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Google says no timetable to leave China; lawmakers tell firms to stand up to censors

Seven weeks after Google announced it would leave China if the government continued to force it to censor Web results, the company said Tuesday it hasn’t come up with a timetable to withdraw operations there.

Google’s general counsel, Nicole Wong, told lawmakers in a Senate Judiciary hearing that the company continues to investigate a cyber attack on its Gmail accounts that stemmed from China. But it hasn’t determined when or if it will ultimately leave operations there.

"We are currently reviewing our options," Wong said, who noted the company is trying to also be sensitive to the implications that leaving would have on its employees in China. "Having said that, we are firm in our decision that we will not censor our search results in China."

Soon after Google said on Jan. 12 that it would no longer put up with Chinese censors, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threw her support behind the company. She separately unveiled an initiative to promote Internet freedom, and grants for organizations that help citizens of repressive nations access any Web site on the Internet.

Lawmakers in the Senate Judiciary hearing “Global Internet Freedom and the Rule of Law” grilled companies for allowing censorship to thrive around the globe. Some 40 countries today routinely censor the Web, according to Wong.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he would introduce a bill that would bring sanctions for companies that don’t safeguard human rights in foreign nations. He also criticized companies including Facebook and Twitter for not signing on to an anti-censorship coalition started two years ago by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

"With a few notable exceptions, the tech industry seems unwilling to regulate itself,” Durbin said. “I will introduce legislation that will require Internet companies to take reasonable steps to protect human rights, or face civil and criminal liability."

Facebook and Twitter were invited to testify at the hearing but declined, Durbin said. With 500 million users, Durbin said Facebook’s influence overseas highlights the need for the company to participate in discussions about online censorship and cyber attacks.

In a statement, Facebook said it is still small, with few operations abroad.

"When we come to evaluate doing business in any country, we do so thoughtfully and are mindful of the rules, regulations, and customs," the company said. "As Facebook grows, we’ll absolutely be considering which groups we can actively participate in.”

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 2, 2010; 2:41 PM ET
Categories:  Google , International  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: In developing nations, women lag behind men in use of cell phones
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This government self-righteousness would be more believable if they practiced what they preached, rather than maintaining the secrecy of government documentation on detainee "aggressive interrogation", warrantless wiretaps, Federal Reserve bailout actions, and other coverups.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | March 2, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Google? Anti-censorship? Then how come it has willingly censored messages which are critical of government officials in India -- shutting down whole discussion groups and deleting their contents? (Of course, Ms. Cecilia Kang, who appears to be a PR representative of Google, conveniently does not mention this.)

Posted by: squirma | March 2, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

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