The recent coordinated attacks on Google and the consequent withdrawal of Google from the Chinese market illustrate the difficulties the company is facing operating in the country. China is among the countries that have been limiting the information available to its citizens. Google entry into the lucrative Chinese market meant that it had agreed to censor some of the information available to its users but it did not agree to attack on its intellectual property. Google was attracted to China due to the growing number of internet users which would translate to more revenues for the company. It was in pursuit of higher profits that the company agreed to operate under strict censorship from the Chinese government, implying that right from the start it knew it would not provide its users with all the contents required. The attack on Google accounts of Chinese human rights activists was taken as an offensive act and infringement of their rights. Defiantly, Google acknowledged that it would no longer censor its content in China and would withdraw from the market altogether directing all the users using the search engine to Hong Kong. Although Google did not want to directly blame the Chinese government, the argument that those attacks were similar to previous attacks that have been carried out by Chinese government pointed out that Chinese government could have been responsible for the attack. The attacks on Google and eventual withdrawal from China were due to political interference and infringement of its intellectual property.
How did it happen?
Google started operating in China in 2006. After realizing the potential of the Chinese market, Google started operating Google.cn, which was a China-based search engine. This was meant to provide the growing number of users with easy access to Google services. However, the company agreed to censor search results so long as it was going to mention on the censored search result pages that the content were being blocked on requirement from the Chinese Communist government. This implied that right from the start, Google had agreed to operate under the framework of censorship and political intrigues of the Chinese government.
However, things turned to the worse in January 2010 when Google announced that it was tired of continued information censorship after it had experienced attempted hacking attacks on Google accounts of known government critics (Signel, 2010). In many cases, most companies do not mention publicly when they experience attack due to fear of tainting their security image. Google amazed everyone by announcing publicly that it had experienced attacks on the company Silicon Valley servers thereby infringing its intellectual properties. More than 34 attacks were reported on different companies served by Google including Adobe. The main target of the hackers was to access Google accounts of human rights activists who were major criticism of the government.
Google made real its threat of exiting the Chinese market and directed all Google.cn traffic to Hong Kong which does not censor its web contents. Although this arrangement may have saved peace between the Chinese government and Google, both sides may have lost or gained in different ways (Signel, 2010). For Google, it could not be taken as an act of defiance but an act of not tolerating infringement of intellectual property but this triumph was shortchanged by the loss of millions of dollars from the market. On the other hand, Chinese government may have succeeded by preventing its citizens from accessing information in line with its censorship policy but on the other hand, this damaged its reputation in the world.
Political forces in Google withdrawal from China
Google withdrawal from China was orchestrated by the highly charged political environment in China. China is under a communist government which has been known to limit the level of information that is available to its citizens. Like other historical communist regimes in the world, the current Communist government in China has limited the amount of information which is likely to empower the people.
The presence of Google in China could have caused sleepless nights for the communist regime. The ideological difference between Google, coming from a capitalist regime, and the communist regime could have created tension between the two sides that eventually leading to attempted hacking into Google accounts (Leyden, 2010). For a long timer Chinese communist regime has been accused of its information imperialism and only the state media is supposed to give information. Internet servers are also to be fed with information that has been obtained from the state media alone. There is no form of discussion that is supposed to take place in public realm apart from those that have been sanctioned by the regime. Any piece of information that is likely to taint the image of the communist regime is to be censored. It is this information imperialism that has made China being accused of violation of human rights.
The entry of the Google into Chinese market may have been based on wrong assessment. Although Google understood that it was going to face censorship as per government’s regulations, it did not expect the government could go to an extent of hacking into Google accounts of human rights activists who have been having protracted battle with the oppressive regime (Mills, 2010). Before entering into the market, country risk assessment is carried on different fronts and for Google, which was entering into the information and communication industry, it should have considered the risk of operating in a country like China. For the four years, the company had to do with political interference and the eventual withdrawal from the market appeared like a big triumph to the Chinese government. However, the exit of Google from the market may have been a start for agitation of information liberation in the country.
