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A View from Erica Naone

Google Shuts Down Its Chinese Search Service

The company is redirecting users to its uncensored Hong Kong site, after failing to reach an agreement with the Chinese government.

  • March 22, 2010

Google has announced that it will no longer offer a censored Chinese-language search service. Instead, the company plans to redirect users from Google.cn to its Hong Kong service, Google.com.hk, which offers uncensored Chinese-language results.

A statement from the company reads:

We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced–it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services.

Google also says it will maintain a Web page tracking the availability of its services within China.

The company will continue its R&D work in China, and will maintain a sales presence there, but it says it will adjust the number of employees in China depending on how easy it is for people in mainland China to access its Hong Kong site.

It’s admirable that Google is taking a strong stand against censorship, but the decision has a negative side. In 2008, Robert Boorstin, director of policy communications for Google, explained the company’s decision to offer a censored search engine in this way: “We were faced with a very clear choice: we can either start a new public library where people could see 98 percent of the stuff in the stacks, or we would have no library at all, and nobody would get a library card.”

Are users in mainland China losing their library card altogether, or is this a viable solution that will provide continuing access?

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