Google has shut down its Chinese search engine, Google.cn, and is now redirecting site visitors to its Hong Kong-based engine, Google.com.hk, where it will provide uncensored search results in simplified Chinese designed specifically for users in mainland China.
The move comes just over two months after the company said it had decided to stop censoring search results in China due in part to an alleged Chinese cyber attack that pilfered unspecified intellectual property from its internal systems. According to Google, a primary goal of the attackers was to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, and since exposing the attacks - which also targeted as many as 33 others companies - the web giant has been in discussions with various Chinese government agencies over the matter.
"Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard," Google chief legal officer David Drummond said Monday in a blog post.
"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."
But Drummond went on to say that although Google believes its new setup is "entirely legal," the company is aware that the Chinese government could block access to its Hong Kong-based services. With this in mind, the company has set up a website here designed to show which Google services are currently available in China and which are not. Drummond says the page will be updated "regularly" each day.
China already blocks access to YouTube, Google's video sharing site.
Google is redirecting Chinese users to Hong Kong-based versions of Google Search, Google News, and Google Images. And as it takes the load from China, Google.com.hk will continue to serve Hong Kong-based users as well. The company warns that the increased load from China may cause a slowdown in services or cause them to become completely unavailable at times.
Despite its earlier indications that it may exit China entirely, Drummond said that Google has chosen to stay. It intends to continue its R&D work in the country and maintain its sales operation, though Google says the future of its Chinese sales staff will depend on continued access to Google.com.hk.
Google first set up shop in China in 2006, but it has struggled to compete with the native search engine Baidu. Google.cn has a 33 per cent market share , next to Baidu's 63 per cent. Though Google has risked being blocked entirely in the country, this wouldn't be a huge blow to its revenues - at least not in the short term. Estimates put the company's Chinese revenues as one to two per cent of its total income. ®