Google Surprise: A change in intent regarding China

January 13, 2010
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Google did something brave today.  Something I never thought they would do.  They stood up to communist china.  And they did what they did with a speed and certainty that should make us all proud.

In a blog post on their official site, Google discloses what they know of several attempted penetrations of their Gmail system.  They also indicate that there have been unauthorized accesses to user accounts, probably by theft of user passwords.

In a blog post titled “A new approach to China,” Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond laid out more information that clearly points to China and their government as the party benefiting from these attacks. Part of that information is the targets of the attacks: Chinese human rights activists.  They also discovered that accounts totally unrelated to these attacks have also been compromised, indicating that “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear 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


Google did something brave today.  Something I never thought they would do.  They stood up to communist china.  And they did what they did with a speed and certainty that should make us all proud.

In a blog post on their official site, Google discloses what they know of several attempted penetrations of their Gmail system.  They also indicate that there have been unauthorized accesses to user accounts, probably by theft of user passwords.

In a blog post titled “A new approach to China,” Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond laid out more information that clearly points to China and their government as the party benefiting from these attacks. Part of that information is the targets of the attacks: Chinese human rights activists.  They also discovered that accounts totally unrelated to these attacks have also been compromised, indicating that “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear 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 ends the post with:

“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. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, 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 Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially 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 Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.”

I am really pleased with Google about this, for many reasons.

One is that Google holds a great deal of information from companies and private citizens and it is good seeing them take steps to defend it against even the most significant threats.

Another is Google is clearly taking a stand regarding human rights.  It seems rare to have a company do that.

In closing, a reminder from Confucius:

To see the right and not to do it is cowardice.

p.s.,  Microsoft, Cisco, HP, Apple, Oracle, what do you guys think about this? What do you see as right?