Jul 3, 2010

Would Google.CN be a "Non-Search Engine" Site?

As you may have known, the domain "Google.cn" had been automatically redirected to "Google.com.hk" since this March. And last week, Google stopped such automatic redirection, and launched a web page at Google.cn. By clicking anywhere of the page, a visitor will be linked to Google’s Hong Kong site.  (please try http://www.google.cn )
Google’s SVP David Drummond announced the official reason of such change (underlines added).

“...it’s clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable—and that if we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed (it’s up for renewal on June 30). Without an ICP license, we can’t operate a commercial website like Google.cn—so Google would effectively go dark in China … instead of automatically redirecting all our users, we have started taking a small percentage of them to a landing page on Google.cn that links to Google.com.hk — users can conduct web search or continue to use Google.cn services like music and text translate, which we can provide locally without filtering. This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on Google.cn and gives users access to all of our services from one page… As a company we aspire to make information available to users everywhere … We are therefore hopeful that our license will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via Google.cn.”
Regardless the political concern of Chinese authority,  the current web page at GOOGLE.CN and the above announcement can be described as a smart lawyering thing. By this change, Google may claim that GOOGLE.CN is not using the prohibited URL forwarding technology. And because the linked page (google.com.hk) has nothing but a blank search box and some links for the “Google.cn services like music and text translate”, Google is hardly to be condemned as an “illegal” or an “unmoral” one even in the tone of Chinese offical news agencies.
I would not like to bet that Google could be blocked out of China entirely.  But who knows what will happen? If Google is really blocked on mainland China, some clues might be found through what has happened.
Firstly, Google wish to keep its “Google.cn services” at Chinese market. Since 2005, Google has launched some unique Chinese applications at Google.cn.   These services are either not available (e.g. www.google.cn/music) or unuseful (e.g. laiba, Google Book Chinese, Google Scholar Chinese etc.) for the users outside of China. Therefore, Google hope to leave them even when its search engine is blocked.
The circled things are all Chinese applications.
Second, Google wish to “offer unfiltered search in simplified Chinese”, but please be careful, Google does not say whether such unfiltered search will be available on mainland China, or at least available through Google.CN. Technically, language preference can be individually adjusted by any user in any Google account at any Google’s gTLD domain name. Therefore, Google will definitely continue to offer such service no matter China block Google.cn or not.  Or, to some extrem, Google China (which is by law an independent Chinese company) may even continue to use Google.cn as an entrence of thlse Chinese Google services, while (if not too weird) such page may not include a search engine unless you log in with your Google.com account (which is a service provided by a foreign company).  By the way, the similiar situation has actually been happening for a long time - Google.CN has never provided E-mail service.
I will discuss this later on.

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