Google puts data security first; threatens China pullout, stops censoring results

Google threatens China pullout, changes approach to censorship, as news of widespread attacks come to light.

Google said in a blog post today that it will consider shutting down its site in China and closing its offices, following a large scale attack on its corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of Google's intellectual property.

The company also issued a warning on its enterprise blog about keeping data safe and tried to squash any potential backlash on cloud computing by reminding users that these attacks were not an assault on cloud computing but rather an attack on "technology infrastructure."

It appears that the goal of the attackers was to gain access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. From what Google has discovered, the attack was mostly unsuccessful with only two accounts compromised - and in neither case were the content of the e-mails themselves compromised.

In a blog post, the company said it launched in 2006 "in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results." At that time, the company promised to monitor conditions in China, including new laws and restrictions and that it would not hesitate to "reconsider our approach to China." Today, it went on notice to say that it will follow through with that promise. The company wrote today:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered - combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web - have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down and potentially our offices in China.

That's a tough call, given the potential for business growth in the planet's most populated country. But Google is a global company and clearly it had to make a very difficult business decision - one that was made by executives in the U.S. without the knowledge or involvement of employees in China.

As Google ventures further into the cloud and works to bring the enterprise in with it, it has to remind itself that security is paramount, above all else. It cannot be taken lightly nor can it be allowed to be compromised for the sake of gaining ground in a particular market or region. Protecting user data must be the company's top priority.

Today, Google showed that data security is above all else. Rocking the boat with a country like China will certainly have long-lasting business implications for Google - but taking a bold stance also speaks volumes, especially as large companies, the very ones that Google needs as customers to gain ground in the enterprise space, have seen first-hand the extreme actions that Google is willing to take to keep data secure.

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