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. Obama goes over and apologizes for the US after borrowing billions of dollars from them, with god only knows what sort of conditions.

    Google, gets hacked. The Chinese government likely sponsored the whole thing in an attempt to locate human rights activists and now Google says they are going to shut off China.

    Let’s see if they follow through – but for the love of God … Why hasn’t any major news outlets covered this? This truly represents the communist, free speech hating aspects of the Chinese government and thusly the reason we should quit sending jobs, loans and diplomats over there.

    The american public needs to realize that China is still the good ol’ backstabbing, human rights crushing, free speech censoring, environment destroying, trash they always were. Just now the leader of our country wants everyone to forget all about that….

    Christ almighty.

  2. This is quite a monumentous post, and it points to a discussion between Google and the Chinese govnt that I think will have serious geopolitical implications. While a malware attack such as this of course forces the issue in terms of reviewing the conditions for censored results & continued operations in China, I would implore Google to hold firm and stay in China, even with nosepegs tightening. There are several (potentially revolutionary) iterations of Google web tools in China and developing economies that are worth holding out for, and it without hyperbole that I think the outcome of these discussions will have a baring on world history.

    There is more at stake than China simply not doing enough to humour Google. Those of us who support the principle of open societies **need Google** to remain in China and to provide its web tools to its citizens as its political and public information systems evolve over the coming decades.

  3. In 2008, a social malware attack happened to the Dali Lama.

    A report from Ross Anderson in March 2009 describes how Chinese intelligence services compromised many of the computers at the Dalai Lama’s private office in order to perform ongoing surveillance:

    “First, it was a targeted surveillance attack designed to collect actionable intelligence for use by the police and security services of a repressive state, with potentially fatal consequences for those exposed. Second, the modus operandi combined social phishing with high-grade malware. This combination of well-written malware with well-designed email lures, which we call social malware, is devastatingly effective.”

  4. The Chinese gov is disturbing. They are barbaric with respect to
    human rights and crimes and punishment. Even though they
    have come into the modern world, the power corrupting mentality
    so basic to humans with out checks and balances is evident.

    Don’t they study history?
    Google doesn’t need them, they need us. So Google needs to
    get out of there before the Chinese decide to put Googles executives
    in jail.

  5. The most ironical fact is that Chinese government is using US technology to censor its internet users. Google have good reasons to take their gloves off this time, but what about Novell and Microsoft and all those who help the Chinese government build the notorious Great Firewall? Shouldn’t they be equally held accountable for breaching the Freedom Act they claim to honor back in the US?

  6. […]…Google+Blog%29…_16Oct2009.pdf __________________ […]

  7. I am a Chinese and feel sad that Google will close their China office. I hate the China government, goverment officers and the communists. The are the most evil things in the world. The are greedy and anti-human. We all hope it will be eradicated as soon as possible. That is not my own thoughts but it represents millions of Chinese people.

  8. People are being distracted by Google’s skillful PR, all over again. They are *amazingly* good at this.

    Suddenly, Google has discovered free speech? After years and years of feeding us crocodile tears about how it’s so important to have a presence, that they must make these deals? Ha.

    This is like resigning “to spend more time with my family”.

    They’re posturing to to manage the coverage, AND IT WORKS :-(.

  9. i am glad to see a few good outcomes from the idealism with which google operates. more than glad, ecstatic.

    google-the-corporation has regained my admiration for this bold step.

  10. while I think Google’s post was fine and dandy, I’m wondering if this also gives them a bit of an out. they lost their helmsman, kai-fu lee, and continue to struggle to increase/maintain their market share (which is 20-30%, depending on who you ask) against baidu (65-75%, again depending who you ask). while they’re making inroads in revenue, it’s been estimated to only be around ~$60M/quarter, and I have to wonder if their ROI in China isn’t giving them some serious second thoughts right now.

    I like that they say the things they say, but lots of companies get hacked, and pulling out of china will hardly change that; it only hurts the people they say they’re trying to help. the cynic in me wonders if this isn’t partially some really positive spin for some strategic retreating (and hopefully retrenching) to save some face. I hope not, but I’m not convinced.

