China Slays Cyber Giant

Amid a wider crackdown on internet usage in the country, the Chinese government’s vice like grip on online activity became even tighter last month, as Google conceded defeat in an on-going struggle over content visible to Chinese users of the search engine.

he relationship between Google and the Chinese government has been tense, to say the least, since 2006, when the search engine giant first launched its services in the country. In spite of the firm’s enormous financial clout, it is the state which has emerged victorious in the latest round of behind the scenes brinkmanship over search terms banned by the authorities.

At some point between the 5th and 8th of December, the company quietly dropped a feature aimed at Chinese users, whereby upon searching for a restricted term they would be presented with a warning message to the effect that continuing with their search could result in disconnection from the internet.

In spite of the firm’s enormous financial clout, it is the state which has emerged victorious in the latest round of behind the scenes brinkmanship over search terms banned by the authorities

At the time of the feature’s launch in May of 2012, Google – a company which has gone to great lengths to be perceived as combatting internet censorship – was lauded for taking steps to expose the restrictions imposed upon users by China’s “great firewall”, within 24 hours of launch however, authorities had moved to block the feature.

Google responded in kind by altering the message’s URL, and so began a game of cat and mouse which finally came to a head with the withdrawal of the service last month, when the company stated that it was now considered “counterproductive” to continue with the dispute as authorities had continued to find new methods to disconnect users in spite of a series of alterations. At the same time as withdrawing the feature, Google also chose to remove an associated help page, effectively removing all traces that the service ever existed from their official documentation.

This concession coincides with a wider crackdown of internet usage in China – recent moves to place more comprehensive restrictions of on the use of virtual private networks, which allow users to access content anonymously, and calls to force internet service providers to hold comprehensive identification for all users, raise fresh concerns about freedom of speech in the country.

by Sam Jones

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