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China to Google's Partners: Prepare Back-Up Plans

google china

The Chinese government is quickly stepping up its pressure on Google, and it's now extending the threats to Google partners, warning them that they have to stick to censorship rules even if Google doesn't. They also need a backup plan for when Google gets the boot.

Late last week it seemed that the controversial affair was shifting into a higher gear as a Chinese minister reiterated the stubborn stance of the government using some of the strongest language used yet. But then, things got more complex. Those threats about compliance to the self-regulating censorship laws (the ones Google is threatening to deliberately break) have once again been mentioned by the authorities, only this time it's Google's partners that are in the cross-hairs.

The host of local services and Web sites that have direct links to Google have been warned by the information ministry that they must censor their data even if Google does not. And they must also plan to switch to other, compliant, services if Google is turned off. This applies to services such as Gmail as well as the search functionality of course. We've learned about the news via an "industry expert" who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity.

It can either be read as a sign that China really is going to sever the link to Google very soon, either permanently or temporarily, or as a piece of diplomatic posturing designed to put public pressure on Google's executive team. But though we know very little of what's been going on in negotiations, even from Google's point of view, it does seem that Google won't buckle under this sort of pressure. Google's Eric Schmidt noted he expected the situation to come to a head "soon." And Google is used to just forging ahead and doing pretty much what the heck it likes—witness its moves to capture whole new business markets that are radically different to its core search engine functionality, and even to break its promises to serious big-player partners like Apple (with the Steve Jobs-angering Android phones.) Speaking at SXSW, a Google exec also commented on its new and controversial Buzz social net, noting that "we'd rather cannibalize our own services than have someone else do it."

So Google, it seems, is probably going to un-censor its search results, and the Chinese are going to react. It could happen at any time. And Google really doesn't have much to lose: Sure there will be some business losses, but it's not the lead search engine in China anyway and the company really isn't short of income—the revenue dip from a closed Google.cn wouldn't be serious. Furthermore, by taking such a dramatic stand, Google may be positioning itself as the "good guy" all around the rest of the World, and that is a whole pile of PR goodness.

[Via The New York Times]

To keep abreast of the news on this matter, follow me, Kit Eaton on Twitter.

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