In an extraordinary blog posting, Google has all but accused the Chinese government of coordinating hack attacks on its servers, not just in China but in the U.S. and globally. And it's decided to finally push back against the regime.
Google vice president David Drummond said the internet giant may need to pull out of China entirely, depending on whether the government agrees to allow the company to operate Google.cn without censoring the results.
But censorship doesn't appear to have prompted Google's aggressive posture; instead the company was rattled by "highly sophisticated hackers" going after GMail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists around the world. Breaking into accounts through malware on activists computers and direct attacks on the Google, they met with some success. Clearly implied in Google's post is that these hackers are working in some capacity for the Chinese government:
We have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses—including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors—have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities...
We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech...
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered—combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web—have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China.
The timing of Google's aversion to censorship is telling. As admitted in Drummond's post, Google has bowed to the censorious demands of the Chinese regime for years, reasoning (conveniently) that the Chinese people were better off with Google than without it; Google even allowed its own censors to be profiled in the New York Times.
Only now, amid executive turnover at Google China and a continued failure to best their state-sponsored competitor there, and after Chinese hackers have endangered the company's interests globally, does Google get firm on the issue of human rights. It's a clever way to dress up a security breach — and an embarrassing attempt to partner with China's authoritarian leaders — as an act of nobility and courage.
Google does at least get credit for dealing with reality once it was slapping the company in the face. That's hardly common in corporate America, and even in Silicon Valley.
(Pic: Google CEO Eric Schmidt unveils a branding campaign at Google China, 2006. Getty Images.)