Faster Forward: Google to defy China's censors a little less

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By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; 2:11 PM

Google is backing down, but only a little, in its standoff with the government of the People's Republic of China. Three months after it began redirecting traffic from its censored, China-based google.cn site to a less-regulated site based in Hong Kong, google.hk, Google said Monday night that it would stop sending Chinese users to the Hong Kong page automatically.

Instead, Google Senior Vice President David Drummond wrote in a blog post that the company will limit google.cn to "services like music and text translate, which we can provide locally without filtering," while adding a prominent link to google.hk on that home page.

Drummond explained the move as Google's only way to preserve a commercial Web presence in China after seeing the Communist government's intense dislike of its redirecting strategy -- itself a response to a series of hacking attempts on Google's computers and increasing interference with its operations inside the country:

" ...it's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable -- and that if we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed (it's up for renewal on June 30). Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like Google.cn -- so Google would effectively go dark in China.

"That's a prospect dreaded by many of our Chinese users, who have been vocal about their desire to keep Google.cn alive."

Drummond expressed optimism about the odds of Beijing renewing its license after this change, but my colleague Keith Richburg's story suggests that's no sure thing. We'll all see soon enough.

Now, from the perspective of those of us living in countries with constitutional guarantees of free speech, the Mountain View, Calif., firm's conduct in the PRC doesn't directly affect us either way. But it can and should play into how we view Google, a company that invites its users to trust it with an enormous amount of private information. Do Google's actions in this case show a willingness to sacrifice its business to defend its ideals and its users? Do they suggest a commitment to ethical conduct worthy of that trust?

You tell me.


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