[JURIST] Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] announced Monday that it will stop redirecting Internet users in mainland China [press release] to its unfiltered search engine in Honk Kong in an effort to renew the company’s Internet Content Provider license. In March, Google began redirecting users [JURIST report] from its google.cn search engine to google.com.hk [websites] after reaching a legal impasse with the Chinese government over censoring search results. The redirect allowed Google to maintain a presence in mainland China without having to filter search results. The google.cn search engine is currently composed of a simple logo and an inactive search bar, and clicking on much of the page automatically redirects users to google.com.hk. The Chinese government has informed Google that its rerouting practices are unacceptable and if the company does not cease and desist, then its Internet Content Provider (ICP) license will not be renewed. Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond released a statement on Google’s official blog explaining the necessity of ending the redirect:
[I]t’s clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable. … Without an ICP license, we can’t operate a commercial website like Google.cn—so Google would effectively go dark in China. That’s a prospect dreaded by many of our Chinese users, who have been vocal about their desire to keep Google.cn alive. Over the next few days we’ll end the redirect entirely, taking all our Chinese users to our new landing page—and today we re-submitted our ICP license renewal application based on this approach. This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self censor and, we believe, with local law. We are therefore hopeful that our license will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via Google.cn.
The Chinese government claims that Google did not uphold agreements the company had made when it entered the Chinese market in 2006 and that the company “violated its written promise” when it ceased censoring Internet searches.
In February, China issued new regulations tightening restrictions on Internet use [JURIST report] by requiring citizens operating websites to submit identity cards and meet with regulators before their sites can be registered. The new policies came amid negotiations with Google regarding the Internet company’s January threat to discontinue operations in China [JURIST report] due to the country’s overarching Internet censorship. Google’s action was in response to a cyber attack on its Gmail service in December, which targeted the e-mail accounts of human rights activists in China and drew the ire of rights groups around the world. Google indicated that it would work with the Chinese government to find a way to allow an, “unfiltered search engine within the law as well,” but also noted that if an agreement cannot be reached, it would close its offices there and shut down its Google.cn website. China responded [JURIST report] by reiterating its commitment to open Internet, but stressed that international Internet companies must follow Chinese law.