Google has stopped carrying advertisements in China for two sites that help web users in the country find ways to get around censorship laws.

The move has been attacked as Google trying to gain favour with Beijing as it works towards regaining a foothold in the country’s heavily regulated internet market. Google denies the charge.

Sites offering virtual private network (VPN) services are widely used in the country to get around government surveillance and its ‘Great Firewall’ policy of blocking sites and content it deems unsuitable.

VPNMentor, a VPN review site, says Google last week refused to sell its ads to Chinese users, although it had previously done so for two years, reports.

Another review site, Tom10VPN, which says it had advertised with Google for several months, also says it has received the same notice.

Google responded that it has “longstanding policies prohibiting ads in our network for private servers, in countries where such servers are illegal”; it added that it had banned ads for VPNs in China for several years.

The FT reports China’s market regulator has recently ordered internet platforms to step up their monitoring of ads, but that there is no all-out ban on VPN operators in the country. Instead, VPN providers need to be licensed to operate in China.

Lee Jyh-An, associate professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the FT, the move by Google was a “signal to show kindness towards the Chinese government.

“Google have withdrawn from China before and that scene wasn’t pleasant, so if they want to come back again, they have to show a stronger ‘kindness’ signal.”

Google shut down its search engine in China nine years ago after being hit by cyber-attacks and blocking by the government. Google said at the time it would not censor search results, which led to a major falling out with Beijing officials. 

Meanwhile, as Reuters reports, state censorship is proving to be good business for some., the online unit of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, plans to increase its ranks of human censors backed by artificial intelligence to meet demand from companies wanting to check content in apps and adverts complies with government rules., which already has hundreds of staff working on content vetting, is to set up a new affiliate in Jinan, the official Jinan Daily reported. The service vets a huge range of content, including pictures, texts, music, video, apps, games, advertisements and animations. Most sensitive content can be detected and removed by AI and algorithms, the company says.

Sourced from the Financial Times, Reuters; additional content by WARC staff