UPDATE: A more detailed version of this Backgrounder for news reporters can be downloaded as a PDF version.
Google announced today in a blog post that it has redirected visitors headed for google.cn to google.com.hk.
So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.
As someone based in both Beijing and Hong Kong for significant periods in the 2000s and has been asked to comment on Google-China previously, here’s a backgrounder with some basic questions I’ve answered for reporters about the issue.
- Google.cn servers are located within the borders of the PRC, and are subject to the ICP (Internet content provider) licensing scheme. Google had been self-censoring its search results to retain its ICP license. In the PRC, it is up to the operating entity to make sure it does not run afoul of the content guidelines put out by the authorities.
- This morning, California time, Google changed things such that traffic to google.cn started to be redirected to the google.com.hk site, in the simplified Chinese character mode. (Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese characters, while the mainland uses simplified. They are somewhat mutually intelligible, but it does require some adjustment in reading to get used to the other system. More info here.)
- Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) while technically part of China, is completely separate in terms of free speech, expression and rule of law. (See “One country, two systems.”) After it was handed over in 1997 by the Brits, it has had its own chief executive and Legislative Council independent of Beijing. Rule of law is strong in Hong Kong, with PRC dissidents and naysayers operating freely and in the open.
- Hong Kong’s Internet service and content providers are not subject to PRC’s censorship regime. The Great Firewall of China also does not play a part in content coming into or out of Hong Kong with the rest of the world.
- Google.com.hk results are not censored to conform with PRC ICP guidelines because being located in Hong Kong, it is governed by HK SAR laws.
- Content between Hong Kong and the PRC *are* subject to filtering by the Great Firewall, because HK is considered outside the mainland’s domestic Internet. For that reason, even though Google.com.hk is not censored by Google, the HTTP stream (ie. Web traffic) going between HK and PRC may be interrupted by the Great Firewall, based on content. This is often seen as a “Connection reset” by the user.
- It is possible that in the future, the Google.com.hk domain name or Internet protocol address may be blocked as a whole, but they don’t appear to be so right now.
- While Google.cn Search, News and Images are now being redirected to HK, the Video, Music, Maps and Translate sites are not, and still seem to be hitting PRC domestic servers. (Google Music has gained notoriety because it provides free, legal downloads of popular music via top100.cn).
China’s just waking to the reality that Google.cn (now Google.com.hk) is now subject to the Great Firewall. Let the commenting begin.