Google weighs up closing and offices in China

Hacking attacks on Google and attempts to limit freedom of speech in China provoke a review of Google’s business operations in region

Google has admitted that it and a raft of other large companies across the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors have suffered intellectual property theft by hackers based in China.

In a blog post on the issue, David Drummond, SVP, corporate development and chief legal officer at Google said the “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on [its] corporate infrastructure originating from China” appeared to be geared towards accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

“Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective,” Drummond wrote in the blog. “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.”

Drummond wrote that as part of Google’s investigation, but independent of the attack on Google, the company had discovered that the accounts of dozens of US-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appeared to have been routinely accessed by third parties.

“These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers,” Drummond wrote.

Google had taken the step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience, Drummond wrote, because of a larger global debate about freedom of speech.

“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,” Drummond wrote.

"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.”

Drummond wrote that the decision to review the company’s business operations in China had been incredibly hard, and had the potential for 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,” he wrote. “We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.”

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