just announced that it will stop censoring search results in China and will instead redirect mainland Chinese web visitors to an uncensored version of the site based in Hong Kong. China may block access to the Hong Kong site as its next move.Google has
In announcing its decision to stop censoring search results, Google didn't argue that censorship was intolerable, but said that the situation was getting worse: a wave of hacking attacks against companies including Google, evidence that the Gmail accounts of human rights activists had been compromised and the government's shutting off access to YouTube, Blogger, Twitter and Facebook. What comes next?
Google might also determine that it did the best it could: that its hands are now clean, that Chinese citizens who wanted to could access the Hong Kong site by proxy and that there is probably limited interest in Google inside China anyway. (Though Google is believed to control 30% marketshare of search in China, the company has said its revenues there are "immaterial.")
Finally, Google could make this move in anticipation of political pressure to do something about censorship around the world. Senate Democrats have said they will soon introduce proposed legislation that will "require Internet companies to take reasonable steps to protect human rights, or face civil and criminal liability."
Different companies are liable to have different reactions to such political pressure. Facebook told a Senate committee it is still too small to decide how to deal with international questions of censorship yet!
Or maybe Google just did the morally right thing to do today. It's hard to consider that the most likely explanation though when it wasn't the censorship that was the last straw, it was the hacking attacks, the Gmail break-ins and the lack of access to a variety of sites.
What do you think this means? What do you think will happen next? Stay tuned for what's sure to be an interesting, unfolding story.
See Also: ReadWriteWeb's interview last week with Chinese digital activist Wei Wei.