  11. Google did not say they are pulling out of China. They said they are no longer going to censor the results provided by They’re going to stop coöperating with China in repressing their citizenry. If Google gets cut off in China, it will be because China retaliates for Google’s honesty.

  12. It’s major news even if they are only just “doing less evil”. They’re certainly not the saviors of the internet they seemingly pretend to be, but Google has taken a stand at a critical time, and hopefully they st. But hallelujah! I suspect this will be resolved in some other way, too. China will prefer Google and other search giants stay and provide jobs and cutting-edge technology, so they’ll capitulate a little bit. But the cybersecurity front is getting pretty intense. If companies don’t stand up for themselves soon (and admit their losses, the cowards), they’ll need aggressive hacking teams even more costly than their legal teams.

  13. It is very likely that Google( ) will be blocked in China, since both and are offering searching results that the China government cannot bare to see after the blog post. Thus there would be no way Google is going to remain in China as Leo suggested :(
    It is really a sad news for all users of Gmail in China, every one is trying to backup her/his emails now though it seems we cannot find a trustworthy mail service here.

    Y.H from Beijing

  14. Google is just a company.It provide some IT tools (search and mail).
    If Google can provide private info to USA GOV. Why not give them to CHINA GOV.

    The USA GOV monitor terrorist email – gmail. How Google cooperate with USA GOV

  15. 别了司徒雷登

  16. 顶多是个无政府主义者

  17. Seth is right here. This is a cleaver PR move. Interesting, but let’s wait and see what happens. Will Google actually pull out? And what does that mean? Closing offices and the business in a legal sense on the mainland? I would like to see this (possible) in the light of bigger shift of US foreign policy, and most of all, trade policies, away from China, with the aim to restructure the American industry in the light of the current (long-term) recession. This is not to say that there be more protectionism from the side of the Obama administration. What is needed are positive feeling on the mediafront, for US citizens. Signals that the American hegemony can be reconstituted, in a dignified way. Not in the GW Bush manner. The Google announcement fits into this policy trend.

  18. I work for one of the major foreign investors in China and have disagreed with my company’s policy and strategy since day one. I suspect it was probably one of the victims of this attack. Please be brave Google, name names. Let’s see the first ever true Internet uprising and overthrow this rotten regime. Let’s see the world’s biggest ever online petition, boycott Chinese goods immediately, and then will see how long communism survives in China.

  19. Considering that China has the most Internet Users in the world will it not be a big lost for google if ever they shut it down in China? What will happen to those Advertisers etc…

  20. I’m not sure if China cares too much about this move. I mean, sure, Google does have offices there and it creates some jobs etc, but on the grand scheme of things its not exactly a big issue for them. I could be wrong, I wish you commented on this in your post.

  21. @Seth: It’s always easy to see whatever you want to see into large companies’ behaviour. However I do not believe you’re right in stating that Google didn’t try hard to remain unfiltered and unhindered by political agendas. You may see this as Google’s try to get publicity, I may see this as another hard and very painful attempt to make us realise what happens.

    Do you believe it is in their best business interest to retreat from Chinese market (not quite the smallest in the world)? Close offices, remove google search and related services, and let PRC Official Baidu Search (regardless of whatever they state) take over? Even if you intend to see bad things EVERYTIME Google does something makes it hard to miss that…

    But for the record: I do not think Google is evil. Not 100% pure humanitarian, not 100% serving the masses, not 100% looking for the people’s unfulfilled desires to fill, it’s a for profit company for allah’s sake, but it’s quite an unusual company, and I believe they do more for the public good than others. (And partially, but not fully, due to their own best business interest.)

  22. Hi Nart
    Yes, I think this news is high on the wow-factor.
    @bt. My apologies if this sounds harsh but what are you talking about? Most of the money was borrowed in the W years; “the reason we should quit sending jobs, loans and diplomats over there” – the US has borrowed billions – you owe them, they own much of the US and did before Obama took over from the previous incumbent buffoon.
    Now, that’s off my chest let’s look at the real story…
    I believe that Google is behaving honestly and honourably; the Chinese government is not.
    Google has the love and respect of billions of people around the world; the Chinese government does not.
    If Google boycotts China, as seems possible at this juncture, then many individuals and companies may do the same.
    China may be the new economic superpower but the atrocious behaviour of the Chinese government has the potential to blow up into a very damaging consumer boycott that would damage China very deeply.
    If nothing else US and European telcos should now presume their Hauwei routers have back doors which open to the Chinese government, and take appropriate action…

  23. @Leo – Your full of it!

