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Google threatens to pull out of China after cyberattacks

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-01

Internet search giant Google has threatened to shut down its operations in China after uncovering what it said were "highly sophisticated" cyberattacks on human rights activists.

AFP - Google on Tuesday vowed to defy Chinese Internet censors and risk banishment from the lucrative market in outrage at "highly sophisticated" cyberattacks aimed at Chinese human rights activists.

China-based cyber spies struck the Internet giant and at least 20 other unidentified firms in an apparent bid to hack into the email accounts of activists around the world, according to Google.

The online espionage has Google reconsidering its business operations in China and it said it will no longer filter Internet search engine results in that country.

"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 chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post.

"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," he said.

Drummond said Google realizes that defying Chinese government demands regarding filtering Internet search engine results may mean having to shut down its operations in China.

Human rights activists hailed Google, voicing hope it would lead Western companies to reconsider their compromises in doing business in China.

"Through international pressure, finally a big business in the West has come to realize its own conscience," prominent Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, who spent 18 years in prison before entering exile in the United States, told AFP.

T. Kumar, the Washington-based advocacy director of Amnesty International, urged other Internet companies to follow Google's lead.

"We're glad that at last international Internet companies are waking up to the reality that they cannot go along with oppressive nations like China," Kumar said.

Leslie Harris, president of US-based nonprofit advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology, said Google had taken "a bold and difficult step for Internet freedom in support of fundamental human rights."

Google said it detected in mid-December "a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google."

The company said it was notifying at least 20 other large companies of similar attacks including finance, Internet, media, technology, and chemical firms.

Google said its investigation revealed that accounts of China human rights activists who use Gmail in Europe, China or the United States have been "routinely accessed" using malware sneaked onto their computers.

Google believes the attack was mostly blocked and that only minor information, like creation dates and subject lines, was stolen from two accounts.

"We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech," Drummond said.

"The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences," he added.

Google was careful to stress that the decision was made by the California company's executives in the United States and not by workers within easy reach of authorities in China.

"Google was in a no-win situation," Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle told AFP. "The choices they've got are all bad, but this one allows them to claim the high ground at home by standing up to evil China."

Internet firms interested in access to China's booming market have been pressured to acquiesce to "onerous" government rules regarding online censorship, according to the analyst.

"China is a hard market to walk away from," Enderle said. "It took a lot of guts. Capitulating wasn't working, so taking a harder stance might work better."

Google said it has used information gained from studying the attack to improve the Internet titan's security.

"We have been working hard to secure our systems, confirm the facts, and notify the relevant authorities," said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker.

"We've gone public with this as quickly as we sensibly could."

Date created : 2010-01-13


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