Google faced a nervous wait Wednesday to see if a last-ditch attempt to renew its Chinese business licence would pay off as the Internet giant vies to circumvent official censorship.
The US search leader said Tuesday it would stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to an unfiltered site in Hong Kong, a process it began in March in response to state censorship and cyberattacks it claims came from China.
The change in tack in the world’s biggest online market was aimed at addressing government complaints about the censorship issue and came just before its Internet Content Provider licence was up for renewal Wednesday.
Marsha Wang, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for Google, said the company was still waiting for a response from the central government on the licence issue.
“We will keep communicating with (the government) to see what information it will give us,” she told AFP.
AFP calls to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which is the main regulator of China’s Internet industry and the agency responsible for the business licensing decision, were not answered.
Google said Tuesday that all mainland users would now be directed to a new landing page on google.cn, which links to the Hong Kong site.
“It’s clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable — and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider licence will not be renewed,” Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond said on the company’s official blog.
“Without an ICP licence, we can’t operate a commercial website like google.cn — so Google would effectively go dark in China,” he said.
Free-speech crusaders onside
A prominent US-based human rights group urged governments and technology companies to support Google.
“Governments and the industry should send a very clear message to China that it must provide a business environment for foreign companies that doesn’t force them to violate human rights,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.
“Google is standing there alone,” she said. Others “must step up to the plate and address this as a collective industry Internet challenge. They can’t just say it’s a Google problem.”
China is the world’s biggest Internet market, with an online population of more than 400 million, according to official data.
The spat between Google and the Chinese government spilled over into the diplomatic arena, with Washington and Beijing waging a months-long war of words on the issues of Internet freedom and troubles faced by foreign firms in China.
Highlighting Google’s woes with Beijing, the Internet giant has not been included in a list of companies that will receive a licence to provide online map and location services in China.
The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping on Monday published a list of 23 companies that will be approved to operate web mapping services, including Google’s Chinese rival search engine Baidu.
Under a regulation introduced this month, all firms providing online map and location services in China are required to apply for approval from the government agency, state media reported.
Google, Baidu and another local company DDMap account for more than half of the online mapping market in China, the report said.