Google under pressure in China

23 June 2009

BEIJING: Google, the online search giant, has been instructed by the Chinese government to ensure that users of its portal in the country are unable to access foreign language websites, and to disable certain features which are currently offered on its homepage.

While Google has increased its share of the Chinese search market to around 30% this year – the company's best ever performance in the country – it remains some way behind Baidu, which receives over 60% of all such requests for information.

Alongside restricting foreign language enquiries through its search engine, Google has been ordered to remove a feature that automatically makes suggestions as to what a user might be interested in once they have begun entering a search term.

Last week, the Communist government also criticised the web pioneer for allowing users to access pornographic material using its search tools, arguing it was "severely endangering China's youth."

"Google hasn't been treated like that since they set up their local entity and launched," said Edward Yu, chief executive of Analysys International, an online research firm.

Rebecca McKinnon, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at the University of Hong Kong, added it was "odd" that the Chinese government was "singling out Google so specifically."

Indeed, she argued it was possible the ruling authorities were "looking for justification" to install software on all PCs that would automatically censor the material Chinese web users are able to view.

Having entered the Chinese market in 2005, Google has followed the strict censorship rules that are in place the country as it seeks to enhance its position among the world's biggest online audience.

Kai-fu Lee, chief executive of Google China, has also previously stated that the company is "not in the game for making money" in the short term.

It launched a free online music service in China in March 2009, but its video-sharing service YouTube was also blocked in the country earlier this year, harming its position relative to local services like youku.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff