Google May Pull Out Of China Because Of Censorship

Google says its Gmail service has come under cyber-attacks directed against Chinese human rights activists. Google has not said whether it believes the Chinese government was responsible, but the Internet company has said it will stop censoring its search results in China. Google also says it may pull out of China entirely.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

We are following other news around the world, including this from China. It involves the giant Internet search company Google. Google says its Gmail service, which is an email service, has come under cyber attack directed against Chinese human rights activists. Google has not said whether it believes the Chinese government was responsible, but the Internet company has said it's going to stop censoring its search results in China - something the government is not going to like.

NPR's Louisa Lim is following the story in Shanghai. Hi, Louisa.

LOUISA LIM: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did this news emerge?

LIM: Well, it came out in a posting on Google's blog by the top lawyer there, David Drummond. And he said that Google would be taking this new approach to China after discovering that it had been a target of hacker attacks from inside China, which resulted in the theft of intellectual property. As you say, he said hackers had tried to gain access to Gmail accounts of human rights activists and that this had been a part of a coordinated attack on 20 major companies.

Google says that it will no longer censor the results on its search engine and it'll go into discussions with the Chinese government about this. If it isn't possible, it says, it will simply shut down its China offices.

INSKEEP: And we're in the middle here of a rather dramatic story about intellectual freedom here, aren't we, because Google had been criticized for going along with the Chinese government's demands to censor some Web sites.

LIM: That's right. Google was kind of late to the Chinese market. They only set up their Chinese language search engine, Google.cn, in 2006. And at the time there was a lot of controversy about whether a company whose motto is Don't Be Evil should be allowing themselves to have a search engine whose results are censored.

But at that point their thinking was that it was better to offer censored results than nothing at all. They would still be expanding access to information, so they went ahead.

INSKEEP: And now we have this situation where Google says that email has been hacked. They're talking about lifting their censorship and also talking, if I'm not mistaken, about possibly pulling out of China entirely. What has the reaction been like in China?

LIM: Well, it's pretty much spanned the spectrum of opinion. Some people are stunned, others are saddened, and quite a few are skeptical as well. Today, we saw some young netizens going to the Google headquarters in Beijing and laying flowers and bowing in front of the building. This was intended to show their respect, almost as a symbolic act of mourning.

And they feel that Google is one of probably the first major multinationals to take a stand against censorship in China. But many others don't rate Google's chances. In the last few hours we've also seen signs that news portals here are being asked to tone down their coverage of the story. And there are some people who believe that Google hasn't been massively successful in China, and they're wondering about Google's motivations - suggesting that Google might be in fact be sacrificing its China's business to buy goodwill elsewhere in the world.

INSKEEP: Louisa, always good to talk with you.

LIM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Louisa Lim is in Shanghai.

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