    Go live in China, to see what it is like to earn a living under the Communist Party. Google in China is the best thing, not only does Google support S/MIME on web mail, when using the Firefox (open source browser) which nobody else does, but Gmail hasn’t handed over user information like MICROSOFT has, and YAHOO did!

    Also, Google is FREE, got anything against FREEDOM?

    Microsoft “Bing” is EVIL, it supports only Communism, by PUSHING capitalism, rather than liberty and freedom. Whatever makes Microsoft profit is how they align their values….

    Proprietary software, in case you haven’t figured out, denies all of society to build upon, fix or repair! Is it any wonder why all those using Microsoft Windows, is at the mercy of Microsoft waiting to repair, fix ad patch their operating systems on a monthly basis?

    It’s people like you, who twist a good thing that Google is doing, by presenting your lame excuse without FACTS, just as Microsoft evangelists do with fear, uncertainity and doubt…

    I’m sure you would fit right in with the Microsoft gang!

  24. I wonder what was stolen from google, it seems to have upset them quite a bit. This seems like posturing before negotiation on googles part. Good luck to Chinese google employees.

  25. 很好,继续努力。我非常在乎我能不能在中国使用gmail!

  26. The PRC government is known for censoring and blocking information into China. By hiding the facts and using propaganda, it is probably easier to repress Chinese dissidents like the Tibetan protest, and currently the Falun Gong decade long persecution by maintaining public opinion and sources only from the government. The government masked the persecution of Falun Gong with legitimacy using the anti-cult movement from the west. Falun Gong practitioners are subjected to torture and live organ harvesting, and other terrible crimes. It is absolute violation of human rights and freedom of speech, and I support Google for wanting to provide a free flow of information into China.

  27. I agree with Google’s move. Good for you, Google! You know, before I was finding it hard to consider getting the Nexus One when I read that Google was filtering results in China. If they are doing that in China, I thought, who’s to stop them from doing it in other countries? Would I really like to buy a phone from a company who isn’t living up to its motto of not being evil? But now, I feel a lot better about Google. Let’s hope it follows through on its promise to the public to not be evil. I logged into to Google China and typed in Tiananmen Square and the Dalai Lama, and lo and behold, the relevant results were pulled up. Maybe this was a glitch because my computer was coming from a US port, but could it be that Google stopped filtering results already? If so, good for you, Google! I love you guys.

  28. Many who have used the services of an Internet cafe in China might have noticed the Communist Party ‘plants’ and informants there. You can often spot them by the armband they wear and their stern demeanor.

    More sinister are the less visible informants. Although some feel that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, it’s still unsettling to someone accustomed to living in a free society. It just feels very “Orwellian” and disturbing to say the least.

    I feel Google should be lauded for taking the appropriate actions since the China doesn’t seem to recognize or conform to established World Community/International conventions, standards or protocols.

  29. I will believe it when I see it. It is a complex issue as evidenced by the above discussion. I,for one, hope Google takes a stand and sends a message. Will it do any good? Yes, it would be inspiring to see a corporation strap on a set against tyranny and be congruent with its stated values (Don’t be Evil). It probably will have no short term effect on China’s power elite, but in the long run – if one steps up others may follow…yeah right…

    Here is a cartoon I posted in 2006 regarding the general issue:

  30. Kowtows to GOOGLE for their courage! I hope Google will stick to their decision and others companies follow suit. The bigger the impact the more likely the change.

    Having worked in China before, I was told that Chinese people from China don’t like to lose face…So given the fact that Google has just condemned them in front of the whole world, it is quite likely that Google is prepared to leave China.

    Let’s weigh the PROs and Cons:

    PROS for Google:
    1) Respected by people who support privacy and human rights. (Ok, that is basically everyone).
    2) Free (good) publicity = more users elsewhere

    CONS for Google
    1) Lose $$$ (well, currently they have a lot)
    2) Probably very hard to get back into the China market again

    PROS for China
    1) The Government maintains control of its censoring policy for whatever purposes
    2) Other (local) search engines can prevail

    CONS for China
    **1) Users will not get “some Google services” or can they still use ???

