China renews Google's Web site license

Following months of tense relations, Beijing gives its approval for the U.S. company to continue operating a Web site in China.

Google announced Friday that the Chinese government has renewed its license to continue running its Web site in China.

Google China

The rocky relationship between Google and Beijing had cast doubt as to whether the license would be renewed. The tension became public in January when Google said it would cease censoring search results in China and also pointed a finger at Beijing as the source of cyberattacks on Google and other U.S. companies.

An update to the company's official blog by David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, announced the renewal of its license as an Internet Content Provider: "We are very pleased that the government has renewed our ICP license and we look forward to continuing to provide web search and local products to our users in China."

Drummond said that in the next few days all Chinese users will find themselves on a new Google.cn landing page, ending redirects to Google's Hong Kong site.

There was no immediate word from China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology about the license renewal.

Nor was there any early reaction from the U.S. State Department. In late January, a week after Google made its dramatic statement about China, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the world's governments to ensure their citizens have open access to the Internet and said the U.S. expected China to conduct "a thorough review" of the events leading up to Google's announcement.

For an analysis of Friday's news, see: "Google fine-tunes its China weather vane"

The past six months have been especially stormy for the Chinese government and the search giant.

Google set up shop in 2006 with its Chinese search engine, Google.cn. However, the company faced immediate criticism by agreeing to censor its search results to comply with regulations handed down by Beijing. In doing so, Google joined the ranks of other tech giants such as Microsoft and Yahoo, walking the tightrope of doing business in a country intent on keeping information from its citizens.

But this past January saw an about-face in Google's Chinese policy. The company revealed that it had been the victim of a series of cyberattacks last year, allegedly launched from China and designed to uncover information about human rights activists. In reaction, Google said it would stop censoring its search results in China and threatened to pull out of the country if Beijing didn't like it.

In an attempt to sneak past China's regulations, Google shut down its Google.cn site in March and started redirecting Chinese users to its Hong Kong site, Google.com.hk, which offered uncensored Chinese-language search results. That move threatened the renewal of Google's Web site license, prompting the company to stop that redirection last week.

However, it was far from clear that Google's solution to China's objections over automatic redirection would pass muster. The current Google.cn page is simply one hyperlink to a new page in which uncensored search is available on a Google.com.hk page, while separate services that don't require censorship are available on Google.cn-hosted pages linked from that new page.

Google declined to comment Friday on whether the license renewal was tied to the recent block of the Google Suggest feature. Around the same time late last month that Google submitted its formal application for license renewal, China started blocking suggested search terms under the main queries within Google's search box. And in what may not be a coincidence, Google began breaking out "Web Search Suggest" as a separate item on its China status dashboard early Friday or late Thursday: search suggestions are still blocked.

Updated at 6:20 a.m. PDT and 6:50 a.m. PDT with background information. Tom Krazit contributed to this report.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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