The end is in sight for Google’s seven wilderness years in China. With none of the theatrics that accompanied its voluntary withdrawal from the country due to web-search censorship in January 2010, Google is now firmly on a path not only to return to China but also to potentially seize a spot alongside Apple as one of the most profitable tech companies there.

This is a likely outcome of Google’s announcement last week that it is entering with full force the global consumer hardware industry. Google Pixel mobile phones, Google Home artificial intelligence-enabled speakers, Google Daydream View virtual reality headsets, these will be the engines of Google’s revival in China. Based on what Google has so far revealed – including pricing – these products may find a large market among Chinese consumers.

The company has made no specific mention of plans to re-enter China. China’s government will not likely strew the ground with rose petals to welcome Google back. Read more

…soon to be 36th?

Why invest in Russian web companies? Look at the country’s web usage figures, and there are plenty of reasons to be downbeat.

At the most recent international tally in 2012, 47 per cent of Russians had no access to the internet. Internet penetration as a share of the population was the 37th highest in Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina was more connected than the Russian behemoth. Read more

It’s hard to quantify an authoritarian crackdown. How do you measure curbs on free speech? And when a protest movement has many facets and disparate aims, they can be even harder to gauge, let alone put in numbers.

However, when it comes to the internet, there is one source that shows how keen authorities in different countries are on stifling criticism and controlling the debate. And if anyone had been paying attention back in 2012, the current protests in Turkey might have been less of a surprise. Chart of the week takes a look. Read more

Five years ago, few Vietnamese owned a smartphone with internet access. Now, wireless networks, 3G services and iPads are in use on every street corner. Vietnam, a country of 90m people, a third of whom use the internet, seems to be a promising land for web start-up businesses. But a web start-up like Coc Coc, whose aim is to beat Google, is rare. Read more

Google’s dominance of global search is well known, and that includes Africa, where the US search engine has over 90 per cent market share.

Now it can add its browser Chrome to its trophy list – according to data from StatCounter it has just overtaken Firefox as the continent’s most popular means of browsing the web. Read more

It’s been the season of high-profile phone launches. Except, sadly, for Acer and Alibaba. Their planned launch of a co-branded phone for Chinese consumers got cancelled at the last minute when Google objected to the version of Android on the phone.

What the last-minute cancellation – and some continued sniping between the companies – shows is how tricky it is to manage China’s booming mobile market. That’s true, apparently, even for Google, whose Android platform dominates in a big way. Read more

Combine low levels of internet penetration, meagre financial inclusion and an underdeveloped private sector, and you might wonder why Google – which earns most of its cash by selling advertising on its search engine – has Africa firmly in its sights.

But the American technology giant is serious about the continent’s fast-changing online landscape, as new undersea data cables and skyrocketing mobile phone subscriptions – now in excess of 500m – reshape Africa’s connectivity. Read more

More power to the mobile in Africa. On-the-go access to Google’s email service, Gmail, usually entails running it on a high-end smartphone – but now, any clunky old mobile will do.

Google announced this week that in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, mobile phone users will be able to access Gmail via SMS – the short text service that is used widely around the world. It’s Gmail, just not as you know it. And it’s all part of the battle to get African users at the earliest stage possible. Read more

One of Google’s great attributes is that the cumulative effect of millions of searches can be used as an almost real-time opinion poll. So what do the sum of Google’s China searches tell us about the Chinese economy?

Standard Chartered have crunched the numbers, and have a few interesting finds in a note titled China – Inside the great firewallRead more

Can a regional internet giant find success in a foreign market? This is the question that Yandex, the Russian search engine, is asking as it seeks to replicate its Russian success in a country where it lacks the linguistic and cultural advantages it enjoys in Moscow.

Yandex launched its Turkish site,, in September, and is prepared to take on Google in other European markets where its American competitor holds a virtual monopoly. Read more

If last week’s chief executives travel plans were anything to go by, mobile phone makers are getting serious about China.

So which models are selling in China and which way is the market going? Chart of the week takes a look. Read more

For anyone who’s ever tried to look up the menu of a restaurant in India to see if they offer a particular type of chicken kebab and had to sort through blurry, user-scanned copies uploaded onto sites like or, Google’s latest initiative will come as a welcome fillip.

On Wednesday, Google India began offering free websites, hosting, maintenance and training to SMEs in an effort to get more of the 8m small businesses in India online. But there is, of course, something of a catch. Read more

The black, red and green stripes of the Kenyan flag behind the word “Tube” say it all. Kenya has its very own version of YouTube, the online video platform that has 800m users a month worldwide, uploading seven years’ worth of video to the site every day.

For now, it’s a Kenyanised version of but in the next few days the address should be fully up and running. Read more

Anti-nuclear demonstration in RussiaChelyabinsk is hardly a hot spot of Russian tourism. In fact, the town in the southern Ural mountains has long been labelled as the most polluted spot on earth.

Now city authorities have decided it’s time to tackle the problem head-on – not the pollution problem, mind you, just the labelling one. In a public tender document published on the Chelyabinsk region website, bidders are being sought for a $10,000 contract to provide search engine optimisation. Read more

Google’s share of the Chinese online search market is plummeting, but the company’s staff in China comfort themselves with the thought that they are the champion of hearts. “The people love Google,” says John Liu, the company’s vice president for Greater China operations.

But it turns out that the Chinese people love Baidu more. According to WPP, the global marketing group, Chinese consumers have much stronger emotional ties to the brand of the local hero than to Google. Read more

One of the juicier nuggets from the leak of 250,000 US embassy cables concerns Google’s partial retreat from China earlier this year. The newspapers with access to Wikileaks’ trove say diplomats relayed word that China’s Politburo had directed the hacker attacks that contributed to Google’s exit from the mainland.

Google has said that cyber attacks on its corporate infrastructure came from inside China. If they were directed from the top of the political hierarchy, that would be deeply troubling to all those who are wary of China’s growing power. Read more

The bitter dispute between Google and China rumbles on. In the latest episode, the company has released a white paper urging the international community to fight internet restrictions, which it calls the “trade barriers of the 21st century”.

Naturally, Google officials denied that the report was targeted at a specific country. Bob Boorstin, Google’s director of public policy, told the FT:

It’s not to do with what’s happened in China – it’s a broader attempt to get at these issues. Governments that block the free flow of information not only are breaking trade agreements in certain ways, but they’re hurting their own economies as well.

 Read more

Google needs something innovative in South Korea to put itself on the map of the world’s most wired nation. Despite being the world’s number one search engine, Google’s presence in the country has been small, with a market share of less than five per cent.

Now the US company is hoping that its first foreign language voice-command service can help turn things around: this week it launched a Korean-language tool that allows users to speak into their smartphones to execute tasks such as sending text messages and e-mails. Read more

South Korea isn’t China. Google will probably have nothing to worry about after a raid by the Seoul police. Having a visit from the boys in grey is not as bad or as unusual as it sounds.  Read more

Three months after Google started redirecting Chinese web search users to its Hong Kong site, out of reach for Beijing’s censors, all has become quiet on Google’s China front. The next challenge for Google is just around the corner: The government is set to hand out the first batch of licenses for online mapping services by the middle of next week. Google is unlikely to pass on the opportunity, but it will have some careful footwork to do in negotiating around new regulations that will once again favour domestic companies over foreign ones. Read more