Today, Google made a cheeky move on its China site (Google.cn) in order to preserve its domain name and ability to operate in the PRC.
As you may recall, in January Google decided they no longer wanted to comply with censorship guidelines in China and started to redirect visitors to their China “content” sites to servers in HK, where there are no censorship restrictions. In that move, the search, photo and news sites became hosted on unfettered servers at google.com.hk, while others like music and maps kept their locations on mainland servers.
On the Official Google Blog, Chief Legal Officer David Drummond was rather frank about their recent move:
…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.
Now it’s important to note that until this move, Google.cn traffic has been a “redirect,” meaning visitors to www.google.cn were sent automatically to www.google.com.hk en masse. Clicks in Google’s top bar to music and maps would go back to google.cn, but it was by default an HK site. That is likely what Drummond was referring to as being “unacceptable” to the PRC authorities.
Today, Google changed how this works in order to comply with the “letter” of what the authorities wanted, even if it wasn’t keeping in the spirit:
…instead of automatically redirecting all our users, we have started taking … them to a landing page on Google.cn that links to Google.com.hk—where users can conduct web search or continue to use Google.cn services like music and text translate, which we can provide locally without filtering. This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on Google.cn and gives users access to all of our services from one page.
A number of folks have asked whether this is a backtrack by Google on their January announcement.
It shows Google is interested in keeping their presence in China, especially when there is much potential profit in entertainment and tool-orientedinformation services (translation, mapping) that don’t run afoul of Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra.
But it is not much of a change from their earlier stance, and all Google is willing to do is to put up an intermediate landing page as a facade. And when I say facade, it truly is one.
The front page of Google.cn may look like a normal search page, but it’s actually a large button. Once you click on any portion of the screen it brings you to the old redirected page at Google.com.hk.
It’s hardly going to make PRC authorities happy, even though Google.cn is no longer just a redirect, and does technically return a page from a PRC server to the web surfer.
In fact, it can be seen as the least amount Google could do to comply with ICP guidelines. It will be interesting to see if it gets renewed.