China tightens censorship on Google

China has tightened its censorship of Google products in recent weeks, following a series of terrorist attacks, according to a new report. The censorship has made Google products virtually unusable, frustrating users and causing some international companies to leave China. 

Christina Hu/Reuters/File
A woman walks past the logo of Google in front of its headquarters in Beijing in this January 12, 2011.

In recent weeks, China has tightened its censorship of the Internet, mainly directed at Google, frustrating users and causing some international companies to leave the country.

Following a series of terrorist attacks, China has tightened its Internet censorship, often called the "Great Firewall of China," which is making it difficult for Google customers to use the services. The crackdown has made Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Play almost unusable, according to The New York Times.

“It’s a frustrating and annoying drain on productivity,” Jeffrey Phillips, an American energy executive who has lived in China for 14 years, told The New York Times. “You’ve got people spending their time figuring out how to send a file instead of getting their work done.”

This is the latest battle in the Google-China saga. In 2010, Google shutdown its Chinese servers to avoid Chinese censorship. Instead, Google directed users to use its Hong Kong services to avoid filtered results. That led the Chinese authorities to block the Hong Kong site by making users wait 90 seconds for banned results. 

Earlier this year, Google began encrypting searches, which made it difficult for Chinese authorities to track users searching for banned topics. In response, all Google services were blocked on May 29. The ban has hurt Google's business in China. In 2009, one-third of of all searches in China were on Google. Now Google only has one-fifth of all searches.

Rising fears of terrorist attacks and a rising nationalism focused at Japan and the US is causing Chinese officials to take a harder stance on censorship. Head of the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping, said he is placing more importance on Internet security and is taking the top position in the party‘s to cybersecurity group.

“Internet security is being raised to a much higher degree,” Xiao Qiang, an expert on Chinese Internet censorship at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information, told the Times. “It overrides the other priorities, including commerce or scientific research.”

Google isn't the only company Chinese authorities have censored. Facebook and Twitter are already banned in China, and in July, anti-monopoly investigators raided four Microsoft offices, interrogating managers and copying large amounts of data onto hard drives. 

Businesses aren't the only ones effected by the crackdown, reports the Times. Many academics are saying censorship is hurting their ability to conduct research. Jin Hetian, an archaeologist in Beijing, said he had a hard time conducting research using the available search engines, such as the Chinese search engine Baidu. 

“I know some foreign scientists are studying the rings of ancient trees to learn about the climate, for example, but I can’t find their work using Baidu,” Ms. Jin told the Times. “When in China, I’m almost never able to access Google Scholar, so I’m left badly informed of the latest findings.”

Internet censorship and other infrastructure problems is leading some companies, like General Motors, to leave China for other regional countries, like Singapore. 

“Companies overlooked Internet problems when the economy was booming,” Shaun Rein, managing director of the Shanghai-based consulting firm China Market Research Group, told The New York Times. “But now a lot of companies are asking whether they really need to be in China.”

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