Google has declared it is "no longer willing" to censor its search results in China, having been the victim of a concerted hacking attack that originated in the country and focused on identifying the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.
In a blog post yesterday, David Drummond, a senior vice president at the company, outlined serious security breaches that also affected other large companies. While no single party was blamed, the clear implication is that the Chinese government organised or at least allowed the attacks. As a result, Drummond said, Google is considering closing its offices in China.
Google has co-operated with the Chinese government in censoring its search results since it opened Google.cn, a move it justified by saying the "benefits of increased access to information for people in China" outweighed the "discomfort" of agreeing to limits for that access. Its shareholders backed this stance.
Now, it seems, Google is no longer willing to collaborate with a government it has effectively accused of human rights violations. As the FT points out, there is some carefully worded "wiggle room" in its statement, but it seems unlikely that the Chinese government will be willing to continue a working relationship with the company after this slight. Unless, that is, other companies and governments follow its example.
As Rupert Goodwins writes at our sister site ZDNet UK, "The pressure on other companies -- and the politicians -- to abjure China
just got a lot stronger, and the voice of the critics of China just got
a lot more force." CNET News' Tom Krazit has also written a detailed commentary here.
What do you think? Is this a striking and uncommon act of moral leadership from a corporation, or a cynical power play? Will Google pack up and leave, or strike a deal and allow some new kind of censorship? The comments are open.