Google awaits China decision on business licence

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The Independent Online

Google faced a nervous wait Wednesday to see if a last-ditch attempt to renew its Chinese business licence would pay off as the Internet giant vies to circumvent official censorship.

The US search leader said Tuesday it would stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to an unfiltered site in Hong Kong, a process it began in March in response to state censorship and cyberattacks it claims came from China.

The change in tack was aimed at addressing government complaints about the censorship issue and came just before its Internet Content Provider licence was up for renewal Wednesday.

Marsha Wang, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for Google, said the company was still waiting for a response from the central government on the licence issue.

"We will keep communicating with (the government) to see what information it will give us," she told AFP.

Google said all mainland users would now be directed to a new landing page on google.cn, which links to the Hong Kong site.

"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable - and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider licence will not be renewed," Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said on the blog.

"Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like google.cn - so Google would effectively go dark in China," he said.

A prominent US-based human rights group urged governments and technology companies to support Google.

"Governments and the industry should send a very clear message to China that it must provide a business environment for foreign companies that doesn't force them to violate human rights," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

"Google is standing there alone," she said. Others "must step up to the plate and address this as a collective industry Internet challenge. They can't just say it's a Google problem."

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