INTERNET SEARCH AND ADVERTISING giant Google is refusing to censor searches and is threatening to pull out of the world's largest potential market after Chinese hackers attacked the firm and tricked human rights activists into opening their email accounts to outsiders.
It will be a huge about-face for Google which has always said obeyed Chinese laws that require some politically and socially sensitive issues to be blocked from search results that are available in other countries
But in his blog, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said that Goggle detected a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack on its corporate infrastructure originating from China."
The goal of the attackers apparently was to get their paws on the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
Google did not say that the attack was carried out by the Chinese Government. It did not have too. It said that it is "no longer willing to continue censoring our results" sent to users in mainland China, as the Chinese Government requires. This means that Google will have to shut down its search operations in the People's Republic of China and possibly also its offices in the country.
It looks like Google is furious that after having done its best to kowtow to the autocrats in Beijing it still ended up being attacked and turned over.
Google is a smaller Internet search player in China than it is in the rest of the world. Last year Baidu.com handled 62 per cent of web searches in China compared with 29 per cent for Google.
In a big 'screw you' to China's Government Google has started showing off pictures of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests again on its Chinese language search website. This subject has always miffed the Chinese authorities who have told their citizens that it never happened or if it did the students that they murdered in the protests deserved it.
However its change of policy in China distracts from what might be a bigger problem for Google. The hacking showed how vulnerable its systems are to attack. Google has been promising users that their accounts and data are safe and secure in its data centres, and indeed its whole cloud business model for future expansion depends on its customers believing this.
According to the LA Times, Google officials said that the immediate financial effects would be "immaterial," with China sales accounting for only a fraction of its $22 billion in annual revenue. But long-term prospects are considered to be huge for a country that may soon have a billion users of mobile phones and the Internet.
James Mulvenon, an expert on Chinese cyber warfare with Defence Group, said that for Google to have come to the conclusion that it needed to pull up stakes in China, this attack must have gone to the core of its systems.
Gartner Group also smells a rat. Gartner Analyst John Pescatore said that Chinese sponsored Internet attacks have been going on for years, and Google shouldn't have been surprised by either industrial or political spying.
Pescatore said that Google must be more concerned that the attacks have compromised its image of having effective security. The company stores nearly all the data entrusted to it on a global network of servers referred to as 'the cloud'.
The apparently successful Chinese attacks pose the question of whether we can trust Google to carry our email in the cloud when it's had problems protecting its own infrastructure, he indicated.
Meanwhile the UK bookmaker Paddypower reportedly is offering 3:1 odds that Google will follow through on it's threat to quit China before 2012. µ
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