Google’s announcement that China should either stop censoring Internet searches or risk a pullout by the search-engine giant rocked the online world Wednesday, leaving observers to break down the meaning of the provocative move.
By standing up to the communist regime, Google fashioned itself a champion of free speech — a mantle the California-based company has wrapped itself in, even as its decision to allow only limited results in China drew criticism.
But while many applauded Google’s bold stance, others questioned whether finances may have had as much to do with its move as freedoms.
Google said Tuesday that the company and at least 20 others were victims of a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” originating in China in mid-December, evidently to gain access to the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
A Google spokesman said intellectual property was stolen in the attack, while declining specifically to say what kind. But the company said the attacker or attackers gained access to the header — or subject-line information — from the e-mails of two human rights activists through the Google network.
The contents of the e-mails were not accessed, the spokesman said. As a result, the company said, it is no longer willing to abide by the filters that the Chinese government demanded on certain searches before allowing Google to operate in the country.
“We’d like to talk to the government about the ability to operate an unfiltered search engine in China, and that would be our preferred outcome,” Google chief legal officer David Drummond said. “However if that’s not possible, then we’ll have to consider other alternatives which could include shutting down the local site or even closing down our offices entirely.”