Google Inc. may not be throwing in the towel in its battle with the Chinese government, but it certainly took a step back this week.
Google announced late Monday that it will no longer automatically redirect search traffic from China to its Hong Kong search engine. The announcement came just two days before Google's license to operate in China must be renewed.
The company hopes the move placates Chinese officials, who had threatened to revoke Google's Internet Content Provider (ICP) license if the company did not stop redirecting search requests from Chinese users.
In a blog post last night, Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said the company plans to complete the shift in direction over the next few days.
Instead of the automatic redirect, the Google.cn site now shows an image of the Google search bar above a link that says, "We've moved to Google.com.hk. Please visit our new Web site." Clicking on the logo or text takes users to the Hong Kong Web site.
It should be clear on Wednesday whether the Chinese government accepts the compromise move and will renew Google's license to continue doing business in the country.
Without a license, Google would go dark in China.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said that while Google's move amounts to caving in to Chinese officials, the company's executives had few alternatives if they wanted to continue doing business in China.
"They really have no choice if they want to stay in that region," Enderle said. "That was the problem of taking a position the company could not sustain. You don't fight governments. Google had a choice: Capitulate or leave. They capitulated."
Google in January had threatened to halt its operations in China after contending that an attack on its network from inside China aimed to expose the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. At the same time, Google said it was reconsidering its willingness to censor the search results of users in China as required by the government.
After several months of negotiations with Chinese officials, Google announced in March that it had stopped censoring search results in the country. In a blog post at the time, Drummond said the company had stopped censoring Google Search, Google News and Google Images on the Chinese Google.cn site. Users in China were redirected to the Hong Kong-based Google.com.hk site, where they were given uncensored search results in simplified Chinese.