One of the largest Internet companies may be leaving the most populated country in the world.
Last week, Google announced it would consider shutting down operations in China due to a hacking operation from inside the country. According to an investigation by Google, the cyber attacks were directed at Gmail user accounts of human rights activists as well as around 34 companies or entities, most of them in Silicon Valley, California.
Since 2005, Google has operated in China as google.cn, a censored subsidiary of Google Inc. The Chinese government feels certain information does not need to be revealed to the public, as the website has been censored for content.
Due to the intrusion, Google is still in the process of deciding whether or not it wants to continue service in China.
“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered— combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web– have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China,” David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer for Google, wrote in a statement.
One of the first moves Google attempted was the negotiation of an arrangement to provide uncensored results on google.cn. With such an advanced filtration system, though, this would prove difficult, thus the announcement of Google to stop operations of google.cn altogether. Google.cn currently employs around 700 people and brings in around $300 million in annual revenue.
Last week, Congress also announced it would investigate allegations by Google that the Chinese government used the company’s service to spy on human rights activists.
The problems with Chinese censorship are not new news, however. Since 2008, authorities have tightened Internet restrictions inside China when the anti-government uprising sprung up in the western region of Tibet. Ethnic riots broke out in China’s Xinjiang province in the summer of 2009, when Twitter and a similar Chinese service named Fanfou were blocked. Since then, Sites such as Twitter and Facebook have both been banned.
Now, modern technology is allowing many Chinese citizens to break through the barriers of censorship. It is called fanqiang, or “scaling the wall,” and involves tapping into remote servers located outside China that aren’t subject to Chinese government control.
These remote servers are called virtual private networks and include tools such as Hotspot Shield, a free VPN with 7.5 million subscribers worldwide, according to a Hotspot Shield spokeswoman.
“The best censorship is the censorship you don’t know about. But with all the recent troubles, it’s becoming more public,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at UC Berkeley in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “That undermines the goal of censorship itself. It’s converting more and more people.”
-By Laura Smith