Will Google Turn Away from 700 Million Users?

Google has said that its infrastructure was hacked in an apparent effort to get at Chinese dissidents’ GMail accounts. The implication is that the Chinese government was behind the attacks. The company has taken a laudable and very strong stand and said it will no longer comply with Chinese government censorship. It also said that if it cannot operate in an uncensored way going forward it may exit the market entirely. 

According to the Google blog post:

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.

China is the world’s largest mobile market with 700 million subscribers, more than twice as large as the US population as a whole. The Internet advertising market in China is less mature than in the US and Europe, but over time it would be worth many billions off dollars. Baidu currently dominates search on PCs with roughly 65% – 80% market share. 

This is a very gutsy move on Google’s part. There’s no reason to believe the Chinese government will allow Google to operate on an uncensored basis. So that may mean — if Google is true to its public word here — that it must say goodbye to the world’s largest Internet market. 

Presumably Android handsets would still be available in China (e.g., the Dell Mini 3) but they would likely have to be stripped of Google Search and other services.