Let us start with an update on Google’s situation in China.
We launched Google.cn, our Chinese search engine, in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. While we have faced challenges, especially in the last 12 to 18 months, we have also had some success.
Google has become the second most popular search engine in China, behind Baidu, and we were the first search engine in China to let users know when results had been removed to comply with Chinese law. Use of our maps, mobile and translation services has grown quickly. And from a business perspective, while our China revenues are still small in the context of our larger business, the last quarter of 2009 was our most successful quarter ever in China.
However, in the last year we have seen increasing attempts to limit free speech on the Web in China. Numerous sites including YouTube, The Guardian, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and Wikipedia have been blocked, some of them indefinitely. In addition, last June the Chinese government announced that all personal computers sold in China would need to be pre-loaded with software that could be used to censor online content. After a public outcry and pressure from companies, the proposal was later withdrawn.
Most recently, in mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China. What at first appeared to be an isolated security incident—albeit a significant one—turned out upon investigation to be something quite different.
First of all, at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses—including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors—were similarly targeted.
Second, we believe that a primary, albeit unsuccessful, goal of the attack was to access Gmail accounts surreptitiously.
Third, we discovered in our investigation that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and European-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. I want to make clear that this happened independent of the security breach to Google, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.
The attack on our corporate infrastructure and the surveillance it uncovered—as well as attempts over the past year to limit free speech on the Web even further—led us to conclude that we were no longer willing to censor our search results in China. This decision was in keeping with our pledge when we launched Google.cn that we would carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services.
I want to stress that while we know these attacks came from China, we are not prepared to say who carried out these attacks. We do know such attacks are violations of China’s own laws and we would hope that the Chinese authorities will work with U.S. officials to investigate this matter.
Earlier this week we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.
Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a practical solution to the challenges we’ve faced—it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We are well aware that the Chinese government can, at any time, block access to our services—indeed we have already seen intermittent censorship of certain search queries on both Google.com.hk and Google.com.
In terms of Google’s wider business operations, we intend to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there, though the size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk.
Before moving on to the broader, global challenges Google faces, we would like to make clear that all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them. Despite all the uncertainty and difficulties they have faced since we made our announcement in January, they have continued to focus on serving our Chinese users and customers. We are immensely proud of them.
1. U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Google and Internet Control in China: A Nexus between Human Rights and Trade?, March 24, 2010, http://www.cecc.gov/pages/hearings/2010/20100324/davidsonTestimony.pdf (testimony of Alan Davidson, Director of Public Policy, Google Inc.) ^