Google's Challenges Mount In China - InformationWeek

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Google's Challenges Mount In China

A number of upcoming license deadlines loom and Beijing could decide to rebuke the Internet giant for the public censorship battle that began earlier this year.

Google faces a number of upcoming license deadlines that could challenge its tenuous position in China if Beijing decides to rebuke the Internet giant for the public censorship battle that began earlier this year.

The company's first roadblock will come before the end of the month. Businesses need to submit to an annual inspection between March 1 and June 30, and those that do not risk having their business license suspended or revoked. A look at the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce Web site shows that a number of businesses in China with operations closely linked to Google have not yet been inspected.

The annual inspection is not Google's only licensing concern. The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) plans to start issuing licenses this month for Internet map providers. Companies that do not receive a license by the end of the year will have to stop providing map services in China.

To receive a license, companies must guarantee that their maps do not disclose sensitive military and government sites and that borders are labeled in accordance with Chinese law, including disputed areas such as Tibet and Taiwan.

Some companies are considered a lock to receive a license, such as Baidu. It cooperates with NavInfo on its mapping service, and NavInfo was the early brainchild of the SBSM. For Google, on the other hand, guaranteeing that it can play by the rules could prove difficult because it permits users to post on its maps. An insider noted that Google has already applied for the license. But even if Google does meet all the requirements, there is no guarantee it will be granted.

As a foreign company, Google will also have to gain approval from other government agencies. China's security apparatus is known to be wary of maps -- once considered a national secret -- and rapid growth in the popularity of online mapping has drawn the government's attention.

Adding to Google's licensing woes is the departure of a number of top employees in its China division. Some have returned to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, while others have been poached by competitors such as Baidu and Tencent.

Google hardly seems ready to abandon its position in China. It has weathered the censorship dispute storm better than most analysts predicted, and its Android operating system is gaining traction. But if Beijing steps up the pressure, it may slowly strip the global search giant of any business allies in China.

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