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Innovation

Google's China crisis

Reuters is reporting that the Chinese government is threatening Google with unspecified consequences if it continues to report hacking attacks attributed to within China. The People's Daily said that Google was "deliberately pandering to negative Western perceptions of China" with its "spurious...
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor on

Reuters is reporting that the Chinese government is threatening Google with unspecified consequences if it continues to report hacking attacks attributed to within China. The People's Daily said that Google was "deliberately pandering to negative Western perceptions of China" with its "spurious... malign intentions" and that if the company continued it could be "sacrificed to politics".

This isn't the first time an official Chinese state organ has said that Google is a weapon of Western culture set against the Chinese way of life. Of course, China is right: an authoritarian state depends on close control of information and a single, approved view of the world. Google exists to link people with data purely at the whim of those who search; it also considers personal information, when public, as just as valid as anything 'official', and in every way it is set against the principles of non-democratic state control. Cultural imperialism is reborn.

The trouble with the Chinese approach is that to appear as an equal among other nations it has to pay at least lip service to the basic principles of logic, evidence and sanity. It's already slipped up by taking no time to even pretend to consider Google's claims, rushing out an outraged statement of Google's mendacity with no hint that some examination may be in order.

That's very telling; first, that China assumed that Google was claiming state involvement, when Google was careful not to do so, and second, that China effectively ruled out that it could have been a rogue group of hackers pretending to be official, or within an official department.

If the Chinese security service had publicly asked Google for the evidence and then dismissed it, then the protestations of ulterior motives would have perhaps a little more standing. It's just not possible for any government, no matter how totalitarian, to conduct an internal enquiry that comprehensively dismisses claims like this in under a day - not that there's any evidence that there was any enquiry.

It's reminiscent of the WAPI affair, when a Chinese proposal for Wi-Fi security was rejected by the ISO for insufficient disclosure; the Chinese standards body responded by claiming unethical and procedural faults within the ISO itself, rather than addressing the concerns of the voting members.

As it is, Google can only bolster its position by publishing the evidence that led it to make its statement. This is further justified by the nature of the attacks, which weren't specific to Google's email system; they could apply to any. Other email operators can benefit from knowing what to look for.

Google may consider the dragon's tail tweaked enough already, but playing quid pro quo with China is rarely productive. Let's have the facts: then, we'll know whether China's aggressive outrage is valid - or synthetic.

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