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Google May Abandon China

The story general counsel David Drummond tells has all the makings of an international incident.

Google may abandon its business in China, according to a blog post today over the signature of its general counsel David Drummond.

It may get kicked out anyway because it says it’s no longer willing to censor its results.

It finally came to that high-minded conclusion after discovering in mid-December that its corporate infrastructure was the target of what it calls a “highly sophisticated attack” that originated from China and resulted in the theft of undisclosed IP.

But that wasn’t all.

The story Drummond tells has all the makings of an international incident.

Digging deeper into the breach, he says, Google discovered that it was only one of at least 20 large companies in a range of businesses like the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors that were being spied on.

Drummond says the evidence suggests that the reason Google was under cyber-scrutiny was because the attackers were after the Gmail of Chinese human rights activists and that the spying wasn’t limited to China. It discovered that the accounts of dozens of US-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.

Drummond says, “These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered – combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web – have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”

Then he says – in a chilling tone that brings up visions of Tiananmen Square – that “The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.”

Nowhere in his posting at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html does Drummond accuse the Chinese government of industrial espionage but he doesn’t have to.

He says the evidence suggests that the spies didn’t get to see the actual Gmail messages exchanged by the human rights activists and that Google is currently in the process of notifying the other companies whose systems have been breached. He says, “We are also working with the relevant US authorities.”

Google claims no accounts were accessed through any security breach at Google, “but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.”

Google owns about 20% of the Chinese search market. Revenues are “truly immaterial” according to Drummond.

Remembering what happened in South Africa, a mass walkout by the West, beginning with Wal-Mart, might work wonders in China.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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