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Google China License: What's the rest of the story?

In an exceptionally uncharacteristic low-key PR manner for Google, Google announced on its blog in one sentence that China renewed its license to operate in China.

  • "Update July 9:
    We are very pleased that the government has renewed our ICP license and we look forward to continuing to provide web search and local products to our users in China."

What's the rest of the story here?

Google and China have been at loggerheads with one another in one of the highest-of-profile international standoffs between a private company and a superpower in modern history, since Google publicly accused China in January blogpost of being complicit in a hack of Google that resulted in the theft of Google's intellectual property, (which John Markoff of the New York Times reported was the extremely sensitive computer code for Google's password control system.) 

What is the quid pro quo here?

  • Did China blink and submit to Google's demands to  effectively change its implementation of its censorship laws for Google?
  • Or did Google blink and back off from its January line-in-the-sand decision: "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn..."?
  • Or did they negotiate a compromise beyond the head-scratchingly oblique explanation on their 6-28 blogpost a few days ago? And if so, what does that deal actually mean in practice in simple to understand language -- i.e. simply is there anything that Google does that will be filtered/censored in China from a Chinese user perspective?

Why is Google not trumpeting this decision as a victory of freedom of speech over censorship, if that is indeed what it is?

  • Given how incongruous this late-night, one-line announcement is for the legendary Google PR machine that lets no Google good deed go unpublicized, could it be that Google:
    • Is not proud of this agreement?
    • Reneged on its high-profile pledge in January? or
    • Wishes that the story quickly would die without any follow-up investigative scrutiny by the media or blogosphere?

Is Google trying to bury this story because Google formalized the Google-NSA spy agency partnership reported by Ellen Nakashima on the front page of the Washington Post?

  • If true, Google should say they cannot say more because of national security.
  • If not true, Google should reassure Americans and international users that their usage of Google services are not being surveiled by the super secret NSA spy agency.

Does the uncharacteristically low-key nature of Google's announcement mean that:

  • Everything is back to normal and there likely won't be future flare-ups because China and Google have reached a general agreement?
  • Google has learned the hard way that the most effective way to influence the Chinese, who have a culture where public "face" is prized, is not to use public humiliation and shame as Google's primary negotiating tactic?

Most importantly, what does this "technical solution" that Google claims got it's license renewed actually mean in real world simple-to-understand terms?

  • From a Chinese users' perspective, not Google's, will China censor Google services, and if so which ones?
  • Did Google indeed concede to abide by China's censorship laws that they decided in January they would not abide by, as reports indicate? 
    • Per the Washington Post: "In a letter requesting Google's license renewal, the company's local partner, Guxiang Information Technology Co. Ltd., pledged to "abide by the Chinese law" and "provide no lawbreaking contents," the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported."
    • If this report and letter are indeed true, how is what Google is doing here different from what other American companies are doing in China that Google strongly criticized in January for not standing up to China's censorship?

In a word, there are a litany of very important unanswered questions here, that demand an answer if Google is to uphold its professed committments to freedom of speech, openness, neutrality, ethics, transparency and accountability.

  • It will be interesting to see if the media and blogosphere try to uncover the very interesting and important "rest of the story" here.
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