China threatens Google's internet licence over HK redirect
Mountain View tells Beijing, go censor yourself
Google has agreed to halt the automatic rerouting of its China search engine users to Hong Kong after Beijing officials threatened to not renew the firm's internet licence if it continued with the switcheroo.
On 22 March this year Mountain View closed its China-based search engine and announced that it would redirect Google.cn visitors to its Hong Kong-based engine, Google.com.hk, where it would provide uncensored search results in simplified Chinese.
At the time, a government official overseeing the internet bureau of the State Council Information Office responded by calling the move "totally wrong".
However, Google has now been forced to end that rerouting tactic as its China internet licence is set to expire tomorrow (30 June).
Google's legal boss, David Drummond, said in a blog post late yesterday that the Chinese authorities had told the world's largest ad broker that if it continued to redirect users to Hong Kong, the "Internet Content Provider Licence will not be renewed".
Drummond soberly noted that "Without an ICP licence, we can’t operate a commercial website like Google.cn — so Google would effectively go dark in China".
The company has begun taking some Google.cn users to a "landing page" that links to Google.com.hk, where China-based folk can use Google.cn services such as music and text translation provided "locally" without filtering.
In the next few days Google will shift all its Google.cn users to the Hong Kong-linking landing page, Drummond explained.
At the same time, the company has also re-submitted its request for an ICP licence and is hoping that Chinese officials will be satisfied with Google's latest approach.
"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self censor and, we believe, with local law. We are therefore hopeful that our licence will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via Google.cn," said Drummond.
It appears that what Google has done is effectively outsource censorship to Beijing, which presumably will continue to block any searches that do not meet its politically rigid criteria.®
So much for principles at Google.
When, they first said they would stop filtering content a few months ago, I knew they would back down eventually. The way they've done it is to effectively put the choice in the hands of the people of china, and allowed the Chinese Government the ability to potentially block a singe URL that points to Honk Kong (Which strangely enough is also part of China).
Google may paint this anyway the want to but regardless of previous statements they've caved into Chinese demands, I'd laugh if they didn't grant a license to Google even after this climb down/
Requiring a licence for crypto
is not as ridiculous as you might think. It only needs some suit to rant about the old "Paedophiles, Terrorists and Copyright Infringers" communicating via encrypted connections to start the ball rolling. Especially once the censorship comes in here in Australia (I notice Julia Gillard isn't saying anything about it and she hasn't reshuffled Conjob), I expect we'll see crypto regulation coming hard on its heels. They'll want to get over the first hurdle of getting the censorship in place first, then they'll address the issue of circumvention.
That's why the Federal Police here are pushing a law requiring ISPs to keep records of every site you visit, everything you post online, and all your emails. There'd be no point to that if the government intended leaving crypto free for all. And once we do it, you can bet China, the UK, and every other pseudodemocratic oligarchy on the planet will follow.
You in the UK are even further along with your RIPA law. The next step up from that is what I'm talking about here.
It'll be something like: you have to be a Pty Ltd or similar company and have to demonstrate 'reasonable business purpose' to get a crypto license, with provision for government auditing of your network, and massive fines or jail for anyone caught using unlicensed crypto. You'll still be able to connect to your bank or shop online, because the bank of course will have a licence, as will "authorised" online stores (see below), but residential VPN accounts will be the first thing targeted.
Even SSL proxies will be banned. What's most likely to happen there is that ISPs will be required to disconnect any HTTPS: sessions unless the specified domain is on a government whitelist. To get on the whitelist, the site owner will of course have to apply for a crypto license from the government, subject to the conditions outlined above. And you can bet that proxies, like VPNs, won't qualify unless they can show that they only grant access to authorised licence holders.
Don't laugh. There are worse laws already in place, and it's only a matter of time.
climbing the wall
What will be interesting is whether the government decides to block the international google servers at the Great Firewall, and how people respond in that case. VPN usage already seems pretty huge in China. Type 'how to' in Chinese into google, and the 4th auto-complete suggestion is to 'climb the wall' (bypass the firewall). VPN usage in China might soon become effectively obligatory for everyone who wants a useful internet connection.
At that point, I'm not sure what the government can do. Blocking all VPN traffic would kill corporate business networks. Requiring a license for Crypto? Would seem ridiculous. Maybe they'll just need to install some software on everyone's computer instead. Maybe they could call it Green Dam. Yes, that would work...