If you thought the whole Google-versus-China affair was over, then this news will be hugely puzzling: Google is reporting that its mobile search facilities in mainland China are now available…and they’re uncensored.
This only applies to people accessing Google’s search engine via a smartphone, which isn’t a significant proportion of the population–smartphones
account for only 15%
of the entire mobile market there. But it’s still a bizarre twist in this endless tale of search vs. search-blocker.
Google’s tested accessibility, and has updated its status page reflecting which services are barred in China, upgrading its mobile search status from “partially blocked” to “fully acceptable or small scale blocking.” Essentially, cellphones connecting to Google’s Hong Kong servers over the airwaves have been deemed acceptable by China’s censorship firewall.
And the odd thing about this is that the Hong Kong servers are the trick Google used to deliver fully uncensored search powers to Chinese citizens recently, as it had promised to do, violating China’s strict self-censorship regulations. This means that anyone with a smartphone in China can get unfettered access to Google search, maps and news.
What’s going on here is a complete mystery. Google has not altered its position on Chinese censorship, and the Chinese government hasn’t altered its stance on Google–which it sees as in violation of China’s laws. What may be happening is a quiet, unannounced softening of the “punishment” that China’s government has meted out to Google, perhaps to stir business discussions into some sort of action, or to placate those segments of Chinese society (like scientists) who are upset by Google’s Chinese site closure. Only time will tell.
To keep up with this news and more like it, possibly even within China, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too.