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Google finds itself on the defensive in China

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Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 3:31 pm

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Google finds itself on the defensive in China

The falling out between Google and the Chinese government continues with Beijing getting rather the best of Mountain View. The results won’t make much difference to American consumers but China’s actions do show how a national government can impose its will on a far-flung networked corporation.

Google may lose its license to do business in China, according to a blog post from chief legal officer David Drummond. The government objects to Google’s decision to avoid censorship controls by redirecting traffic through a site in Hong Kong.

Google says it will reconfigure Google.cn in a way that gives users a simple voluntary path to an uncensored site but it’s not clear any array of redirects is going to satisfy Chinese decision makers.

“If Google wants to continue operating in China, it will have to get used to more vacillations from the authorities,” said Charles Mok, chairman of the Hong Kong branch of the Internet Society, an international industry body. “In this confrontation between Google and the Chinese government, there are quite a few instruments at the disposal of the government that could be brought to bear on Google.”

Another example: China requires internet mapping services to be run as a joint venture with Chinese firms, according to the People’s Daily.  It also requires that Internet map services be housed on servers in China. All of Google’s map servers are currently located outside of China.

Nonetheless, Google has applied for a license to offer map services in China, says the Wall Street Journal, but it is going to have to jump through some hoops to get it.

Among other requirements, companies must demonstrate that they have systems in place to ensure that their maps, including disputed territories, are labeled in accordance with Chinese rules and that sensitive information like military addresses is removed.

So the Chinese governments would get to decide what is a map of Tibet? That sounds like a deal-breaker. But if Google doesn’t go along, it cedes the biggest market on the planet. In any case, China is setting the terms.

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This post was written by:

Margot Williams

- who has written 49 posts on Inside Google.

Margot Williams has more than two decades of experience in roles as investigative researcher, research editor, database editor, technology trainer and library director at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett newspapers and Time Warner. She was lead researcher on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at The Washington Post for reporting on terrorism in 2002 and for an investigation of the use of deadly force by the District of Columbia police in 1999. Margot is the co-author of “Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web” (Cyberage Books, 1999) and contributed to the “Networkings” column in The Washington Post for five years.

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