A risky search for freedom

March 23, 2010, 7:48 a.m. | By Mandy Xu | 10 years, 4 months ago

On Monday, Google closed its Internet search service in China after weeks of negotiation with Chinese government officials over censorship issues. Now, mainland Chinese citizens will be able to access Hong Kong-based google.com.hk, which offers Chinese-language service with uncensored results.

Photo: The Google Chinese headquarters in Beijing is a reminder of the tensions between the company and the government.

Google's decision is bold and almost naively noble. The company is upholding beloved democratic values - freedom of speech and freedom of the press - by directly opposing the Chinese government, one that has a long history of withholding politically sensitive topics from the search engine. Google also claims hackers collaborated with the Chinese government to steal some of its source code, as well as break into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights advocates.

These shocking accounts justify Google's decision, and there is little doubt that hurrahs such as "Google is fighting censorship and the communist state!" will sound from the mouths of liberals.

On the other hand, Google is giving up not only the four-year fight with the Chinese government, but also the fight to provide more information to Chinese citizens through a less aggressive approach - offering China Hong Kong's search engine. This Internet giant is relinquishing its goal to loosen the government's controls on the Web. Perhaps the decision is ignoble after all.

Even though mainland citizens can still access the search engine via the Hong Kong URL, Chinese regulators could retaliate against Google by blocking its Hong Kong or American search engines entirely.

In addition, Google has to consider what it is sacrificing, as this choice could imperil future business in the world's largest Internet market. Although experts say pulling out of China will not deeply affect Google's finances at the moment, abandoning a direct presence in China could stymie Google's long-term global ambitions.

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