Google ‘tiptoes’ back into China

Business & Technology
FILE PHOTO: An Apple logo hangs above the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York City, July 21, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Google stopped operating its China-based search engine in 2010 in protest against censorship and alleged hacking by the Chinese government. That move did not endear the company to the Communist Party. But the size of China’s online market has continued to allure the titans of Silicon Valley, and in recent years, “the American search giant has been looking for ways to tiptoe back in,” according to the New York Times (paywall, or see The Verge for a similar, unpaywalled story).

  • Google today announced the opening of an artificial intelligence (AI) research center in Beijing, which the Times calls “a small but symbolically significant move toward” getting back into China.
  • Google never completely left China. For example: In-country ad sales teams have continued to profit off China’s need to advertise to foreign markets.
  • Google says the new center will work “closely with the vibrant Chinese A.I. research community.”
  • Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai kissed the ring at the Chinese government’s Wuzhen World Internet Forum, an act of public support that must have helped to smooth the way for new Google projects in China.

For context on Google’s uneasy relationship with Beijing, see the links below. Short version: It’s complicated!

  • In 2006, the New York Times published an article (paywall) titled “Google’s China problem (and China’s Google problem),” which looks at the company’s decision to operate a censored version of its search engine in China, and the outrage in the U.S. that caused.
  • By the beginning of 2010, Google had had enough. The company’s chief legal officer announced that it would redirect traffic from Google’s China service to its Hong Kong service, which is uncensored. Connectivity issues, and then an outright block by China’s Great Firewall meant that by the end of 2010, Google’s search service was completely unusable in China without circumvention software.
  • On April Fools’ Day 2010, Kaiser and I recorded the very first episode of the Sinica Podcast a discussion with Sinocism writer Bill Bishop on Google’s withdrawal.