    Does anyone know if it means just “google search” and “google mail” will be affected or everything including Picasa, google map, google scholar, blogger etc.??? Either way, a big loss for the users.

  31. Google關閉中國運營,等同於中國互聯網的一次大地震。

  32. We are drawing nearer to that time where it becomes appropriate to place an embargo on internet traffic to and from certain nation states. The US must not cede control of the internet authorities and registries to multi-national entities. Control of .com, .edu, .org and IANA rightfully belongs to the people of the US.

  33. 谷歌,不要离开中国。

    google ,don`t say “give up” so easily.
    you are the top company,and you will strive out a wide space.
    thousands of millions of people in China stand by you !

  34. […] 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 […]

  35. […] security expert and lead author of the 2008 report on the GhostNet cyber-espionage attacks, says this news should reminds us: “The nexus of censorship, surveillance and malware attacks allows China is the key to […]

  36. @ bt: What does this have REMOTELY to do with the US president? You think the situation would be different if there was another president? This is getting tiring, random people like you connecting the president to everything and polluting discussions. I agree with the rest of your post though.
    @TF: I don’t necessarily think the Chinese gvt is using US technologies against US. Alot of that technology is readily available as open license, etc. It would also be wrong to think that the Chinese are necessarily behind us in IT and Softwares. They built their own advanced weapons.

    @ Geert Lovink: I really don’t think Google’s actions are part of a broader shift in US foreign policy. I understand they get along great with the current government, but I’m sure they won’t make financial moves just to satisfy any US gvt political agenda. Unless China was a real threat to the US (which they are not).

    @ my_point_of_view: I heard Google does not make a whole lot in China. They thought they would, but Chinese returns are a fraction of Google’s profit.

  37. Ditto

    am glad to see a few good outcomes from the idealism with which google operates. more than glad, ecstatic.

    google-the-corporation has regained my admiration for this bold step.

  38. […] results on its search engine, and may withdraw from the country altogether. This is the biggest development in the Internet filtering space in years, and it shows that Google’s statement that one can make money without being evil is […]

  39. 某些人,不要夸大自己的代表性。不要轻易说“吾国”在一个外国人的博客上

  40. I know the world is not free. I have always felt though, as an American that I was living in a country of people who valued freedom as I do. Since the internet is global: one tends to forget that in some places (China)the internet is not free either. While I have no interest in communicating with anyone in China, I am very uncomfortable about the Chinese government having access to my Gmail records. If Google doesn’t demonstrate that they are willing to stop doing business with organizations, be they national in nature – who act in what would be a criminal manner here in America; I will attempt to limit my internet experience to communicating with and through only those who will honor my privacy – If there are any companies (world wide)that will.

  41. you really should come to china to see what kind of life we have here,sucks!The government tries their best to fool the people here, and Google certainly is a threaten to the Government.PRC will take any action to force Google leave China .

  42. The nature of ALL the governments are the SAME, don’t be too proud, American! All the governments turn us down in different ways. I don’t know what it is like in the US, but here in China, sometimes it really sucks when we can’t YOUTUBE, can’t TWITTER,can’t FACEBOOK, can’t Blogger. Now what, we can’t Google either?
    But I think Google stays or not depends on how much profit it will make here. If that is big enough, Google stays, after all, Google is a company. If Google shut down China, it’s really a very sad thing. No search engine can provide the service that google offers. Honestly, I hate BAIDU(the native SE in China).
    By the way, to someone ulterior, please don’t play the human right card all the time. It’s so out.Maybe the Chinese people do have some hard times caused by the gov. But the human right thing doesn’t help at all, only made things worse. So don’t pretend to be mercy, don’t pretend that you care. You’re just saying so for hiding your real attempt, and God knows what that is.

  43. Being hacked creates leverage for Google when negotiating with the Chinese government. If Google did not use this opportunity, especially when the investigations discovered attacks on other companies, Google’s position in China would be weakened. With China’s own growing expertise a foreign company is not the threat it used to be, as China is expecting greater economic and political leverage in the post-financial depression world.

