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Google could be preparing to exit China following attacks on the Gmail accounts of several human-rights activists.
When Google.cn launched in January 2006, they bowed to Chinese law and allowed their index to be censored. China has been blocking sites and monitoring internet use since November 2003 under the Golden Shield Project - jokingly dubbed the Great Firewall of China. The censored content included media sites with unregulated content with social and political commentary as well as sites connected to the Taiwanese media and the Tibet Independence Movement. The restrictions also include thousands of sites containing material considered obscene or pornographic. However as of today, you can once again see pictures of tanks in Tiananmen Square in Google.cn image search.
Google Market Share
Google has never had a strong market position in China where it only accounts for 29% of searches. The Chinese-based Baidu.com is far more successful with 62% of the share. Beyond moderating results, Google.cn has created an online music service in conjunction with major record labels in response to Baidu providing easy access to download pages of unlicensed music.
The attack on Gmail is also an attack on the security of so-called cloud computing where potentially sensitive data is stored in centralised servers remote from end-user machines. The uptake of the cloud way of thinking is dependent on users feeling comfortable with the security of their data; a state-sponsored attack on the cloud clearly undermines this plan. The news broke on the Google blog and the follow up statement from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shows how seriously these attacks have been taken.
Following the announcement, tech-savy Chinese users have gathered on Twitter (despite it being officially blocked) to pay tribute to Google's bold gesture. Flowers and messages of appreciation have been left outside the Beijing offices of the search giant which has sent is staff home for the day. Some Web users in Beijing have agreed to meet in front of Google's office this evening to show support to the company. A Twitter user posted: "Let's use the slogan 'GoogleBye' for tonight's gathering. See you at half past five or six o’clock!"