Google Isn't Evil After All? Search Giant Threatens to Leave China

8 years ago

After uncovering what it says is a massive cyber attack, Google is threatening to pull its operations from China and will no longer censor its search engine in the communist nation.

From the official Google blog:

...we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date, we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

...We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China's economic reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

The Committee to Protect Bloggers writes, "Great news. A little late and after some bad business, but a step in the right direction, none the less. Maybe only Nixon could go to China."

Ben Parr at Mashable notes, "Google has taken a very public stand against censorship, albeit one that is years overdue. How this series of events plays out could not only affect Google and the tech community, but global politics as a whole."

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Rebecca MacKinnon tweets, "Looks like the Google folks are saying enough's enough already in China..." She also is retweeting several people on the subject, who are reporting that the hackers were found infiltrating Google source code repository, and the Gmail attacks are an old issue.

The New York Times reports,

Google did not publicly link the Chinese government to the cyber attack, but people with knowledge of Google’s investigation said they had enough evidence to justify its actions.

A United States expert on cyber warfare said that 34 companies were targeted, most of them high-technology companies in Silicon Valley. The attacks came from Taiwanese Internet addresses, according to James Mulvenon, an expert on Chinese cyberwarfare capabilities.

In 2006, Google agreed to enter the Chinese market with a censored search engine, prompting criticism from human rights activists. Google said, at the time, that a presence in China outweighed censorship issues and that it would periodically review its decision.

Google's business in China is reportedly "not huge" but was expected to grow. could drive future growth, especially if Google were to gain more traction in the country. For context, Google's search share in China is around 15%-20%, much lower than leader Baidu, which is around 75%-80%.

The scale of the Google announcement is already having national security implications. Rep. Anna Eshoo released a statement saying the attacks raise serious national security concerns:

For far too long, cyberattackers have hidden in the shadows. These kind of attacks are unacceptable and undermine confidence in the global economy. I urge other companies possessing such information to come forward to help the government identify the source of these attacks, so that the criminals can be held accountable for their actions.

Google, meanwhile, says it's committed to working responsibly to help resolve the "very difficult issues raised."

Politics & News Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest

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