Google has stopped censoring results in China, acting on a decision it made in January.
On Monday, Google stopped censoring Google Search, Google News and Google Images on Google.cn, according to a blog post from Chief Legal Officer David Drummond.
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"Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong," he wrote.
As expected, the Chinese government didn't entertain allowing Google to continue operating an uncensored Google.cn. The Hong Kong work-around is "entirely legal," he said.
"We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services," Drummond wrote.
Google has set up a Web page where people can monitor the status of its services in China.
It's highly unlikely that the Chinese government will look the other way and allow access to Google.cn, said Joseph Fewsmith, a Boston University professor or international relations and political science.
"I'm surprised Google thought there was room to negotiate on that [censorship] point," Fewsmith said.
Google continues research and development work in China and maintains a sales team in the country. "All these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them," Drummond wrote.
On Jan. 12, Google shocked the world when it announced that it would stop censoring results in its China search engine, Google.cn, because the company had been the victim of hacking attacks originating in China.
Through the attacks, hackers stole Google intellectual property and broke into the Gmail accounts of China human rights activists, the company said. At the time, Google said it would seek talks with the Chinese government over ways it could operate Google.cn legally without censoring, although experts said the chances of that happening were at best slim.
If no middle ground was reached, Google said it would be willing to close Google.cn and shutter its offices and operations in China, a drastic move considering China is one of the biggest and fastest growing Internet and telecommunications markets in the world.
Google has declined repeated requests in recent weeks to discuss its China impasse and it is not clear how much present and future revenue the company would forego by exiting China's search market. Analysys International expects China's search market to reach 10 billion yuan (US$1.46 billion) this year.
The impact on Google would be larger if it also stops providing online services like Gmail and Picasa, which it monetizes via online advertising, and its Android mobile operating system, which it licenses to mobile carriers, handset makers and PC vendors.
However, in five to 10 years and in later decades, Google's decision may yield great benefits, because it has likely endeared the search company to many young Chinese Internet users, said Ben Sargent, an analyst with Common Sense Advisory, a market research company.