Google cites cyber attacks on the e-mail accounts of Chinese rights activists as the reason for threatening to pull out of China. Cyrus Farivar reports on what kind of attack it was and what Google’s move means for other Internet companies doing business in China.
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MS. JEB SHARP: Online activists outside China were also surprised by Google’s announcement. Just four years ago the company claimed that a censored Google search engine in China would be better than no search engine at all. Now some are wondering whether Google’s new stance will have broader implications for other internet companies operating in China. Cyrus Farivar reports.
MR. CYRUS FARIVAR: Few people in the west know more about China’s internet filtering, espionage, and surveillance capability than Nart Villeneuve. He’s a research fellow at the citizen lab at the University of Toronto. Here’s his reaction to Google’s announcement.
MR. NART VILLENEUVE: It’s crazy. I was pretty stunned.
MR. FARIVAR: Villeneuve says he’s surprised Google even admitted that it’s corporate networking infrastructure was compromise. The company could have kept it quiet. Instead, Google opted to describe on a publicly accessible company blog the three main reasons it decided to re-evaluate its presence in China. First was the highly sophisticated and targeted attack originating from China. Second was that Google believes the attack was targeting two specific Chinese human rights activists. Third, and possibly most importantly, is that dozens of Chinese human rights activists had their gmail accounts compromised through the use of malware, or malicious software. That could allow unauthorized users to read their email. Some China watchers have compared Google’s threat of pulling up stakes in China to a game of chicken. Isaac Mao is a prominent Chinese online activist and blogger. He says that Google was pushed to its limit.
MR. ISAAC MAO: That’s like in Chinese proverb, [Chinese language], that means if they were pushed to the river, they don’t have ways to go. So they have to fight back and they have strength to fight because of no other choices.
MR. FARIVAR: Mao says the Chinese government would be humiliated if a prominent company like Google were to cease operating in China and that raises questions as to what other tech companies might do. Nart Villeneuve says that Google has been a trend setter in China before. He says right after Google started operating there in 2005 it began including a little message to Chinese users saying that their search results had been censored.
MR. VILLENEUVE: Soon after that Microsoft implemented it. Soon after that Yahoo implemented it and Baidu implemented it as well.
MR. FARIVAR: Baidu, a local search company, has well over 70% of Chinese market share. Villeneuve says it would be a real coup for Google if it could get Baidu to lift its filters in China the way Google has.
MR. VILLENEUVE: Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are under all kinds of pressure from Congress, from human rights groups and so on to be more pro-active about freedom of expression, but Baidu isn’t. And they still did it. So I think Baidu looks to the international companies for leadership to a certain extent. It’ll be interesting to see what their response to this is.
MR. FARIVAR: The White House said today that it backs the right to internet freedom in China. Next week Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is expected to announce a new technology policy aimed at helping people in other countries gain uncensored access to the internet. For The World, I’m Cyrus Farivar.
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