Google risks having its online services blocked in China as it defies local authorities by ending censorship of results on its Chinese search engine, analysts said.
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However, China is highly unlikely to allow Google to run an uncensored version of the search engine, according to observers.
"China may throw Google out, and it will undoubtedly block Google.cn," said Danny O'Brien, an international coordinator at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.
There is also a concern that all Google services could be blocked in China if the company violates Chinese regulations by stopping its censorship of search results, said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai. Offerings like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google hosting for businesses all have users in China and could be affected by a move to block the search giant's services.
Chinese government censors constantly patrol the Internet for content deemed undesirable, including pornography and discussion of sensitive topics like corruption. They also block access across the country to popular U.S. Web sites including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Google is just one of a group of search engines including Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo China that remove certain results from their search engines targeted at the country.
Some observers have praised Google's move to end its censorship. "It's a hard decision when you operate in China to publicly criticize the Chinese government," said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group.
But Google has been losing market share to domestic rival Baidu.com in China and may just be "looking for an excuse to get out," said Rein.
"I don't think human rights is the big issue here," said Rein. "If Google were making money, would they do it this way?"
It was cold and quiet outside of a Google office in northwest Beijing on Wednesday afternoon, but flowers had been laid on a Google sign on its lawn and passersby took photos of the building. A note reading "Thank you, Google!" was attached to one of the flower bouquets.
"We worry that services like Gmail and Google Docs could be blocked," said Fu Guoli, a bystander who was taking pictures of the building with an iPhone. "This was surprising. ... The main thing is this will affect life and work."
Google.com, the company's main search engine, has long been available in China alongside Google.cn and does not censor search results like the Chinese version.
Google's announcement also said the company was hit by cyberattacks last month that originated in China and appeared largely aimed at accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The attacks also caused the loss of Google intellectual property, the company said.