Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Google Reduces Daily Output of Evil

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. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
Well, this seems to be a bit of a breaking story, so I apologize for the unedited stream-of-consciousness that is to follow.

So Google's Gmail service has been under attack - someone's been attempting to access the email accounts of human rights activists. The attacks were originating in China (probably via botnet), and Google's response was to remove the filters from their search engine at google.cn. According to wikileaks, China had previously requested the same access that US authorities have over results in the United States. The actual wikileaks site is down right now (for fundraising - so donate if you can, please), which makes any actual documents relating to the hacking attempts hard to find.

Of course, upon hearing this story my cynicism-detector went off the charts, but I think I'm a wee bit more rational now. First of all, Google currently has about a quarter of the search engine marketshare in China. They've only been there for 4 years, so that's some pretty serious progress.

I'm most interested to learn how this story is going to be spun by the Chinese government. I haven't heard anything yet, and I don't even want to really speculate on what the response could be.

Reading between the lines a bit on the above post, notice that Google mentions 20 other companies that were targeted in this attack. There aren't any details on who these companies are (if they are Chinese companies or not), but this is a bit of knowledge that google is going to use as a stick to make these companies "do the right thing."

The crazy thing about attacks like this is that they happen all the time. The problem is that the hacked company has no incentive to report it to the authorities. Unless you've got a miracle-working PR team, the bad press will cost you in the short term. Google could not only force these companies to come forward, but they could also use this knowledge to work themselves into some nice cybersecurity-type contracts. That is all speculation on my part, but this event is a perfect example of the lack of transparency that many publicly-traded companies operate under.

Edit: Additional random thought: China has gotten a bad rep (fairly or not) for being a bit...overbearing when it comes to working with foreign companies. State-sponsored hacking is the kind of ham-fisted tactic that won't win you many friends when dealing with a company that survives on it's ability to transport (and mine) data. That a company like Google has the strength to put China between a rock and a hard place is just another example of the increased power non-state actors have over sovereign nations...


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