GOOGLE has sensationally closed its Chinese search engine in a row over censorship.
The move could have global ramifications, exacerbating already strained relations between China and the US.
Secretary of state Hillary Clinton waded into the debate earlier this year after a series of cyber-attacks on Google said to originate from government buildings. In turn, Beijing accused Google of being intrinsically tied to the US government.
After months of acrimonious talks, Google has finally lost patience with China’s increasingly spurious demands for censorship and shifted its operations to servers in bordering Hong Kong.
From there it is redirecting Chinese users to google.com.hk, where they can access sites relating to banned subjects including the Dalai Lama and Tiananmen Square. Shifting to the neighbouring country will especially infuriate Beijing. The aggressive move is typical of the combative approach adopted by Google’s pugnacious chief executive Eric Schmidt.
Google agreed to some censorship when it entered the Chinese market in 2006 but grew increasingly frustrated after Beijing repeatedly blocked sites including Facebook and YouTube. Now Google itself is likely join the list of websites blocked by the government.
Relations hit rock bottom in January after allegations that state sponsored hackers breached Google’s security. Google claimed personal information about human rights protesters was stolen after an orchestrated attack on its servers.
The exit will result in at least 300 jobs being lost in it’s offices in Guangzhou.
The move is a blow for Google, which endured vitriolic criticism at home and abroad for concessions it made to Beijing in return for access to its vast number of users. China’s web audience has exploded in recent years, with nearly 340m people regularly online, compared with just 10m a decade ago. The search market is thought to be expanding by a staggering 40 per cent each year.
However, Google’s operations there had failed to gain the stranglehold it enjoys in most of the world, trailing miserably behind local firm Baidu. Analysts have said the California-based firm had little chance of catching up. Google.cn accounted for just two per cent of Google’s £16bn global revenue last year.
The firm says it will maintain its research and development and sales divisions in China.