China's reaction shows it won't protect your data

20 Jan 2010

It’s now a week since Google’s surprise declaration that it has had enough of Chinese internet censorship and the issue has moved to more familiar ground.

Google has said it will hold talks with Chinese authorities on internet filtering, though these are unlikely to last for long.

"We've said already that we will be taking a new approach in China,” Google said in an emailed statement. “We will be discussing with the Chinese authorities the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all."

The “if at all” bit is a nice touch. The Chinese government has repeatedly said the issue is about the law, and Google is supposed to toe the line like everyone else. It is embarrassed by Google’s exit, but maintaining its grip on the internet is vastly more important.

In other developments this week:

Google China said in a blog post that Beijing staff were back at work. “While Google's US executives recently announced that they would be discussing internet governance issues with the Chinese authorities over the coming weeks, those of us on the ground remain focused on providing the best products and services for our users and partners--all of whom are very important to us,” blog said.

Google is reportedly probing its own staff to see if any were involved in the hacks into the company’s servers. The attack, using a Trojan, may have been facilitated by staff at Google China, sources toldReuters.

Two Beijing-based foreign correspondents said their accounts had been hacked in a manner similar to that reported by human rights activists. The journalists said they’d found that emails were being forwarded to addresses they did not recognise.

A US security company said it had found evidence of Chinese authors in the malware that attacked Google. That’s not the same as saying it was the Chinese government.

If there’s one lesson to learn in the week since the news broke, it is that data is not safe in China.

While state media devote pages to attacking Google, the Chinese government has not once condemned the attempts to hijack the accounts of activists and journalist, nor has it directly condemned the theft of Google’s intellectual property.

Apart from claiming to be a victim itself, and a boilerplate criticism of hacking, the government – which has the world’s biggest online police force purportedly protecting the safety and integrity of online activity and data – has had nothing to say about the breaches.

The attack on Google’s data “threaten[ed] the very heart of the company’s business,” points out blogger Nicholas Carr. For business reasons, exiting the market was the only decision it could take.

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