On 9th July, Google announced on their blog that their ICP license had been renewed in China, following months of a standoff regarding censorship laws. In an attempt to get around the countries stringent protective web monitoring, the search engine had begun re-routing Chinese users to its Hong Kong site, where no such rules apply.
The Chinese government took this as a breaking of Google’s pledge not to provide “lawbreaking content”, said the redirect was unacceptable, and threatened not to renew the company’s contract on 30th June. Their initial issue was with Google’s decision in January to allow search results for content that was banned by the Chinese government, considered to be pornographic or otherwise offensive according to their regulations.
China, with the largest population in the world, is clearly a beneficial target for Google’s business, and to lose the privilege to operate Google.cn would have been a massive blow to their global reach. Despite Google’s claims that the loss of Google.cn was “a prospect dreaded by many of our Chiense users”, the Chinese and Japanese search engine Baidu would have happily stepped into the void. As it is, Baidu ranked 7th in Alexa’s internet rankings this year, and has an index of over 740 million pages, as well as multi media content.
Google’s solution comprises of a few tweaks to their original plan – rather than rerouting automatically to Google.hk, Chinese users have to click there manually if they wish to search outside Google.cn’s guidelines. This extra click may damage Google’s stake in China’s search market, but it was “a risk we were willing to take to stay in China,” according to a spokesman.