Google stops censoring in China

The move puts the company in direct conflict with Beijing's historically strict Web filtering rules.

Visitors to Google's Chinese search portal, Google.cn, were redirected beginning late Monday to the search engine giant's Hong Kong home page. A banner reading, “Welcome to Google Search China’s new home,” greeted users in simplified Chinese earlier in the day.

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In a blog post announcing the shift, David Drummond, chief legal officer at Google, stressed that the decision resulted from the "sophisticated cyberattack originating from China" that hit Google earlier this year.

That January attack, which also breached more than 20 other U.S. companies, specifically targeted human rights activists using the company's Gmail system. Ultimately, Drummond said the breach "led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn."

Google will stop self-censoring its text and image search results, as well as its Google News hub.

Drummond described Google's decision as a "sensible solution," and said the company does plan to continue its research and development work and expand its mobile phone services in China in the coming months.

However, he predicted the Chinese government could totally shutter access to Google search services in the coming days, as officials in Beijing have recently threatened.

"We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services," he said. "We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China."

Tech insiders expected Google to announce its decision to stop censoring search results on Monday, after weeks of negotiations between company executives and Beijing officials proved fruitless.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt initially signaled the two sides would reach a quick, amicable solution to their standoff, stemming from the January cyberattack. But the Chinese government instead ramped up its criticism of Google, promising to take action against websites that display Google search bars once the U.S. tech giant stopped filtering its content.

Lawmakers in Washington are likely to praise Google for its decision. Many have called on the company -- and others operating in China -- to abide by the same rules of free speech and expression that pertain to U.S. firms operating domestically.

The White House has so far declined to offer comment on Google's move. 

"I need to find out what discussions were had here this morning," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said during Monday's press briefing. "I know that there were discussions over the weekend like something like that would happen.

"I don't know that I would get into a hypothetical [on how United States might respond]," he added.