China

Richard Waters

When Google’s search service became widely unavailable in China a few hours ago, it looked like the other shoe had dropped: the authorities were finally retaliating after Google’s decision last week to end its long and miserable submission to self-censorship.

But the truth, as this rather embarrassing statement just put out by Google makes clear, is very different:

Lots of users in China have been unable to search on Google.com.hk today. This blockage seems to have been triggered by a change on Google’s part. In the last 24 hours “gs_rfai” started appearing in the URLs of Google searches globally as part of a search parameter, a string of characters that sends information about the query to Google so we can return the best result. Because this parameter contained the letters rfa the great firewall was associating these searches with Radio Free Asia, a service that has been inaccessible in China for a long time–hence the blockage. We are currently looking at how to resolve this issue.

Who needs censors when you can walk blindly into a giant firewall like this?

Update: This story just keeps getting weirder – see after the jump. Read more

China benefits from open network links to the rest of the world. An FT editorial says any big step now in the direction of restricting access could have longer-term repercussions.

Its repressive stance has set a dubious leadership for regimes elsewhere, with the open internet under attack in many parts of the world. Diplomatic and economic pressure may have more effect elsewhere. If the global drift towards a more restrictive internet is to be halted, now is the time to draw a line in the sand. Read more

“Google decided that its brand, which depends on its image as a champion of liberalism, was worth more than a slice of China’s still-nascent online advertising market,” writes the FT’s David Pilling. Now, he says, “Google’s decision has presented Chinese authorities with a quandary.”

Some officials have sensibly sought to characterise the pull-out as a purely commercial decision of little broader significance. To escalate the affair risks jeopardising China’s official stance of being welcoming to business and further poisoning already strained relations with the US. More, to paint the withdrawal in ideological hues risks putting Beijing into conflict with a subset of its own netizens who are embarrassed that a great company such as Google cannot operate freely in a great country such as China. Read more

Joseph Menn

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday would require the US to penalise countries that don’t do enough to crack down on cybercrime that attacks US individuals, companies or federal assets.

Backed by Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, the bill would have the president identify countries of concern and establish benchmarks for rectifying the problems. Read more

Richard Waters

How would you rather see the internet – strained through a filter or mangled by a censor?

With its attempt to score an end-run round the Chinese authorities today, Google is betting on the former. But Chinese officials, who are only now waking up to Google’s middle-of-the-night gambit, don’t sound so happy about the idea.

The Google calculation is straightforward. Redirecting all the search traffic from its local Google.cn site to Hong Kong, beyond the reach of the censors, then bouncing the results back into mainland China, has two benefits. Read more

Joseph Menn

In what may be the first of many such formal disclosures, Intel included an unusual admission in its annual 10k filing to the SEC on Tuesday: It had been subjected to a “sophisticated incident” of computer hacking that might have been an act of “industrial or other espionage”.

The top semiconductor manufacturer said that the incident in question occurred last month, around the same time Google made a startling and more detailed announcement along similar lines. Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said there was no definitive link between the attempt to break into Intel and the spying campaign that targeted Google and as many as 30 other technology companies, including Adobe and Symantec. Read more

An editorial in Tuesday’s Financial Times says China’s policy towards technology companies shows it knows how to tilt markets to its advantage – to the disadvantage of others.

Whereas national security once required controls on what technology could be exported, today it increasingly requires a critical look at what is imported. If the world converges to the standards China requires, computers everywhere risk being at the mercy of its willingness to refrain from cyberattacks. A recent infiltration of Google’s systems, allegedly with Beijing’s involvement, puts that willingness very much in doubt. Read more

The reports from Beijing of signs of popular Chinese sympathy with Google’s threat to pull out of the country, in protest at censorship, are fascinating. I wonder whether those photos of wreaths being laid outside Google headquarters in Beijing, could one day be as famous as the statue of liberty photos, taken in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Read more

Richard Waters

“Whatever happens, they’re not getting out of China.”

That was the immediate reaction of one prominent Google rival to Tuesday’s announcement that the search company will stop censoring local search results in China, even if that means leaving the country.

Or is that actually what Google announced?

On closer reading, Google’s statement – made in a blog posting – may not be quite as clear-cut as it seems. Read more

Maija Palmer

Kai Fu LeeKai-Fu Lee’s time as president of Google China began with controversy, as Microsoft sued the search company for poaching him, then faced a countersuit by Google. His departure was a severe blow for Microsoft’s Chinese operations, and brought out the depth of the animosity between the two companies.

Mr Lee’s impending departure from Google has also sparked debate – not least because it is still unclear exactly why he is leaving and what he is going on to do.   Read more