Why China won and Google lost

Summary:The company's fate was sealed in March, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the issue was "really between Google and China."

Forget the fig leaf of the Hong Kong work-around. China beat down Google, because Google got no support from its government for uncensored search.

Chief legal officer David Drummond confirmed the news in a brief update to his June 28 blog post describing the Hong Kong move.

CEO Eric Schmidt crowed at a CEO conference yesterday he was "confident" Google would "win" renewal of its license to operate, and it did.

But here's the deal. The Google.cn home page now offers only a link to its "uncensored" Hong Kong site, but those searches are easily traced and China's firewall can then censor the results. Services other than search are still run out of China.

No Google user searching in the Chinese language can thus access information about anything the government decides, on its whim, the people should not know about. That was the government's position all along. That position has been upheld.

The price of greater freedom, for Chinese researchers, will be intimate knowledge of both English and the techniques needed to bypass the firewall with anonymizers and remote proxies. A few will do that, but not enough to be matter, and those who do will live in constant fear of the knock at the door.

The company's fate was sealed in March, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the issue was "really between Google and China." Everything since has been a negotiation of terms.

The importance of what has happened here, in my view, should not be underestimated. The position of both China and the U.S. is now that governments are sovereign over Internet services provided inside their borders. So long as relations between governments are normal, the Internet can freely be balkanized and censored, its users controlled in the name of "national security."

Topics: Google, China


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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