The world now waits for the reaction of the Chinese government.
Ending months of speculation, Google on Monday stopped censoring search results in China.
The company has done so by redirecting searchers who arrive at Google.cn, its search site in China, to Google.com.hk, which relies on servers based in Hong Kong.
Google's chief legal officer David Drummond, in a blog post, explained that figuring out how to keep the company's promise to stop censoring Google Search, Google News, and Google Images on Google.cn was difficult.
"We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement," he said. "We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced -- it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. 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."
To assist users in determining which of Google's services have been blocked in mainland China, Google has created an Apps Status Web page for its users in China. The page currently shows that Blogger, Google Sites, and YouTube are blocked, that Google Docs, Groups and Picasa are partially blocked, and that Google Ads Gmail, News, and Web Search are available.
Google's announcement was anticipated by the U.S. State Department, which indicated in a briefing on Monday that the company was likely to act.
In January, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke about rising online censorship in China and about the importance of Internet freedom. "We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas," she declared.
Her speech was widely criticized in China's state-controlled media.
Over the weekend, Chinese Internet users asked Google to clarify its negotiations with the Chinese government and to approach the process in a more transparent way.
To the likely relief of Google employees in China, Drummond said that the company intendeds to continue its research and development efforts in China, and to maintain a sales team. However, he conceded that such efforts would be affected by the ability of Google users in mainland China to access Google.com.hk. Selling ads that will be viewed by Chinese Internet users is pointless if the Chinese government blocks the Web pages with those ads.
He also stressed that the company's Chinese employees should not be held responsible for the Google's decision to end censorship in the country.
In a statement, Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, voiced support for Google's commitment to protect human rights and to promoting free access to information around the globe.
"Whether the Chinese people will be able to take advantage of Google search now rests squarely with the Chinese government," she said. "If China allows access to unfiltered search, it will be a substantial win for global Internet freedom and for the Chinese people. If China blocks access, it will finally make clear to the Chinese people who is pulling the levers of censorship in the country."
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