Yesterday Google put up a blog post (via Jason Morrison) mentioning cyber attacks originating in China that appeared to be targeting human rights activists. Since entering China, Google has been in a precarious position of balancing the Chinese government’s insistance on censored results with their own mission to make information free and available to everyone. It is a little surprising though, to see their conclusion here:
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
I don’t pretend to know what Google means by this, whether they are seriously considering shutting down their China offices or just trying to draw attention to China’s censorship policies. Cyber attacks can come from anywhere, and pulling out of China will not make Chinese cyber attacks go away, whether they really are government attacks or just nationalist Chinese vigilantes. In any case, I’m sure it will get some of the authorities going. ChinaSMACK poster Python seemed just as confused and skeptical about the issue (note: go to that post to get some translated Chinese reactions to the news):
The reasons provided by Google for the closing of their Chinese offices are rather vague if not unpersuasive.
- Yes, cyber attacks exist in China and some originated from this country, but Google is not the only victim and even its major opponent Baidu recently got DNS hijacked by the so-called “Iranian Cyber Army”.
- Second, isn’t it Google’s responsibility to utilize all its technical might to protect users’, including human rights activists’, privacy? Saying “we will retreat because some of our users’ email account were monitored” is like admitting their own disadvantage in technical strength and persuading users to switch to other companies.
- Third, I fail to see why compromise of some users’ computers due to their own lack of sense in internet security is a fault of Google itself: anyone using ANY email system could be hacked if the user acts like a security newbie, and it doesn’t matter where the login portal pages are hosted (I remember Google doesn’t have a data center in China).
Anyway, we’ll see whether this leads to any real policy changes on Google’s part. The ChinaSMACK article linked above recently updated with a translation of a Sina blog post (original Chinese here) calling Google’s announcement “psychological warfare”, and I’m inclined to agree, considering that the announcement itself said that this information was shared partly to contribute to “much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.” If that’s the case, let’s hope someone gets the message.