Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on October 22, 2007
Google has confirmed that the search giant’s Chinese service was out of business for parts of last Thursday and Friday. “We’ve had numerous reports that Google.cn and other search engines were inaccessible in China last week,” says John Pinette, Google’s Hong Kong-based spokesman, adding that “traffic was being redirected to other sites.”
Pinette wouldn’t comment on just where that Google traffic went. But it seems the site that ended up receiving the Google traffic was Baidu, the Chinese search engine that is tops in the market and over the years has been able to win fans among Chinese officialdom for being obedient in following censorship rules. Baidu already has a big lead over Google in the Chinese search market (more than half of Chinese searches take place on Baidu, versus about 25% for Google). It doesn’t help Google’s cause that the censors seem to be steering traffic Baidu’s way, too.
Why the latest attack on Google in China? Pinette won’t say. But it’s probably no coincidence that the outage happened shortly after Bush met with the Dalai Lama in Washington. And with the Chinese Communist Party having its big once-every-five-years congress in Beijing, the government’s censors were already feeling a bit trigger happy. For now, it’s back to business as usual for Google. “Where this was clearly unfortunate, we are pleased that service has been restored to our users,” Pinette says.
The attack on Google - which also reportedly targeted Yahoo’s and Microsoft’s search services in China - is a useful reminder how little clout American Internet companies have with the Chinese. The government decides it’s peeved with Bush and what does it do? Take a whack at an easy target, Google.
The timing is also a bit inconvenient for the Chinese company that controls Yahoo China - Alibaba.com. The company is about to launch its much-anticipated IPO for its business-to-business subsidiary, a deal that might raise as much as $1.5 billion for the company. While Alibaba is officially a Chinese company, Yahoo owns 40%, and that foreign ownership still seems to have made some people in the government nervous.
Porter Erisman, a spokesman for Alibaba, denied that the company is facing any problems. “I’ve seen a few reports,” he writes in an email, “but Yahoo! China is up and running as normal in China.”
Meanwhile, a Taiwanese government spokesman pounced on the news. Shieh Jhy-wei, of Taiwan’s Government Information Office, “condemned Beijing for ‘daring so shamelessly to tamper with the free flow of information’ by redirecting the three search engines,” reports Radio Taiwan International.
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.