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Google's stand on China's censorship a 'brave move'

News analysis: After drawing a line in the sand, Google's image gets a bit of a polish

March 23, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - After drawing a line in the sand more than two months ago, industry analysts say Google had no other option but to stop censoring search results in China.

And the company will look all the better for it, analysts contend.

"Google is putting its money where its mouth is with this move, staying true to its principles and following through on their earlier rhetoric," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc.

"It was definitely a brave move, and one that will garner them some positive attention for a change. Users worldwide will now feel like they can trust Google as an honest broker of information," Olds said.

Google announced on Monday that it had stopped censoring search results in China as of today. The company stopped censoring Google Search, Google News and Google Images on Google.cn, David Drummond, the company's chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post.

"Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard," Drummond wrote. "We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement."

People using Google.cn are now redirected to Google.com.hk, where they are given uncensored search results in simplified Chinese. Google is running Google.com.hk off of servers located in Hong Kong.

"Google made a smart move," said Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "Rather than unilaterally pulling out, they took an action that puts the ball back into China's court."

"While Google feels redirecting Chinese users to their Hong Kong site and search results is 'entirely legal,' it seems unlikely the Chinese government will see this as anything other than an attempt to bypass their laws and direction. Given the impasse that Google and China came to on the issue of censorship, this move by Google seems a little less brave than inevitable," Ray said.

Google had taken its lumps for agreeing earlier to follow Chinese law and censor search results in China. That wasn't a popular move with critics in the West.

Monday's move, however, may go a long way toward cleaning some of that tarnish off its image. "Google is generating a great deal of press for taking on an issue that many in the U.S. care deeply about," Ray said.

"Their actions cannot hurt their reputation in the West, but it remains to be seen if improved reputation equates to any particular business benefit. In the end, it seems Google did not take this action primarily to generate goodwill but because they believed it was the right thing to do for their culture, vision and business," he added.



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