Google’s New Approach

Google has just announced that there were successful attacks against their infrastructure resulting in the theft of intellectual property. Google traced the attacks to China and although the attribution regarding the Chinese government is unclear, Google also discovered that the attackers also attempted to compromise the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

But the most interesting result was due to the combination of attacks, surveillance and censorship Google has decided to reassess their operations in China:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, 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, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.


The connection between censorship, surveillance and attacks is the key. Censorship, such as the blocking of web sites, is fairly crude but effective when combined with targeted surveillance and attacks. While many, especially the technically savvy, can circumvent China’s filtering system, the “GFW”, using tools such as Psiphon and Tor most Chinese citizens do not. The GFW doesn’t have to be 100% technically effective, it just has to serve as a reminder to those in China about what content is acceptable and that which should be avoided. The objective is to influence behaviour toward self-censorship, so that most will not actively seek out banned information of the means to bypass controls and access it.

The nexus of censorship, surveillance and malware attacks allows China is the key to China’s information control policies. It is not just about the GFW. Internet users in China face complex threats that are heavily dependent on additional factors, such as involvement in political activities, that involve targeted attacks and surveillance. China chooses when, where and how to exercise this granular control.

The InfoWar Monitor — which is a partnership between the Citizen Lab, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto and The SecDev Group (and SecDev.cyber which focuses on Internet threats) — has been focusing on these threats. For example, in a report “Breaching Trust: An analysis of surveillance and security practices on China’s TOM-Skype platform” we documented how Tom-Skype (the Chinese version of Skype) was censoring and capturing politically sensitive content. In “Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network” we documented targeted malware attacks that compromised over 1,295 infected computers in 103 countries, 30% of which are high-value targets, including ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organizations, news media, and NGOs.

Google’s decision to re-asses their operations in China is courageous. I strongly hope that Microsoft, Yahoo! and others follow Google’s lead — as, to their credit, they have done in the past. In “Search Monitor Project: Toward a Measure of Transparency” I compared the censorship practices of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft as well as the domestic Chinese search engine Baidu and found that all followed Google’s lead to some extent by at least disclosing their censorship practices to their users. I hope that they stand by Google.

China, the ball is in your court.


  1. Google is spouting such garbage. Freedom of speech is only a human right by consensus; there is no way to enforce the UDHR, other than through international pressure. That is, pressure from the governments of countries who disagree with the governments of other countries. No one government is more “right” or “moral” than another.

    This move by Google (a US-based for-profit corporation) is simply another sign of the US attempting to force yet another government to conform to their own ideals. We must remember that the Chinese government views human rights activists as a threat national security and social values, and therefore has every right to take action.

    If you believe that Google has the right to stand up for their beliefs, then you muat also accept that the government of China has the right to stand up for their beliefs in turn. If you do not believe that China has that right, then by equal turns Google should not have that right either. If you further believe that Google has a right to impose their beliefs on the Chinese government, then you must also accept the right of the Chinese government to impose their beliefs on Google.

    The biggest issue here being that Google agreed to operate in China, and so should be subject to their laws and regulations. To do anything less is a threat to the Chinese government, and is illegal.

    I may not personally agree with the Chinese government’s laws on censorship (just as I do not agree with the lack of rights available to citizens under Australian anti-terrorism laws), but I defend their right to have their own beliefs.

  2. I think people may be missing a point. Hacking the mail of Chinese human rights activists isn’t done for entertainment, curiosity or recreational purposes by the Chinese government. People speaking up for human rights are routinely singled out for brutal persecution by the Chinese government.

    It’s common knowledge that China routinely sends agents abroad internationally, to suppress political dissidents, human rights activists and even peaceful Falun Gong practitioners. I have witnessed this first hand!

    This is not about money or posturing or exerting our morality on the Chinese…the Chinese have lived with strict, authoritarian government for centuries. Based on their collective suffering, one can’t blame them for desiring the same degree of human rights that others in the world often take for granted. While I don’t agree with meddling in the affairs of a foreign nation, I also cannot condone the scale of human misery and torture perpetrated by the Chinese government upon what are essentially, peaceful reformists.

    Way to go Google!

  3. Kinda like gmail
    google did a good job in china in bringing in fresh air and competence
    I was sad about this until google explained the reason
    now it would not matter that much if it stays
    anyway, it made quite a difference

  4. I would like to sincerely look at Google’s headquarters to remind the relevant staff, I am just an ordinary user of your company, but if you want to leave China, and can only show that low capacity of your short-sighted and weak, can not be competitive in China, this piece of land to survive , But rather struggling to survive in well-being has been a stable environment, if you want to win, then, in any case, you have to stay in China, only the first stay here, you can there may be development, and once you away from the to go, You will gain nothing, and China is just such an environment, he needs only enough time to get to know to develop.


  5. 引文。。。。。
    施密特表示,“如果你有一些不想让任何人知道的事情,或许你当初就不应该做它们。如果你真正需要那种隐私,现实情况是,包括Google在内的搜索引擎都会在一段时间内保留这些信息,更重要的是我们在美国都要遵守《爱国者法案》(The Patriot Act),因此所有这些信息都可以被相关政府机构访问。”




    p.s. : XXX这么关心Google,一定不会不知道印度政府和Google的纠纷,既然Google能够卖身给三哥了,还来国朝装圣女?

  6. […] it will do so because the country’s government would not tolerate Google running without filters. Many have interpreted this as Google possibly being the first of other American corporations standing up for freedom of […]

  7. […] the day nearer when Chinese netizens can read and debate Amnesty reports online freely.  He, like Nart Villeneuve, hopes that this will influence other companies, notably Microsoft and Yahoo, to take a stand […]

  8. […] the attacks and the wider implications in the press and elsewhere. Below are some selected sources: Citizen Lab, Psiphon and SecDev's Nart Villeneuve's reaction Globe and Mail editorial Christian Science Monitor Wall Street Journal New York Times Globe and […]

  9. google离开了,我们会鲜花送行,攻击无非是一个理由,中国也叫他借口,千层浪不会被一块石头所激起,无论是谁扔的。

  10. […] the day nearer when Chinese netizens can read and debate Amnesty reports online freely. He, like Nart Villeneuve, hopes that this will influence other companies, notably Microsoft and Yahoo, to take a stand too. […]

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