Google pulling out of China?

According to a variety of sources, including Google itself, it appears that Google has made a decision to pull all of its operations out of China. The official Google blog notes a number of cyber-attacks on Google infrastructure in China, apparently targeted at obtaining information about Chinese human rights activists, and notes:

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. In the last two decades, China’s economic reform programs and its citizens’ entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

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, 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, and potentially our offices in China.

I’ll have more to say about this as news comes in – but it is pretty clear already that this is an important moment in the history of the Net, and in the history of the relationship between sovereign states and Internet services. If this stiffens Google’s resolve to put forth some conditions upon its continued presence in the Chinese market, it could be an important moment for Chinese politics and governance and free speech as well.

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