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Google to stop redirecting mainland China users to Hong Kong site

June 29, 2010 |  8:36 am

Google will no longer automatically redirect mainland Chinese users to its uncensored Hong Kong site, the Internet giant said late Monday.

It announced the move as it negotiated to renew its license to operate in mainland China.

Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said in a blog post that the Chinese government was preparing to reject its application to renew its license to provide Internet content, which would mean Google would have to shut down its website in China altogether.

Google said it had resubmitted its application with a compromise: Rather than automatically redirect mainland China users to its Hong Kong site, it would display for them a page at Google.cn, offering a link to the unfiltered Hong Kong site. Drummond said the approach would allow Google to maintain its commitment not to censor search results while still giving users access to its services. He said Google believed the approach was “consistent” with local law.

Whether this will appease the Chinese government remains unclear. Google could find itself shut out of the world’s largest Internet market. But it's interesting to note that China has not yet taken steps to revoke Google's license.

As things stand, search results are effectively censored. Mainland China users can search for topics considered off-limits by the Chinese government but often can’t reach the websites. Until January, Google had bowed to the Chinese government’s mandate to censor search results despite criticism. 

In January, Google stunned the world by announcing it would no longer censor search results. 

Research firm eMarketer estimates there are 518 million Internet users in China, about 38.9% of the population. By 2013, the number of Internet users in China is expected to reach 900 million. 

That points to a potentially lucrative market: Spending on online advertising in China is expected to reach $3.8 billion this year, up 36% from last year, eMarketer said. A report by JP Morgan in January estimated that search advertising spending will reach $1.45 billion in China this year.

"As a company, we aspire to make information available to users everywhere, including China. It’s why we have worked so hard to keep Google.cn alive, as well as to continue our research and development work in China," Drummond wrote.

-- Jessica Guynn 

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