Yesterday I speculated about whether Google would be able to have it both ways: to remain in the Chinese search market and still live up to its bold proclamation that it would no longer comply with Chinese government censorship rules. The Chinese, all along, have given no indication that they intend to change their hard-line position on censorship or budge to keep Google in the country.
Today the Financial Times is reporting that Google is in fact about to pull out of the Chinese search market as talks have reached an apparent “impasse”:
Google has drawn up detailed plans for the closure of its Chinese search engine and is now “99.9 per cent” certain to go ahead as talks over censorship with the Chinese authorities have reached an apparent impasse, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking.
In a hardening of positions on both sides, the Chinese government also on Friday threw down a direct public challenge to the US search company, with a warning that it was not prepared to compromise on internet censorship to stop Google leaving.
The signs that Google was on the brink of closing Google.cn, its local search service in China, came two months after it promised to stop bowing to censorship there. But while a decision could be made very soon, the company is likely to take some time to follow through with the plan as it seeks an orderly closure and takes steps to protect local employees from retaliation by the authorities, the person familiar with its position said.
Google will likely have other operations (e.g., research) still in China on a smaller scale. And the closure of Google.cn will not affect Android or its presence in the world’s largest mobile market. Motorola previously said that it would put Bing on its Chinese Android phones. Baidu, the leading Chinese search engine, is also a choice of course. Presumably Apple will do something similar with the iPhone which is reportedly selling reasonably well in China.
Google will likely still have some search visibility in China as people find ways around Chinese government filters to gain access to Google.com and maybe even Google.cn if that domain continues to operate for Chinese language speakers.
Even though this is not the outcome that many wanted, I believe Google should be congratulated, assuming this story is correct, for taking a bold and uncompromising public position and sticking with it. Chinese government censorship is “evil” and Google has clearly lived up to its mantra in this case.