For most companies operating in oppressive regime, they have to face problems of government interferences. Other regimes in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and other have shown their willingness to constrain information available to their citizens through censorship of internet sites and other channels of information. Companies operating in information industry have to bear the burden of continued interference by governments. Although Chinese regime did not take blame for the incident, Google showed that the attacks on Google accounts were similar to the attacks that had been carried out before by the Chinese government (Leyden, 2010). Furthermore, the mere fact that these attacks were directed towards the human rights activists gives concrete evidence to shows that the government was directly or indirectly involved in the attack.
Google exist from China may have been a battle for information supremacy between Chinese government and the company. Although Google users in China may have lost a search engine in their mainland, they are at an advantage of accessing uncensored materials from search engines in Hong Kong. The users may not have lost but have gained since they will be accessing uncensored content. It is not clear whether Google will ever return to China under the current political environment but it’s exist from China may have been an important lever for information freedom, although this may take decades to be realized (Osnos, 2010).
Infringement with Google’s intellectual property
In the international market, there are many laws and regulations which govern business operations. These laws and regulations pertain to ownership of the product or a brand. Copying a given brand or copywriting written materials is considered as infringement of owners rights to the product or the written materials. China has long been accuse of not doing enough to protect intellectual property for U.S companies which continue to lose billions annually due to copyright infringement by Chinese company. However, the 2009 attack on Google and other companies appeared like a well calculated move that was aimed at obtaining important information.
In mid-December 2009, Google announced that it had discovered sophisticated and targeted attacks that were directly towards its corporate infrastructure originating from China leading to theft of its intellectual property. Google also announced that after thorough investigation, about 20 companies in internet, finance, technology, media, and chemical, had also been targeted in the attack (Leyden, 2010). The attack on Silicon Valley servers was considered a well calculated move that was aimed at gaining important information that should be pertinent to Google and its users alone. In addition, Google argued that this attack was aimed at critical industries in defense and software where China lags behind the United Sates. There has been little doubt that these attacks originated from China as investigators shows that Google attacks and previous attacks were the same and their origin could be traced to China (Lewis, 2010).
The issue of censorship could not have been a major reason for Google to withdraw from China since it had already agreed to operate under the strict Communist regime and for four years, it had lived with internet censorship. The eventual withdrawal from China could have been orchestrated by infringement of its intellectual property. Its continued operation under censorship just constrained its principle of freedom of information but infringement of intellectual properties jeopardized the future of the company. Although Google has not hinted whether it would consider seeking arbitration from the WTO under TRIP, the issues of infringement of copy right of U.S products in China is considered one of the major constrain facing the relationship between the two countries. Google accusation of infringement of intellectual property adds up to the pile of infringement complains from United States companies operating in the lucrative Chinese market.
Google entry into China was considered as a bold move for such a big company to enter into a market where government was accused of information imperialism. Google thought that having a search engine in mainland China many eventually lead to loosening of web content censorship but it was up to a rude shock. High handedness communist regime showed that it could do anything to prevent crucial information from falling in the hand of the public and well calculated and coordinated attacks on Google accounts could have been one of those move. Google exit of Chinese market after four years could not have been due to censorship but infringement of its intellectual property. Google showed that it was ready to live up to its ideals of free access to information by sacrificing profits in the Chinese market for the principles it stood for.
Signel, R. (2010). Google, China and censorship: A wired.com FAQ. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/04/google-china-and-censorship-a-wiredcom-faq/
Mills, E. (2010). Behind the China attacks on Google (FAQ). Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-10434721-245.html
Leyden, J. (2010). Security experts dissect Google China attack. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/14/google_china_attack_analysis/
Osnos, E. (2010). China and Google: ‘Illegal flower tribute’. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/evanosnos/2010/01/china-and-google-illegal-flower-tribute.html
Lewis, J. A. (2010). Google and China. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from, http://csis.org/publication/google-and-china