After discovering a coordinated cyber-attack, originating in China, targeting the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, Google has decided to stop self-censoring its search results in China, in full knowledge that the action could mean closing down its Chinese operations altogether. Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, made the announcement on Google’s corporate blog at 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident — albeit a significant one — was something quite different.
First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities. Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves….
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 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.
Good for Google. If anything, China’s ongoing crackdown on human rights activists and tireless effort to control political expression on the Internet has only increased as China has become more prosperous. The willingness of American technology companies to facilitate surveillance and censorship is despicable — especially so for Google, which supposedly prides itself on not being evil. It’s nice to see the search engine giant deciding that some things are more important than market share in the Middle Kingdom. Let’s hope others follow the company’s example.