A cyberattack that was traced to Chinese hackers, which stole some of Google's proprietary computer code and attempted to spy on Chinese activists' emails, was the "straw that broke the camel's back," according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The Google controversy coincided with cyber attacks against over 200 American companies, believed by U.S. authorities to have been launched by the People's Liberation Army.
As the glow of the 2008 Summer Olympics faded, Brin said, the Chinese government began ratcheting up its Web censoring and interfering more with Google's operations. On Jan. 12 of this year, Google said it would stop self-censoring its search engine in China, citing a major cyberattack that appeared to target the email of human rights activists. Last Monday, Google began routing mainland Chinese users of its search engine to a site in Hong Kong that the company isn't censoring. Brin indicated the idea to reroute users was "actually relayed to us indirectly from the Chinese government," although he declined to elaborate.
Google's decision to stop censoring searches on its China-based servers, rerouting search requests instead to its uncensored Hong Kong facilities, is historic. Hong Kong's physical reality, its legal protections and lack of corruption, and its potential to be a truly open society are powerful advantages for foreign businesses. The strength of support among Hong Kong's younger citizens for preserving Hong Kong's special status shows that the passage of time is not ineluctably on Beijing's side.
"One of the reasons I am glad we are making this move in China is that the China situation was really emboldening other countries to try and implement their own firewalls," Mr. Brin said. When it discovered it was struck by the cyberattack in late 2009, Google found evidence the motivation was to peek at the emails of Chinese activists, Mr. Brin said, that's when he had had enough.
While many Internet freedom proponents are cheering the move, few large companies have come out pledging their support. Mitch Kapor, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, said Google's moral stand made sense long term, because China will eventually get more open. "More businesses ought to follow 'gut principles' and shareholders and customers ought to support and encourage them to do so," he said.
Whether others will follow Google remains unclear. On Wednesday, Go Daddy Group Inc., a provider of Internet addresses, told members of Congress it would cut back its business in China, following new Chinese requirements for information about registrants.
Announcing China's 1949 founding, Mao Zedong said, "The Chinese people have stood up!" Now, Google has stood up, and the game is on between Mao's heirs and the Internet generation.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2010