BEIJING: Google, the online giant, is no longer filtering the results delivered to users of its search engine in China, putting its position in the country under increasing scrutiny.
The US company entered the world's most populous nation in 2006, and has since censored the listings delivered to netizens on the mainland, in line with government policy.
However, following a high-profile stand-off with the Communist authorities, it is now diverting visitors to its local homepage to its website based in Hong Kong, where restrictions are more lax.
“The Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement,” Google wrote on its corporate blog.
"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."
Despite this move, it is not expected that a more open flow of information will result in the first instance, as the state is able to limit access to certain portals at it chooses, as is the case with Google's US homepage.
“It's very likely that Google.com.hk will be blocked at least as aggressively as Google.com was and, more likely, probably more aggressively,” Ben Schachter, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech, predicted.
In January, Google said several “highly sophisticated” attempts had been made by unidentified third parties to hack in to its systems and gather information on human rights campaigners using services such as Gmail.
It also revealed two months ago that another 20 multinational organisations active in the technology, finance and chemical sectors had been subject to similar illegal efforts to access confidential data.
"These attacks and the surveillance they uncovered – combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger – had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results," Google's blog said.
According to Xinhua, the official news agency in China, the government denied any involvement in these activities, and has also now criticised Google's latest step, which it described as being “totally wrong”.
The online audience in the rapidly-developing economy had reached 384 million people by the end of last year.
Baidu held a 58.6% share of the local search market in the last quarter, with Google on 35.6%, Analysys International, the research firm, estimated.
Data sourced from Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff