China issued a fresh round of criticism for Google today as the search giant scrambles to restore services that were unavailable to many users in China for part of the day yesterday. The mysterious disruptions of Google that began Wednesday night add another layer to an increasingly tense situation between China and several Western technology companies trying to reconcile democratic principles with China’s tough stance on censorship.
Google search was most severely disrupted, though reports of problems with Gmail and Google docs also surfaced. Google’s Chinese language site, google.cn, was also down for a brief period, though that service has been restored. China has not addressed the disruptions to Google’s service, which reportedly originated from within China, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry did accuse Google of continuing to bring banned content to Chinese Internet users, an unlawful act according to the government there.
“According to complaints from many residents, Google’s English language search engine has spread large amounts of vulgar content that is lascivious and pornographic, seriously violating China’s relevant laws and regulations,” Qin Gang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said during a press conference. Qin did not directly answer a question about whether the government played a role in Google’s service disruptions, but continued to lambaste Google for its inadequacies and claimed all measures taken against Google have been lawful.
Google was first reprimanded by the Chinese state after a June 18 news report on China Central Television demonstrated lewd material showing up in search results from seemingly innocuous searches performed on the site. As a result, Google pledged to review its Chinese site to bring it up to code and switched off the “suggested search terms” feature, as the news report claimed it sometimes returns terms that could be deemed vulgar.
History has shown that when China draws a line, Western companies are loath to cross it. China has the worlds largest population of Web users at 300 million, a market Google can’t walk away from. Last month China announced that all PCs sold in that country must be packaged with a state controlled Web filtering software, forcing hardware makers to meet similar demands. American PC makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard fought the regulation
at the outset, but as the deadline approaches they are now scrambling to comply, as China’s growing middle class is too large a consumer market to sacrifice.
Washington urged Beijing to revoke the software mandate yesterday, calling the regulation a “serious barrier to trade” and suggesting the requirement could violate World Trade Organization rules. Meanwhile, Google is investigating the cause of the disruptions in China but has yet to diagnose the problems.