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Google has issued a shock announcement that it is to end censoring the results of its Google.cn search engine after a series of hacking attacks that it says was aimed at human rights activists.The company said in a posting on its corporate blog that it, and at least 20 other firms, had been the target of a hacking attack in December. It says it has seen evidence that these attacks were aimed at accessing Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.“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,” wrote David Drummond, chief legal officer for Google.“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 recognise that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”Drummond said that the December attacks were largely unsuccessful and only resulted in partial access to two Gmail accounts. However it has also discovered that dozens of human rights campaigners in Europe, the US and China are routinely having their Gmail accounts accessed by third parties and suspect the login details could have been stolen using malware.Google started operations in China in 2006 and was widely criticised for its decision to bow to Chinese demands that the information on the web site be censored. Searches for Tiananmen Square for example would bring up no mention of the 1989 ma ssacre.Google co-founder Sergey Brin later said that he regretted the decision and Drummond made clear that the initial decision to censor was not binding.“We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results,” he said.“At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China."The move is one of the first times a Western company has taken on the Chinese government in this way. Companies like Yahoo routinely pass over user details to the authorities, despite criticism and legal action, but today’s announcement will throw down the gauntlet to the Chinese authorities.Google.cn has a good market share in China and pulling out completely would be a blow to the company, albeit one that it can afford for now. Clearly the evidence of hacking Google has is compelling indeed.
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