Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has finally followed through on its threat and stopped censoring its search results in China. The company says in an announcement it just issued that it is redirecting Google China visitors to its search page in Hong Kong — “where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.”
Google had said for two months now that it was in negotiations with the Chinese government to find a way to maintain its search operations in the country without having to censor its results — something it said it was no longer willing to do. But Chinese officials had been adamant in saying that Google had to follow local regulations and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond says that authorities made “crystal clear” during discussions that self-censorship was a “non-negotiable legal requirement.”
It’s unclear how long users in mainland China will be able to use the uncensored Hong Kong site. Drummond says the move is “legal” but admits it’s also tenuous, since the Chinese government can block access any time it wants. So far, however, authorities have not taken that step.
When Google first announced on Jan. 12 that it would no longer censor its results in China, the company said it was possible that it would no longer be able to maintain operations in the country. But Google isn’t planning any layoffs and says it intends to maintain research and development as well as sales operations in the country. It does say however that the size of the sales force will depend on whether Chinese users can access the Hong Kong site.
While Google’s initial announcement shocked observers, over the last several weeks, as Chinese politicians increased their anti-Google rhetoric and as Google continued to insist that it would no longer censor its results, the consensus has been that the company’s only option was to shut down its search engine in the country.
And, indeed, the stock market is barely reacting to the official announcement. Google’s stock is down about half a percentage point, while rival Baidu (NSDQ: BIDU), which stands to gain the most from Google’s pull-out, is up only two percent.