When Google announced it had been the victim of government-sponsored hacking attempts last January, it also declared it would no longer censor search results on Google.cn. Now, the company is at least modifying that position, as it doesn't wish to lose its Internet Content Provider (ICP) license. Back in January, Dave Drummond wrote:That decision, whether one agrees or disagrees, draws a hard line between what Google will and won't accept. In March, the company announced a new policy. As it had been unable to come to an agreement with Chinese officials, it would instead automatically redirect all Google.cn visitors to the uncensored Google.hk. This rather neatly solved the censorship problem, it was legal, and there was nothing the Chinese government could do about it in the short term. Now, however, things have changed. Google must renew its ICP license by June 30 or go dark in China altogether.
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. The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences.
In the interim between January and July, however, Google has apparently discovered that it would prefer to remain in China after all. In his most recent blog post, Drummond writes:
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...We have therefore been looking at possible alternatives and...have started taking a small percentage of them [users] to a landing page on Google.cn that links to Google.com.hk—where users can conduct web search or continue to use Google.cn services like music and text translate, which we can provide locally without filtering.The proposed Google.cn homepage is shown below:
Google China's Unofficial Motto: Please Be Stupid
It's hard to grasp what, if anything, Google is putting on the table. The search giant isn't offering to operate a censored service with a link to an uncensored service; Google.cn would be a stripped down, deprecated engine with links to some content capabilities. All of the actual searching would be handled entirely by Google.hk. Given China's serious investment in denying people freedom of speech, it's hard to see why various officials would deny Google the right to operate an uncensored Google.cn <i>or</i> an automatic redirect to Google.hk, but would approve a manual link to the same site. It might be a different matter if Google.cn's own search engine was still functional, but all indications from Google are that it won't be.
There are only two reasons for China to approve Google's solution. As far as the Great Firewall itself is concerned, the Communist Party will want to ensure that a majority of users that might otherwise learn the truth will instead remain safely ensconced behind Google.cn or Baidu, China's main search engine. The other possibility is that Chinese officials aren't necessarily against Google running an unfiltered engine, but can't allow the loss of face they'd suffer if Google was allowed to continue its activities. Seen from this perspective, forcing Google to modify its arrangement conveys the impression of a strong, authoritative governing body, rather than one that kowtowed to a rebellious foreign business.