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Google forced to change strategy in China

Search giant stops redirecting traffic to .hk site

Google has stopped automatically redirecting some search traffic from China to its Hong Kong search engine in a bid to placate angry Chinese officials, the company said today.

In March, Google shut down Google.cn, the censored search engine that it set up to comply with Chinese laws. Traffic to the site was redirected to Google's uncensored Hong Kong search engine, Google.com.hk. At the time, Google said the move to redirect traffic from the Chinese site to Hong Kong was a "sensible solution", but acknowledged China could choose to block access to the Hong Kong site at any time.

That never happened. But the decision to redirect traffic to the Hong Kong search engine angered Chinese officials, who eventually forced Google to stop.

"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable - and that if we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider licence will not be renewed," wrote David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development and Google's chief legal officer, in a blog post, adding that its licence is up for renewal on Thursday.

"Without an ICP licence, we can't operate a commercial website like Google.cn - so Google would effectively go dark in China," he said.

In a bid to preserve its ICP licence, Google will stop automatically redirecting traffic from Google.cn to Google.com.hk. Instead, the Google.cn site now shows an image of the Google search bar above a link that says, "We've moved to Google.com.hk. Please visit our new website." Clicking on the logo or text takes visitors to the Hong Kong website.

Google has stopped redirecting "a small percentage" of Google.cn visitors to Google.com.hk, and will end the redirect entirely over the next few days. The company is hoping that will be enough to placate angry officials in Beijing, and secure the renewal of its ICP licence.

"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self censor and, we believe, with local law. We are therefore hopeful that our license will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via Google.cn," Drummond wrote.

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