Google's license to operate Google.cn site still in limbo

Chinese officials have not said whether they will renew Google's operating license, which expired yesterday

The status of Google's China-based website, Google.cn, remains in limbo as the search engine giant waits to see if China will renew the company's operating license.

The Internet Content Provider license for the site, which must be reviewed by the government annually, went up for renewal yesterday. And without such a license, Google.cn could no longer operate as commercial site.

The main issue at hand is Google's refusal to censor its search results, which has angered Chinese officials.

Google.cn was previously used as a search engine geared for mainland China that featured censored search results and complied with Chinese laws. But in March, Google closed down the site and instead redirected all traffic to its uncensored Hong Kong search engine at Google.com.hk.

To placate officials and gain renewal of its operating license, Google decided to stop redirecting search traffic from China to its Hong Kong page. Now when users visit Google.cn, they will instead see a link to Google.com.hk.

As offices closed late Thursday afternoon, Google spokeswoman Jessica Powell said the company had yet to hear back from the Chinese government. Phone calls to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which regulates the operating licenses, were not answered.

Thursday also saw the blocking of a Google search function in China. Google Suggest, which provides probable searches as a user types in a query, was blocked for part of the day. But by Thursday afternoon, Google had indicated that its web search services were fully or mostly accessible.

While Google continues to wait for a decision, many users of the search engine in China hope the outcome won't affect their daily Internet search habits.

College students in Beijing noted that Google can act as a major study aid, especially when it comes to researching English language materials. Tsinghua University student Zhang Li, 27, said other Chinese search engines like Baidu -- which is the most used search engine in China -- produce less effective search results.

As for Google's move to provide uncensored search results, Zhang said, "I don't think Google was wrong, but I don't think the Chinese government was wrong either," she said. "Some information should be controlled right now. It can't be all open."

Others like Beijing Forestry University student Zhang Meng, 22, said one major reason he uses Google is because it offers uncensored information. "The government doesn't always allow you to understand the truth of what's happening," Zhang said.

But other Internet users say Google's presence in China is still limited. 35-year-old Wang Juan, who works in education, said most people in the country still opt to use Chinese search engines. A former Google user, Wang himself switched over to Baidu because his friends and customers all use it.

"If I can't use Google, it won't impact my life at all," he added.

Coinciding with the operating license issue is Google not getting a place on a Chinese government list of companies that will be able to offer Internet mapping services pending approval.

The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping released a list naming 23 domestic companies to be granted a license to provide the online mapping services. Major companies like Baidu, search engine provider Sohu and e-commerce site Alibaba, made the list.

In a statement, Google said, "China recently implemented a wide-ranging set of rules relating to online mapping. We are examining the regulations to understand their impact on our maps products in China."

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