Thursday, 14 January 2010

Google and China

Recently Google made an official statement concerning its policy with regard to China. The basis of the policy change announced in this statement concerned the detection in mid-December last year of a series of attacks on the company that led to theft of intellectual property. The attack was apparently not made on Google alone but with specific regard to Google concerned an attempt to break the encryption codes that enable private messages to be sent by means of Gmail. In addition to the attacks on Gmail last month general assaults on the accounts of human rights activists within China have been logged for some time. 

All of these points are clear matters for concern but the up-shot of them is the key element of the announcement Google has made. This is to the effect that Google is no longer prepared to submit to censorship in China so Google is preparing, should this be necessary, to exit the Chinese market entirely. Google has linked to further discussion of such matters through the blog of Nart Villeneuve. Since the statement from Google, the Chinese authorities have, somewhat oddly, claimed that the internet is open in China and that such attacks as Google have reported are a world problem, statements made available on Xinhua. The denial of censorship is certainly risible as is manifest from the very way the Google story is reported which doesn't include any suggestion of surveillance, free speech or intellectual property.

The point that attacks on internet security are a world problem are, however, correct and in making them the Chinese authorities are following Google's own key, in terms of not making clear why this issue is part of the question. The reason it is part of the discussion is because of the implication, not voiced directly by Google, that the attacks were orchestrated by the Chinese state itself. Research carried out by internet security consultants backs up this claim.

Its not suggested that Google alone has been targeted as a host of other companies are reporting similar stories. Further, Google's own presence in China has not been as great as in most places since it has only a third of the search market in China with nearly two thirds taken by Baidu which is effectively state-run and censors merrily away. 

Since China has, quite apart from its apparent attacks on Google, also banned YouTube recently, it is becoming pretty clear that there are major issues with the development of the internet there. As mentioned last year, the defeat of the Green Dam software was only partial and the Chinese authorities are clearly committed to censorship and violation of rights as the key to management of the internet. Given these unpalatable facts the decision of Google to withdraw from China is surely the right one. Indeed, the wrong decision may well have been to go into the market there in the first place given that the property Google owns is intellectual, the kind of property that it is most important should be free.

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