Ng Han Guan/AP
A Chinese worker cleans the Google logo at the Google China headquarters in Beijing on Monday.
A Chinese worker cleans the Google logo at the Google China headquarters in Beijing on Monday. Ng Han Guan/AP
Google Inc. announced Monday that it would stop censoring its search engines in China, and began redirecting Chinese visitors to its servers in Hong Kong.
In its official blog, Google said the company would continue to host nonsearch services in China and keep its engineering and sales offices on the Chinese mainland, allowing Google.cn to maintain its stake in the world's biggest Internet market.
Google said the company is aware that the Chinese government could block access to Google.cn. The company will monitor access issues carefully and has created a new Web page that will be updated regularly to reflect which Google services are available in China.
"Earlier today we stopped censoring our search services — Google Search, Google News, and Google Images — on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong," a statement from the company read.
"Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over."
Google's future in China has been uncertain since Jan. 12, when the Mountain View, Calif.-based company announced its Google.cn site had been the victim of a sophisticated cyberattack by hackers inside China. The company said its investigation into the incident revealed that the Google e-mail accounts of human rights activists connected to China were routinely being accessed by third parties.
In response, the company had threatened to stop obeying a Chinese mandate to censor the search engine, a stance the Chinese government branded as "irresponsible."
The Chinese government requires Internet operators to block words and images that the ruling Communist Party has judged to be unacceptable — including references to politically sensitive issues.
In talks with the company, the Chinese government maintained self-censorship was a non-negotiable legal requirement if the company continued to operate from mainland China, said David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer. Drummond said the decision to provide uncensored searches from Hong Kong was a "sensible solution." He said the move is legal.
Drummond also said the decision to move the service was made by executives in the U.S. and did not involve any of the company's 700 employees in China.
Many analysts believed China didn't want to lose Google completely, possibly because it might be interpreted as a setback in the government's efforts to foster more innovation, while Google wanted to stay in China to hire computer programmers and sell ads.
Google has also said its presence in China could lead to looser rules on censorship that would allow it to revive its search engine in the country eventually.
China accounts for a fraction of Google's $24 billion in annual revenue. Analysts estimate Google brought in $250 million to $600 million from China. It's unclear how much of that amount flowed exclusively from Google.cn.
Includes material from The Associated Press