Google’s license renewed in China
U.S. search giant’s concession on website redirection enough to keep company in business
BEIJING — China renewed Google Inc.’s license to operate a website, preserving the search giant’s toehold in the world’s most populous country after the company gave up an attempt to circumvent Beijing’s censorship practices.
Google said Friday that Chinese officials had approved its Internet content provider, or ICP, license but gave no details of what services it would offer.
Renewal had been in question after Google began automatically redirecting users in China to an uncensored Hong Kong search site. But the company dismantled the virtual bridge to Hong Kong last week after regulators objected to the sleight of hand and threatened to revoke its Internet license.
Users are still only a single step away from the Hong Kong service. They can click anywhere on the Google.cn page to go to Hong Kong, a subtle change that could still be enough to persuade mainland Chinese to use a competing search site instead.
And though mainland users can get uncensored Google results from Hong Kong for even controversial topics, users will not always be able to click through the links because of government filters.
“We are very pleased that the government has renewed our ICP license, and we look forward to continuing to provide Web search and local products to our users in China,” Google’s top lawyer, David Drummond, said in a statement.
The company’s one-sentence statement provided no additional information. Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne said details on what services Google will offer in China will be released in coming weeks.
There was no immediate statement on the website of China’s Internet regulator, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
In January, after Google had traced hack-
ing attacks to China, the company said it no longer wanted to comply with that country’s rules requiring it to censor search results. The announcement embarrassed Chinese leaders, prompting questions about whether they might punish the company by shutting it out of China, where Google has a lucrative advertising business and a fledgling mobile phone operation.
In March, Google shut down its mainland China-based site, which had excluded from its results sites that could not be reached from China. It redirected users to the uncensored Hong Kong site instead. To keep its license, Google stopped the automatic redirection.
Google opted not to leave China completely so it could pursue its commercial ambitions: a music service; its mobile phone business, including its Android operating software; a Beijing development center; and a division to sell ads for the Chinese-language version of its U.S. search engine.
Losing the China license would have been a significant setback for Google, even though China will only account for an estimated $250 million to $600 million of the company’s projected $28 billion in revenue this year. China already has nearly 400 million Web users, a figure that is expected to rise for years to come.
For Beijing, the renewal quiets a highprofile dispute at a time when American and European businesses are complaining about unfair treatment by China’s government.
“Basically, this was a smart move on the part of the Chinese government to kind of defuse the situation,” said Paul Denlinger, an Internet consultant for startup companies, adding that the friction between Google and China will wane temporarily but not disappear.
Beijing encourages Internet use for business and educational purposes but tries to block material deemed subversive or pornographic. Government task forces monitor foreign websites and use a system that routes traffic through a handful of state-controlled gateways to shut off access to those run by dissidents or human rights and Tibet activists. China has routinely blocked parts of Google’s service such as YouTube.
The license renewal leaves Google in China but with its commercial future unclear. Industry analysts say that without a China-based search function, users will defect to local rival Baidu Inc., and advertisers trying to reach a mainland
‘They were playing a game of chicken, It seemed like Google was trying to get pushed out rather than leave on their own.’
T.R. HaRRingTon Chief executive of Darwin Marketing
audience won’t use the Hong Kong site. Unlike in the United States, Google is not the dominant player in China, with some 30 percent of the search market to Baidu’s 60 percent.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google opened its China site in 2006 to attract more Chinese users after government filters slowed their access to its main U.S. site, Google.com.
Google’s efforts to win renewal appeared to be late and not very energetic, said T.R. Harrington, chief executive of Shanghai-based Darwin Marketing. He said the new Google.cn home page put up late last month appeared very rough compared with other Google sites.
“They were playing a game of chicken,” Harrington said. “It seemed like Google was trying to get pushed out rather than leave on their own.”