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China threatens Google's internet licence over HK redirect

Mountain View tells Beijing, go censor yourself

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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.®

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