A blog post earlier today by David Drummond, Google’s SVP of corporate development and chief legal officer (CLO), seems to have engendered some confusion in certain media circles. I am here to elucidate.
Titled “An Update on China,” the relatively brief blog post explains why and how Google will attempt “a new approach” to the delivery of search results to Chinese users.
Google is considering this new approach because China has forced its hand. As Drummond explains:
We currently automatically redirect everyone using Google.cn to Google.com.hk, our Hong Kong search engine. This redirect, which offers unfiltered search in simplified Chinese, has been working well for our users and for Google. However, it’s clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable—and that if we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed (it’s up for renewal on June 30). Without an ICP license, we can’t operate a commercial website like Google.cn—so Google would effectively go dark in China.
Okay, got that? After Google and China exchanged unpleasantries over Chinese hacks and theft of Google intellectual property, Google relocated its search servers from China to Hong Kong. Chinese users who visited Google.cn automatically were redirected to the Google.com.hk. Ostensibly this approach enabled Google to avoid having to provide filtered (as in censored) search results to its Chinese users. However, as I’ve mentioned before, the Google-China conflict wasn’t primarily about censorship, notwithstanding Google’s protestations to the contrary.
Just to recap, if I may speak freely, Google eventually came to believe that the China market was fixed, rigged in favor of China’s Internet players, including Baidu (more on which later). It wasn’t a fanciful deduction. Google had been subject to hacking, IP theft, aggressive state-sponsored corporate espionage, and an official government policy of “indigenous innovation” that actively promotes the interests of Chinese companies over those of foreign rivals. All the while, of course, those foreign companies are invited by the Chinese government to do business in China, primarily so that their IP and trade secrets can be transferred to Chinese firms.
Anyway, getting back to Google’s blog post of earlier today, let’s consider the “new approach” Google is implementing in place of the automatic redirect from China to Hong Kong. What Google will do now — and it already works from North America — is provide a landing page at google.cn, from which Chinese visitors can click on a link that will take them to Google’s Hong Kong site (google.com.hk).
Incredibly, CNN, among others, is portraying this move as some sort of capitulation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the face of official China’s strong disapproval of the automatic-redirect approach, Google has chosen to make the redirect manual, requiring that users merely click once before arriving at the Hong Kong search site. It’s a cheekily clever attempt to circumvent China’s restrictions while adding just one step to the process of Chinese visitors availing themselves of Google’s Chinese-language services. Nothing substantive has changed, and Google has made no meaningful concession.
Obviously, China will see right through the maneuver. Google not only instituted “a new approach” that isn’t really a new approach at all, but it irreverently announced it — in a public blog post, no less — to the entire world. Google has thrown down the gauntlet, and raised a middle finger for good measure. I don’t see how Google expects China to do anything other than reject its resubmitted application for an ICP license.
Meanwhile, we have news from Baidu (I told you I’d come back to them). Starting next month, Baidu will be hiring 30 “mid-to senior-level software engineers from Silicon Valley at a job fair on July 10 to drive new technology projects, its first direct hiring from the United States,” according to a Reuters report.
If Google won’t bring talent and trade secrets to Baidu in China, then Baidu will have go to California to get them.