The battle continues!
Turns out the 2009 cyber-attack by China on Google was just foreplay, even though it was severe enough at the time for Google to release a policy statement about the pattern of assaults on both Google infrastructure and the Gmail accounts of human rights activists seeking change in China. At issue was Google’s refusal to censor content served to Chinese users.
You had to know this wouldn’t end with what looked like an easy Google victory. Another shoe had to drop.
China now has intensified the dispute by apparently unleashing systematic but fiendishly clever assaults on Gmail within China -- or so Google alleges.
For at least two weeks, Gmail users inside China have had a range of intermittent problems accessing and sending email. Problems have also been reported with chat and Google Reader.
Google now has issued a statement: “There is no technical issue on our side. We have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”
What is so clever about China’s attacks (assuming Google has it right) is that the failures are intermittent -- that is, designed to appear to be Google miscues, not products of state security actions. But Google is claiming that, after investigating the issues for a couple weeks, it has determined the fault lies not in Mountain View, but in Beijing... with a government that is increasingly skittish about the regime changes that are sweeping the Middle East.
Fears of a possible “Jasmine Revolution” apparently are on the rise in Communist Party circles; and, to the Chinese leadership, Google executive Wael Ghonim just may rank as a personification of all that threatens the Chinese government.
Certainly one message that China is sending in messing with Gmail is to its internal audiences -- that is that the Great Firewall applies where and as the government wishes. If the Chinese ruling party can make a mockery of Google’s security infrastructure, who can’t it cause to stumble? Keep in mind that it already blocks Facebook and YouTube; and a few weeks ago it disrupted LinkedIn service, only to turn it back on a day later in a kind of “watch us do as we please” gesture.
China may also be sending a loud message that it is time for Google to exit the country, leaving search and services to the tame, homegrown Baidu, which now is surging on stock exchanges.
Can China make a go of it without Google? Signs are strengthening that the ruling elite believes so.
Can Google be pushed out the exit doors?
Bloomberg News noted early this week that a backdrop to the current brawl is that on March 4, in an opinion piece in the Communist Party organ, People’s Daily, Google was said to be “a tool of U.S. expansionism and hegemony.”
Bloomberg added: “ ‘They [China’s government] will try to become more aggressive gradually,’ Charles Mok, chairman of the Hong Kong branch of the Internet Society, said of China’s censors in an interview today. ‘Some things that were allowed or let go before, they gradually will clamp down on.’ ”
So far there has been no official response to Google’s charges on the part of the Chinese government, and none is expected. As The Wall Street Journal reported: “China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology didn't respond to requests for comment. Officials rarely explain the workings of their Internet controls.”
So why did Google decide to go public with its complaints -- knowing that there is scant possibility that China will bend to this kind of pressure?
Your call on this is as good as anybody’s. Google is not offering amplification beyond the terse statement it released Sunday. Does Google want to make clear that bad service is not its doing? Or is this a broader defense of human rights on the part of the Mountain View colossus?
For sure, this has all the makings of a clash where neither side is prepared to give -- and that may mark the China vs. Google fight as the one to watch in 2011.
— Robert McGarvey is a widely published author and expert on social media.