Google warns users of Google Apps to monitor access in China

Organizations that use the Google Apps hosted collaboration and communication suite and that have employees in mainland China should monitor closely the availability of the suite's applications, the company warned.

After Google stopped censoring search results in China on Monday by redirecting users to the company's Hong Kong search engine, the Chinese government could at any point block more Google online applications than it previously did.

This could affect not only individuals' access to these applications but also affect end users of the Apps suite, which is designed for workplace use.

For that reason, Apps administrators should check the Web page Google has set up with information about the availability of its services in China, as well as consider equipping employees with special network technologies to secure data transmission, Google said late Wednesday in a blog post.

"These network configurations, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection, secure shell (SSH) tunneling, or using a proxy server, are already in place by many businesses with worldwide operations who serve their users from various locations. Companies should consult their own technical, legal and policy personnel to find a solution that works best for them," reads the blog post.

Google also clarified that neither Apps applications nor Apps data are physically hosted in China, and that its employees in that country don't have access to the applications or data.

"We recognize that these issues are not unique to Google; many technology companies serving users in China face challenges in providing access to their services, and we don't see [Monday's] news changing how we serve you moving forward," the post reads.

According to the China services availability page, some Apps suite components are fully available, including Gmail, while others are partially blocked, like Groups and Docs, while others are completely unavailable, like Sites. Google officials were not immediately available to clarify whether the partial and total blocks were instituted as a result of the search engine censorship situation or if the blocks were already in place.

On Jan. 12, Google made the unexpected and dramatic announcement that it would stop censoring results in its China search engine,, because the company had been hit with hacking attacks originating in China. The hackers stole Google intellectual property and broke into the Gmail accounts of China human rights activists, according to Google.

Google said it would try to discuss with the Chinese government ways in which the company could provide uncensored search results legally in China. If these talks failed, Google would assume the consequences of its decision, even if it meant shutting down its offices and operations in China.

On Tuesday, the Chinese government expressed displeasure with Google's decision to redirect users to the Hong Kong search engine, which offers uncensored results. However, the government doesn't yet seem to have blocked access to the uncensored search services for news, general Web sites and images.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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