Reporters Without Borders hails US Internet giant Google’s announcement yesterday that it will stop censoring the Chinese version of its search engine, Google.cn – a move that could lead to Google.cn’s closure and Google’s withdrawal from the Chinese market. The company said it took the decision following sophisticated cyber-attacks on Gmail accounts coming from China.
“We can only welcome the courage shown by Google’s executives,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A foreign IT company has finally accepted its responsibilities towards Chinese users and is standing up to the Chinese authorities, who keep clamping down more and more on the Internet.
“In the face of repeated and increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks and humiliating treatment by the Chinese authorities, who accuse them of not doing enough to block sensitive information, Google has decided to take a tougher line and is setting its own conditions for continuing to operate in China.
“We call on other IT companies to form a common front and we urge the Chinese authorities to reconsider their position. Google seems to have opened a breach – the cooperation of western companies in the control of news and information is no longer systematic.”
Reporters Without Borders also welcomed the transparency displayed by Google. “By making these cyber-attacks public, Google is clearly showing that its priority is to protect the personal data of its clients, including the most vulnerable ones. It is refusing to be an accomplice of the Chinese authorities in their pursuit of dissidents online.”
Google’s U-turn follows attacks launched from China on the Gmail accounts of several dozen human rights activists. Reporters Without Borders has itself been the target of cyber-attacks from China. A score of companies in the media, technology, finance and chemical sectors were also reportedly affected by these hacker attacks and by the theft of intellectual property.
Google senior vice-president David Drummond yesterday posted this explanation on Google’s official blog: “We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.”
The US authorities immediately called for an explanation from the Chinese government. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Google’s allegations “raise very serious concerns and questions.” She added: “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.”
Google and Yahoo! have for years been censoring their Chinese search engines, blocking results about subjects considered sensitive by the Chinese authorities. Microsoft also censors its blog tool Windows Live Spaces. The censorship blocks not only criticism of the government but also information about such topics as democracy, human rights, the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong spiritual movement and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Google’s announcement comes amid an increase in online repression in China. New regulations aimed at reinforcing Internet control took effect last month. The ministry of industry and information technology wants to force all websites, including foreign ones, to register on a “white-list” if they want to avoid being blacklisted and rendered inaccessible to Chinese Internet users.
At the same time, Chinese domain names with the .cn suffix are now only available to companies and organisations. Individuals can no longer obtain one. The government’s vaunted efforts to combat online porn, which have resulted in more than 5,000 arrests and the closure of 9,000 websites in the past year, have also blocked sites that are unrelated to pornography. The Wired.com and IDMB.com sites were among those recently blocked.
China, which is on the list of countries identified by Reporters Without Borders as “Enemies of the Internet,” has for years had the world’s most sophisticated system of online censorship and surveillance. It is also the world’s biggest prison for netizens, with a total of 69 bloggers and cyberdissidents detained.
The dissident intellectual Liu Xiaobo was sentenced on 25 December to 11 years in prison for helping to draft Charter 08, an appeal for more freedom and an end to online censorship. Human rights activist and cyberdissident Hu Jia has spent more than two years in prison.
Several people placed today bouquets of flowers in front of Google China office in Beijing.