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Archive for Friday, February 12, 2010

Google, China still in talks

February 12, 2010

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— Shedding China’s shackles on free speech has been easier said than done for Google Inc.

The Internet search leader is still censoring its results in China a month after Google’s leaders took a public stand against Chinese laws that require the removal of links to Web sites that the government deems subversive or offensive.

Citing the sensitivity of the talks, Google officials won’t say how the negotiations have gone since the company issued its Jan. 12 threat to shut down its China-based search engine and possibly leave the country. Google is demanding that the government tear down the so-called “Great Firewall” that seeks to keep citizens from finding politically sensitive information and images.

Google’s top lawyer, David Drummond, initially said that Google would take a few weeks to meet with government officials. But Google officials now say the company might parse its Chinese search results for several more months while seeking a compromise.

Google’s willingness to keep its censored search engine running for now is a signal that Chinese leaders haven’t been as unyielding in the private talks as they have in public statements demanding obedience of the law, said Internet analyst Colin Gillis, who follows Google for BGC Financial.

Even so, a compromise may prove difficult because neither side wants to be seen as backing down from its principles. Each side would have to find a way to concede without appearing to capitulate, in keeping with the Chinese custom of “face saving.”

Both the Chinese government and Google appear to be grappling with conflicting priorities. China’s ruling party recognizes that it needs technology innovators such as Google to help fuel the country’s robust economic growth, but the government fears losing control if its citizens could read and see anything they want.

The tension within Google arises from the idealism of its founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and its more practical, business-minded CEO, Eric Schmidt.

Brin and Page, who combined still own a controlling interest in Google, have never felt comfortable about censoring search results in China.

Although he didn’t like the restrictions either, Schmidt has always seemed more willing to do whatever it takes to remain in such a potentially lucrative market.

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