The Google-China Challenge: How It Came to This

Google

Google China
's getting some moral support from the government in its decision to stop censoring search in China.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against Internet censorship Thursday, saying the U.S. government is "committed to helping promote Internet freedom." While she didn't directly endorse Google's decision to potentially shut down its China-based operations, Clinton did say that censorship "should not be in any way accepted by any company anywhere." She also called upon China to fully investigate the cyberattacks that led to Google's stance.

This whole Google-China debacle has snowballed faster than you can say "Beef Brisket in Wikipedia Flavor." (Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it.) The truth, though, is that Google's beef with China dates back nearly a decade -- and these recent turns are really just the straws that broke the Google's back.

Here's a guide to the peaks and valleys that paved the way to the standoff we're seeing now.

Google and China: The Beginnings

• September 2000: Google introduces a Chinese version of its search engine at the Google.com domain.

• September 2002: Access to Google's site is completely blocked in China for about two weeks. It appears the domain name was hijacked and redirected -- a move the Chinese government may have been behind. Soon thereafter, signs of restricted access and censored results begin to surface. Even the brainiacs who got all of Google's famously impossible interview questions right can't quite figure out what's going on.

Google and China: The Censorship Begins

• January 2006: Google relents and launches Google.cn, a specialized version of its search site that filters out pornographic and "politically sensitive" results. The company acknowledges that the filtering "clearly compromises [its] mission," but notes that "failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world's population ... [would do so] far more severely."

• March 2008: China blocks access to YouTube and Google News during riots in Tibet. It isn't the first time China has blocked access to specific Google services, and it won't be the last.

• March 2009: Fast-forward one year, and YouTube gets the boot in China again. (Did I call that one or what?) A Chinese official denies his nation is afraid of the Internet; a wisecracking writer suspects the Jonas Brothers are really to blame. This ban, by most accounts, is still pretty much in place today.

Google and China: The Tensions Climb

• June 2009: China finds some pornographic results in the Google.cn site and goes ballistic. (Those guys evidently never read this study about why porn is actually good for society.) The country blocks access to Google until the G-team wipes out every mention of the G-spot.

• September 2009: The guy who ran the Google China operation since its inception steps down from his role. Analysts speculate that his departure might be a sign of broader problems between Google and the People's Republic. Around the same time, satirists speculate that Apple is working with the Chinese government to form its own repressive business strategies.

Google and China: Spiraling Out of Control

• January 12, 2010: Google announces that it will no longer censor search results in China following an attack on its servers in the country. The attack, Google says, targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. "These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered ... have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China," Google explains in a blog posting. "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn. ... We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."

• January 14, 2010: China counters Google's threat by saying if it wants to operate in the country, it will have to abide by local laws. Those laws include the requirement to filter (read: censor) search results.

• January 14, 2010: Microsoft says it'll continue operating in China, despite Google's concerns position. Said news is not announced via Bill Gates' Twitter account, as that account will not be activated until 1/19, silly.

• January 18, 2010: Someone hacks into the Gmail accounts of foreign journalists at two Beijing news bureaus. This may or may not be related to the main attack, but its timing certainly doesn't help with the tension.

• January 18, 2010: An unnamed source claims an employee of Google China may have been involved with the cyberattacks in some way.

• January 19, 2010: Google announces it's postponing the release of two Android phones in China. Reports indicate the delay is related to the company's ongoing talks with Chinese authorities.

• January 21, 2010: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashes out against Internet censorship. But you already know that. Unless you suffer from memory loss. Which, by the way, can result from viewing too much Internet porn, according to China's state-run news agency.

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JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the co-founder of eSarcasm. He's on Facebook: facebook.com/The.JR.Raphael

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