Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports today that Google Inc. has said it is still providing filtered search services to some of its Chinese business partners. Sylvia Powell, a Google spokesperson based in Tokyo, told BusinessWeek via e-mail that the company is providing the searches in order to fulfill contractual obligations and that the searches will be phased out over time.
After a sophisticated cyber-attack in which Chinese hackers obtained personal information on Chinese human rights activists from Google servers, the Internet search giant announced on March 22 that it was no longer willing to censor search results it provided to the Chinese public. Chinese Internet users conducting searches on Google.cn are now being redirected to an unfiltered search engine housed on the company’s Hong Kong server, Google.co.hk. Although a part of China, Hong Kong enjoys a degree of autonomy and freedom of speech as part of the 1997 agreement that returned the former British colony to Chinese control.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unnamed government official as calling Google’s action “totally wrong” in a report yesterday. Google’s move, analysts say, could cost it advertisers in China and threaten partnerships with Chinese IT and telcom companies. One Chinese Internet service provider has already dropped Google in favor of domestic rival Baidu as its search provider, and reports today state that China is now blocking access to Google.cn from computers in the country.
While Google’s action carries great symbolic weight, it may not have as great an impact on the lives of everyday Chinese, as the company remains a distant second in the Chinese search engine business. Two-thirds of all searches conducted by China’s more than 400 million Internet users go through Baidu, with Google accounting for the remaining third. The impact on Google’s fortunes, however, remains significant: Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate that Google was on track to garner $600 million in sales this year from Chinese customers.
Written by Sandy Smith