In January, Google revealed that hackers had launched ambitious attacks on the company and its properties. The attacks came from China, it said, and some targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
At the time, it said this:
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.
Today, Google started redirecting traffic from Google.cn, its Chinese-language search service that used servers based in mainland China that were subject to PRC rules, to Google.com.hk, its Hong Kong-based domain. The company explained the decision here.
This is big, but we don't yet know how big. Maybe this is the first step in a division of the internet as we know it, between countries that embrace an open web and those that fear it. Or maybe it's a face-saving move, for both Google and Beijing. Using servers based in Hong Kong, the company is not required to censor its search results, while leaving censorship to China, as Andrew Lih explains:
Content between Hong Kong and the PRC are subject to filtering by the Great Firewall, because HK is considered outside the mainland’s domestic Internet. For that reason, even though Google.com.hk is not censored by Google, the HTTP stream (ie. Web traffic) going between HK and PRC may be interrupted by the Great Firewall, based on content. This is often seen as a “Connection reset” by the user.
There is a lot to understand to understand this story. I've been gathering links here, which are embedded below. Stay tuned.