Since 2006, Google has made itself available to China, but at what cost?

On Tuesday, Google threatened to cease cooperating with China’s internet censorship practice, adding the possibility of closing all Google operations in the country, a decision spurred mostly by last week’s sophisticated, cyber attacks aiming to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Fortunately, according to Google, the attackers did not achieve their objective as only two accounts were hacked, but no email content was accessed.

Due to the serious nature and human rights implications of these attacks, Google is taking to its blog to talk about the investigation into the attacks and how it has changed Google’s stance with China.

From the blog: “These attacks… have led us to.. review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”

Since entering the Chinese market over three years ago, Google has been criticized for abiding by Chinese censorship law and restricting search results on google.com and google.cn, Google’s website in China. Though little is known about the technology behind how Google is self-censoring search results, it’s been clear that Google is consistently updating its filtering methods.

Earlier this year, Google blocked all searches for “Tiananmen Square” regardless of page content (even directions to the location had been filtered out) for eight days, after which search queries only turned up uncontroversial results such as links to shops in the area and benign, cheery photos of downtown Beijing.

Photo: mandiberg

Besides confirming that they had indeed abandoned old methods, Google would not provide more information on the topic.

For every search, Google informs users in China that “in accordance with local laws and policies, some of the results have not been displayed,” a necessary compromise, Google felt, in order to allow the company to provide information access to a fifth of the world’s population.

Being the second most widely used search engine in China, behind Baidu, Google knows it will have “potentially far-reaching consequences” should the company choose to leave the Middle Kingdom.

As for now, Google can only promise us they “are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.”