    Search results aside tho, Google may not be able to uncensor all of its services, considering that for example all chinese blog-offering sites are forced to (sporadically) censor certain topics with varying degrees of consistency.

  44. This is a great moment for freedom, and a wonderful beginning to the New Year.

    Google says at least twenty other large companies (Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors) have been similarly targeted. Who are these companies? Adobe has been mentioned. Could we see some of these companies come to their senses about China too?

    The lesson for foreign companies in China is: “If you collaborate with China, not only will you lose your good name, but China will stab you, and your customers, in the back. And then try to steal your intellectual property”.
    That’s not a good environment to operate. A lot of companies will be wondering if it is worth it. A smart company like Google moves first… the rest will follow.

    First of all, I am a very loyal google user from the People’s Republic of China just so you know
    Google, for a long time,has been with me when I’m still a kid, four years ago, was available, I was happy. With out thinking, I set it as my home page and did nearly all the search using google. Then, I started to use gmail, I’d say it’s the best email i’d ever used. And as soon as chrome came out, I installed it on my computer. One week ago, I bought a new laptop, guess what’s the first thing I installed instead of my firewall? That’s right, the google software pack available on the site. And when I talk with my friends about computer, I’d say that I like google the best, I’ll use the Google operating system as soon as it comes out and if I need to buy it, I will.
    Now, as you can see on my cookie, I’m in another country because I’m an international student. In my point of view, if you really want to help us to get those rights, the last thing you’re gonna do is to stop your service and BLOCK, if you really will leave, you know what’s left for us? well, I guess the GRAND CHINESE FIREWALL! I love my country, and like Google at the same time, all I want is that you can figure out a SMARTER way to help us if that’s really your real intention.
    No matter what your decision is, my hear is already broken and my faith in Google will be no more, I will still use Google if I can, but will start to have another backup for all my stuff. You don’t want to violate your users’ rights, but what do you call closing the entire service? Do you have any idea how many people will be influenced? Do you know how much are you going to loose? You are losing the whole market, not only that, you have to pay all of our loses back, and in the end you not only loose about a billion USD, you’ll pay all of your users back. Closing of will be a huge lost of mine, I will ask you for pay back if you dare closed it, and yeah, it’s not going to be a small amount!
    Make your decisions wisely, and think about the consequences before you make them!

  46. […] Exploitation, redatto dalla US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Utili anche il post di Nart Villeneuve (che si definisce “Internet censorship explorer”) sull’omonimo blog e un […]

  47. hi! I’m very happy to see this blog . I’m a chinese website master .Not sina not sohu ,but just a little website .I love google very much ,because she gives me a new life .In chinese it’s hard to find a good job .So I try to make a website and I use google adsense to make some money ,not very much ,but it really can make all of my family members happy .I must say sorry to google for my country’s ghostnet behaivor .But I support . In china ,there are millions of websites master support google and google adsense. thankyou! welcome to my

  48. So sad to hear about that as a Chinese and living in China. Sorry for what China gov. has done to google, and sorry for those Chinese who hasn’t got a clear view, and against the rights for speech freedom.

  49. google Do not leave China,I will always support google!

  50. I get used to gmail and google searching engine, and I hope Google could stay in China.

    The so called human rights activities are the enemy of Com*munist Pa*rty. It is not a big deal for the enemy camps fight against each other by all the means.

    The real problem is the censorship. Different voices in the same camp of C*P are prohibited, and the major website delete the rational voices to lead people’s anger from the government that should be blamed to the industries that are suffering the stupid policies. The real problem will be uncovered sooner or later, why don’t the government listen to the kind but different voices.

    People search justice on the internet (only small justices).We applause the website, but it is a tragedy of our legistration system. Under the censorship, the bigger justice can not be searched through internet(forget about the dependent legistration system), the website is for the moral justice court only, for example, wivies fight against mistresses.

    Website is the the most open platform for voices, although it is under control. No matter how hard the situation is, we should grasp it for more democracy. I hope Google could with us on the way to the freedom.

    BTW, Google should not take side when two camps fight. Anyway, I believe that the gmail incident is the last straw not the major reason.

    Google, please stay with us on the way to the freedom to get information and to talk.

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