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Google threatens to leave China after massive cyberattacks

January 12, 2010 07:31 PM ET

The disturbing nature of the attacks, as well as what Drummond called "attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web" by Chinese authorities, gave the company pause, then led it to a decision.

"Any company in China has to constantly monitor the situation," said Harris of the CDT. "And at some point, it may be untenable. Google made that very clear when it went into China. It appears that Google has decided that the risks to their users and their own values outweigh the benefit of operating in China."

Harris declined to speculate on what impact a Google withdrawal from China would have on other technology firms that operate in the country -- both Microsoft and Yahoo, for instance, have a presence there -- but said she expected Google to face resistance if it did pull out. "I can't imagine this was an easy decision for them," she said. "They're certain to get push-back from some shareholders."

If Google does end up closing shop in China, Harris acknowledged that it would be a setback for the idea that Western companies could change China's position on issues such as human rights. "I don't think that [this idea] has had the impact we would have liked, but it has had a huge impact on access of information that China's citizens now have," she argued.

Like Drummond of Google, Harris noted that recent moves by the Chinese government have been hard to stomach. "They've become increasingly shrill about what a company makes available, who can have blogs and domains in the country," she said. "They've been piling on the restrictions."

But the battle isn't over, even if Google leaves, Harris said. "The fact is, [the Chinese government] cannot control all information. That's the hope we've always had, that at some point technology wins."

Drummond did not set a timetable for the discussions Google wants to have with Chinese authorities, or, failing a settlement agreeable to both sides, a deadline for any decision to withdraw from the country and shutter its search site.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter@gkeizer, send e-mail to gkeizer@ix.netcom.com or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS.

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