Chinese Netizens Seek Clarity From Google

Internet users in China want Google and the Chinese government to communicate in a more open manner about the company's future plans.
Amid reports that Google may announce the closure of its Chinese search site as soon as this week, a group of Chinese Internet users over the weekend published an open letter seeking clarification from Google and Chinese authorities about the company's actions, Chinese censorship laws, and the "black-box" negotiations between the company and the government.

"As a multinational US-based company, Google is justified to pull out any market and make a decision within the commercial regulations to show its responsibility to its shareholders, yet what we want to emphasize is that the massive Internet users are Google's customers, who not only enjoy the convenience brought by Google's free services, but we also reward Google by bringing the advertising income, hence our needs inspire Google's innovation," an English translation of the original Chinese letter says. "In short, we are never not important! So we expect Google to give us a clear answer. As for the Chinese government, the public service body responsible for the Chinese people, should bear the liability to make the negotiation known to the public, to consult the netizens, instead of leaving them in the dark."

The letter affirms support for censorship in accordance with Chinese regulations, but asks that such censorship be done with transparency and clarity by authorized, identifiable government departments, with avenues for redress and in accordance with the Chinese constitution.

In a blog post about the letter, Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong, observes that Google's troubles in China have raised awareness of censorship in the country among typically apolitical Internet users. "It has sparked a lot of debate and soul searching about the extent to which their government is causing them to be isolated from the rest of the world," she says.

Google in January announced that it was re-evaluating its business operations in China following a series of cyber attacks that originated from within the country. The company said that it plans to stop censoring search results in China, as required by Chinese law. It also said that if Chinese authorities refuse to allow Google to operate unfiltered, "this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China."

Rumors of Google's imminent withdrawal from China prompted a group of Google's advertising partners in China last week to send a similar letter to Google, one focused on the fiscal implications of Google's departure. The letter chides Google for failing to communicate its plans and asks how the company will compensate its partners for lost revenue and investments.

Over the weekend, editorials in China's state-controlled media slammed Google for imposing its on values on China and asserted that China's Internet would be fine without it.

On Monday, the American Chamber of Commerce in the People's Republic of China (AmCham-China) released a survey indicating that 57% of IT respondents believe China's "increasingly restrictive and protectionist" policies have hurt their businesses.

Update: Google has just said that it has stopped censoring search results in China. See this follow-up report.