Google's China decision ignores conventional wisdom

The likely effects of Google's move to stop censoring are debatable, but there will undoubtedly be ripples

Google's decision to stop censoring search engine results in China, announced in a blog posting Monday, flies in the face of common wisdom when it comes to doing business in the country.

China is supposed to be too important to ignore, the promise of a market with more than 1 billion people too lucrative to pass up. Common business wisdom holds that no company can afford to ignore, let alone walk away from, China. But Google has taken the first step, redirecting search, news and image results from Google.cn to servers in Hong Kong, "where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China," the blog said.

Other aspects of Google's business, such as its Android mobile OS, will continue to be available in China, but Google isn't in the mobile phone business. Android was created to increase mobile Internet usage, and therefore drive up mobile demand for Google services and create new opportunities for advertisers. But Google's search engine can be easily replaced, as Motorola recently proved when it announced that its Android handsets sold in China would come with Microsoft's Bing set as the default search engine.

Despite the promise of talks between Google and the Chinese government over censorship rules and the public nature of Google's announcement, with its declaration that the company was willing to close its Chinese operations, if necessary, the outcome was predictable. China was never likely to change it's censorship policies, which have increased in scope and sophistication in recent years, over demands from a foreign company.

In the official blog post on Monday, Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said that "the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement." Although Google claims its maneuver is "entirely legal" and "sensible," the company is well aware that China's response could be to block all Google services in the country, according to Drummond. For now, Google intends to continue research and development work in China, and to keep a sales team there.

Google China was always in a tough spot. The Chinese government warily guards the flow of information within the country and has long been seen backing Google's principle rival, Baidu.com, over others in the search market.

Google first fell afoul of Chinese censors in September 2002, three years before it set up its first office in the country. At that time, Chinese access to the site was blocked for 10 days over government concerns about user access to information. A few days later, Chinese authorities made changes to DNS (Domain Name System) servers in China that redirected traffic to local search engines, with the majority of users redirected to Baidu.com.

Up until that point, Google was the most popular search engine in China. Afterward, the company fell behind Baidu and never caught up.

The immediate financial impact of Google's decision to stop censoring results for Google.cn users will be slight. Although Google's revenue from China hit a record high during the final quarter of 2009, it was "immaterial" in the context of its overall revenue, the company said in January, without offering a specific number.

Moreover, most of Google's fourth-quarter revenue from China came from advertising on its main site, Google.com, instead of Google.cn, the company said.

Even so, the effect won't just be felt by Google. The Chinese government has gone to unusual lengths to prepare public opinion ahead of Google's announcement, reportedly pulling in Chinese media for a briefing last Friday on how to handle the news.

That same day, Li Yizhong, China's minister of industry and information technology, warned Google not to stop censoring search results on Google.cn. "If you don't respect Chinese laws, you are unfriendly and irresponsible, and you will bear the consequences," Li said, according to a report carried by the official China Daily newspaper.

Juan Carlos Perez in Miami contributed to this report.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Googlesearch engines

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sumner Lemon

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?