In response to a series of cyber attacks, Google has announced that it will stop censoring search results in China -- and if the Chinese government doesn't like it, Google will exit the market.
In mid-December, the company discovered a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" on its corporate infrastructure that originated from China, and the attackers made off with intellectual property of Google's. Upon further investigation however, it became evident that many other companies were similarly targeted, ranging such industries as finance, technology, Internet, media, and chemical.
Google believes the purpose of the attacks was to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists -- a goal that was largely unmet. The search giant notes that only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to things such as the date the account was created, rather than the content of its emails.
What's more, Google's investigation revealed that accounts of dozens of US, China, and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been "routinely accessed by third parties." These accounts have not been compromised through a security breach at Google, but instead via phishing scams or malware.
Naturally, the search giant has already taken preventative measures within its infrastructure, but the nature of the attacks has pushed Google to go a step further. When the company launched Google.cn four years ago, it believed the benefits of its service outweighed the "discomfort" of censoring results, vowing to monitor conditions and alter its approach as laws and other restrictions came into play.
That is precisely what the company is now doing, saying "These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered -- combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web -- have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China."
Google says it is no longer willing to censor results in China, and it will discuss the possibility of providing the country with unfiltered results. If that isn't viable, the company threatens to shut down Google.cn as well as its offices in China.
This news could be the start of a snowball effect. For instance, if Google offers uncensored results in China, how would Microsoft, Yahoo or other Web companies react?