hours following the switch, but before the day was done, China began to censor specific searches like “Falun Gong” and "Tiananmen Square." Still, the government has yet to censor Google’s Hong Kong search completely, though that too may come.

According to ABC News, China’s Internet bureau has condemned Google’s actions, saying "Google has violated its written promise and is totally wrong by stopping to censor its Chinese language search results and blaming China for alleged hacker attacks.” Even some Google employees have quietly lamented the move. Dan Brody, a former employee at Google China, told ABC that it was “a darn shame” for Google to pull the plug on its China search engine. “They were the last foreign Internet company here in China still operating,” he said. And while Google claims to be retaining some operations in mainland China for research and development, many of its employees in the country have already left.

As we previously reported, this move, though dramatic, will probably not have much of an immediate impact on Google, which only earns about 1% of its total revenue from China operations. Similarly, many Chinese will not be affected, since only about 30% of the search traffic in the country is through Google. Instead, the big impact for both may be further down the road. Many have argued that Google’s biggest opportunity for growth was in China, which currently has 400 million Internet users, and of course, Google was supposed to enrich the lives of the Chinese by giving them better access to the world’s information resources.

Ultimately, it is still confusing to decipher Google’s motives through all of this. While it’s undoubtedly a noble cause to fight censorship in China, the truth is that Google allows its search engine to be censored in other countries. For example, Google blocks access to videos in Turkey that “defame” the nation’s founder, because the government considers it illegal. They do the same in Thailand, restricting access to videos that target the ruling monarch.

So, is Google a hypocrite, or do they just need a cyber attack to occur in one of these countries in order for them to mobilize in favor of free speech?

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