Google threatens to switch off China

google_128.pngI linked to this post on the Google blog this morning from The Daily Maverick newsletter. It is a very interesting story because of what it reveals about what our world will be like in the months and years ahead.

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

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, 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, and potentially our offices in China.

I’m still working on a post about my thoughts about Google and some of its 2009 product launches for another site (its turning into one of those posts which take me forever to finish) but what I found really interesting about this story is the scale of it. Google and a number of other companies have come under attack from within China, very likely the Chinese government, and Google, a private and massive corporation, is taking action against the Chinese government under the guise of sticking to its values and working with the Chinese government.

Google is taking a stand against the Chinese government and is apparently willing to risk turning off the massive Chinese market, practically in retaliation for the attacks on its infrastructure. What I am more curious about is how the landscape will change as Google becomes more pervasive and influential. Will there one day be digital warfare between a corporation and a government?

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