Google announced its new approach in China: An update in March, 22, 2010, two months after its initial announcement in January that the company no longer wants to operate a filtered search engine in China. The final decision is to redirect Google.cn to Google.com.hk to provide uncensored search in simplified Chinese.
Google launched Google.cn in January 2006, agreeing to follow the requirement from the government of China that the search engine would censor input queries and offer filtered results. Some of the sensitive keywords will return no results and some will return filtered results with the notice “According to the local law and regulation, some of the search results are not displayed.”
Chinese employees of Google “have worked incredibly hard” to make the company better “localized”. Services like Rebang(hot list), Music and Pinyin(Chinese input method) are developed for local people. However, even with remarkable progress, Google's market share is still a lot less than its local competitor: Baidu. And Google has been harshly criticized by the government that the search results list pornographic content and “have a very bad impact on the society, especially teenagers”.
Google now maintains a daily update list to track service availability in China. Blocked services include:
- Youtube, blocked since March, 2009.
- Blogger, blocked since May, 2009.
- Picasaweb, blocked since July, 2009.
- Docs, partly blocked, unable to access spreasheet.google.com
Google's announcement in January has evoked huge discussions among Chinese netizens. According to an online poll by PhoenixTV, up to 19:40, EST, Jan, 13, more than 84% participants(total participants: 214551) voted for “Google shouldn't leave China”. However, there is another survey by Huanqiu.com showing completely different results: Internet users were asked “What's your opinion of Google's pulling out of China?” and up to 84 percent of more than 27,000 respondents answered the “Don't care” option.
The official in charge of the Internet bureau under the State Council Information Office said “Google has violated the written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks. This is totally wrong. We're uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.”
There are also other people blaming Google, saying the company’s so-called intention to call for free speech is actually an excuse for its unsuccessful operation in China. They say that Google is a minor player in China’s search engine market. By the end of 2009, local search engine Baidu held more than 60 per cent of China's $US1 billion search market, while Google had 30 percent. They also criticize that Google is imposing “double standards” on Internet freedom and it is wrong to criticize China’s Internet censorship while “it is common practice for other countries, including the United States”.
It is hard to say, or estimate how many people in China do care about availability of Google services. It is true that a lot of Chinese netizens don't use Google web search or other applications. As noted above, opposite results can be obtained from different websites. However, it is certain that high-end users, those who appreciate Google’s search quality, free and excellent Google applications including Gmail, Reader, Docs, Picasa, Maps, Scholar, etc, need to find information in English or other foreign languages, have a lot of concerns (in Chinese) at this moment. They fear that some or all Google applications will not be accessible in China sometime in the future. They fear that China’s search engine market will be mostly occupied by Baidu.com and Baidu.com has very little information in English (academic research certainly could not live without English materials). They think that search results in Baidu are not objective enough. Baidu has long been blamed for search results that do not show a clear distinction between natural listing results or paid listing results. There are rumors saying that Baidu is paid from some companies for removing negative search results.
Baidu’s success in the market is partly due to Google’s unstable service in China. Before Google launched Google.cn in 2006, Chinese users can only use Google.com and the connection was constantly being intercepted by GFW (Great Firewall), a.k.a “The Golden Shield Project”. If the user enters a certain keyword in the search term, the connection will be redirected. A blank page will be returned and the user will be unable to use Google search for several minutes. For most of the time, the user has no idea that it is the consequence of GFW, he/she would blame Google for its unstable service. When the same thing happens several times, the user may favor Baidu since such incidence won’t happen with Baidu.
The same thing is now happening while Google.cn no longer exists. In the past, when users encountered redirection using Google.com (unfiltered search results, censored by GFW), they can use Google.cn (filtered search results, but won’t be intercepted by GFW) temporarily instead. But now, since the connection to Google.com.hk is being censored by GFW, they are unable to use Google search while the connection is reset.
Some of the most popular web services are/had been blocked in China:
- Facebook, blocked since July, 2009.
- Twitter, blocked since June, 2009.
- Flikr, had been blocked before, now is unblocked.
- Wikipedia, had been blocked before, now is unblocked.
- WordPress.com, had been blocked before, now is unblocked.