Google Inc.’s recent withdrawal from China marks an important event: human rights activists have attacked Beijing’s controversial censorship policy for years but Google’s decision to shutdown google.cn is one of the first actions by a major corporation to boycott China’s large internet market.
The Chinese government is known to have one of the most advanced firewalls in existence and it uses it to effectively block any and all internet traffic that it deems necessary. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and Google’s YouTube have been completely blocked for about the past year and China has mandated that all search engines present in China censor themselves. In doing so, the government has been able to control the speech of political activists and keep the general population oblivious to news that may damage the reputation of the government.
With nearly 400 million users, China has the largest internet market in the world, seen as an untapped market by many American companies hoping to get their share of the pie. Google, Microsoft’s Bing, and Yahoo have all been operating in China for several years but have been unable to beat out Baidu, a Chinese search engine that has maintained the majority of the market share. All of these search engines have censored their searches in accordance with Chinese law, with the exception of Google in the past two months.
Google first made its way across the Pacific into China four years ago in the hopes of connecting Chinese citizens to the rest of the world, but found difficulty accomplishing that while complying with censorship laws. But after several attacks by Chinese hackers that succeeded in stealing proprietary code and information from Gmail accounts, Google took action by opening up their search engine to the uncensored internet. This, of course, upset the Chinese government, prompting heated debates that ultimately led to Google’s withdrawal.
Google will continue to operate other services such as Google Maps out of its Beijing headquarters, but the search engine at google.cn no longer operates. Instead, Google has directed its users to visit its Hong Kong site, which is located outside of the censorship jurisdiction.
Google’s withdrawal from the Chinese market will most likely allow Baidu to continue growing from its current 63% market share.