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Google Drops Censorship In China, Redirects Users to Uncensored Hong Kong Service

But China could still ultimately block citizens' access
Google today made official its plans to end censorship in China, redirecting Chinese users to its uncensored search service in Hong Kong. The search giant will maintain an R&D and sales presence in mainland China, however, the company also announced.

The pullout comes more than two months after Google revealed in January that it had fallen victim to a wave of targeted attacks out of China and was rethinking its search business there, which is censored by Chinese officials. Users in China as of today are being redirected to the Hong Kong-based search service here, where Google is offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese designed for users in Mainland China, the company said.

"[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 sensible solution to the challenges we've face--it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China," said David Drummond, senior vice president for corporate development and chief legal officer at Google, in a blog post this afternoon announcing Google's plans.

But Drummond acknowledged that Chinese government officials could eventually block Chinese users' access to the uncensored Hong Kong search site. "We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services. We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new Web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China," he said in his post.

As of this posting, the only Google apps so far completely blocked are YouTube, Sites, and Blogger, according to Google's China service availability page. Google Docs, Picasa, and Groups are partially blocked at this time, according to the page.

The industry, as well as Chinese citizens and businesses, have anxiously awaited Google's decision about the China problem. Google said on Jan. 12 that it and more than 20 other U.S. companies had been hit by targeted attacks out of China, and the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists had been hacked. Google then said it could no longer censor its search results on Google.cn. But Chinese officials have publicly and staunchly stood by their censorship requirements.

"So earlier today 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. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over," Drummond said.

James Mulvenon, director of the Defense Group's Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis and a specialist on China, says this a "shrewd" move by Google. The fact that uncensored search is available in Hong Kong will force Beijing to "explain the difference," Mulvenon says.

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