Google revealed late Tuesday that it has withstood a "highly sophisticated" cyber-attack emanating from China. As a result, the online giant said it would stop censoring search results in the country and is now considering whether it should pull out of China all together.
The news sent shockwaves throughout the tech world, with human rights advocates praising the company for ending its controversial censorship practice there. But others fear that if Google abandons China, the Chinese government will step up its already aggressive censorship of the Internet there, harming individuals.
"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," Google Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said. "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," he continued.
Although Google didn't say this explicitly, it's possible that the attack originated somewhere in the vast, totalitarian Chinese government. The attack, while unsuccessful, was directed at Google data repositories for human rights activists who often speak out against the Chinese government.
China is an odd market for Google for many reasons. The company entered the Chinese search market over three years ago and immediately came under harsh criticism for bowing to China's censorship needs. (Many cited this action as violating Google's "Don't be evil" policy.) And unlike in much of the world, Google is an also-ran in China, with a Chinese company, Baidu, dominating the search market there. Not coincidentally, Baidu has close ties to the Chinese government.
The US government might get involved in the fracas, as well. "We look to the Chinese government for an explanation," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, noting that she had "serious concerns" about the allegations.